There are works of art that look like they come from the depths of the past.

There are things in the gallery that are reminiscent of hand axes or cave drawings.

And then, much less often, there are works that seem as if they come from the future.

Such a work is the "Zerseher".

You stand in front of a painting - more precisely in front of a screen on which Giovanni Francesco Caroto's painting “Boy with a drawing” can be seen.

When you look at the picture on the screen, something unsettling happens: the parts of the picture you are looking at disappear, they are erased from the painting as if by magic.

If you look at the boy's eyes, a blink of an eye later you can no longer see them.

It's like eating the picture with your own eye.

Niklas Maak

Editor in the features section.

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The explanation for this ghost is a camera that tracks the viewer's eyes. With their help, a PC analyzes the position of the eyes, and an algorithm blurs the image wherever you look. If this work was shown in a gallery today, it would be celebrated in response to the omnipresence of cameras that record us in everything we do and let algorithms analyze the results: the surveillance cameras in supermarkets, the cameras in the new cars, that watch the driver's eyes so that an algorithm can calculate whether the driver is tired.

The "Zerseher" describes the situation in which the digital corporations steered the world pretty much in 2021 - only this work of art is not of today. But from 1992. It is one of the first works to use the computer for interactive art and, long before digital surveillance capitalism emerged, already vividly demonstrates its consequences. And if it is not mentioned in the same breath as Nam June Paik's “TV Buddha” today, it is also because Joachim Sauter, the author of this work, was not interested in a classic career in the art world. The "Zerseher" has many parallels to the TV Buddha: There you can see a Buddha statue sitting in front of a television, a video camera films him so that it looks as if the Buddha is staring at his medial reflection in a continuous loop.Paik showed his work, which was celebrated as a symbol of the media age, in a gallery in 1974 - Sauter hiss at Ars Electronica in 1992.

At that time he was 33 years old, one of the youngest art professors in Germany and co-founder of an agency whose position between art, research and design in Germany, which believes in the sector, nobody fully understood: Art + Com was in 1988, largely at Sauter's instigation, by artists, scientists and hackers Berlin, there were close relationships with the Chaos Computer Club, and the aim was to see what possibilities the computer offered as a communication medium, what to do with virtual reality and how, thanks to interfaces, the authoritarian relationship between passive viewer and active artist was rethought could be.

The big software theft

What Sauter had in mind was a kind of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Berlin. What he did often looked breathtaking; the 3-D animations from Art + Com were used for archaeological research, with TrojaVR you could walk through ancient Troy. What Sauter and his friends presented back in 1994 was even more astonishing: a planet browser that processed aerial photographs, satellite images, maps and weather data in real time and was supposed to enable every user to navigate from space down to individual streets and valleys around the world to zoom in - which is why the project was called “Terravision”. In 1996 Art + Com applied for a patent for this worldview program,Before that, Sauter showed the "Terravision", co-financed by Deutsche Telekom, in Japan and in Silicon Valley - and it was at this moment that the story began, which in the celebrated Netflix series "The Billion Dollar Code" as a fiction "based on a true story" is told. It's Sauter's story. It's the story of a couple of friends who don't want to accept that Silicon Valley will steal their software from them and bring it onto the market as “Google Earth”.

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