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Dismantling the Blue Gaze Magnus Schaefer on American Artist at the Queens Museum, New York

American Artist, “2015,” 2019, video still

American Artist, “2015,” 2019, video still

The works of American Artist lead directly into the theme of this issue. Algorithms are examined here under the aspect of discrimination, or more precisely, by using the example of racially motivated police violence against people of color. In a reply to this, American Artist has designed an app that demonstrates the use of algorithmic prediction in police practices. Here, the descriptor ‘blue’ refers to the police, and it also leads directly into the double consciousness that Curtis Mayfield once sang about: “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue.”

It is the early morning of June 29, 2015. The dashcam footage from a police car patrolling a neighborhood in Brooklyn shows views of residential streets and semi-industrial blocks with few pedestrians or cars on the road. The seemingly erratic route of the car follows the driving directions provided by a rudimentary area map and other animations, which appear superimposed on the windshield like the transparent overlays that are a staple of science-fiction movies. These graphics indicate the locations of possibly imminent crimes that have been forecast by an algorithm. After a few minutes of driving around, with the occasional squeal of the car’s siren added for dramatic effect, the message “Crime Deterred” pops up on the screen without any discernible correlation to activities outside the car.

This is the basic narrative that repeats with slight variations throughout the series of vignettes that comprise American Artist’s video projection 2015 (2019, single-channel HD video, 21:38 minutes), the centerpiece of their solo exhibition “My Blue Window” at the Queens Museum. The city appears mediated through the views from a moving car and the oblique divinations of an algorithm, while looped crime statistics play in the lower right corner of the screen incessantly claiming the legitimacy of the forecasts, which are purportedly based on ‘hard’ facts but do not translate into actual events documented by the camera. Like in a driving simulation game, the camera perspective places the viewers in the position of the police officer behind the steering wheel, creating a sense of being involved, if not complicit, in the action on the screen, while also pointing to the narrowness of the view from inside the car. In the exhibition space, viewers sit on an arrangement of low bleachers, which is part of the installation and further emphasizes the impression of being simultaneously caught up in and removed from whatever happens on ‘the other side’ of the windshield/screen hybrid.

2015 interweaves reality and fiction on multiple levels. The longer one watches, the less credibly dramatic the footage becomes. More importantly, Artist juxtaposes the science-fiction trope of the windshield head-up display – obviously still not a feature of police cars – with the fact that the New York Police Department introduced predictive policing in 2015, while to the general public at the time, the idea of predicting future crimes would have probably seemed like the stuff of science fiction. In her book Carceral Capitalism, Jackie Wang cites a 2013 interview in which the media strategist of the policing software company PredPol (short for ‘predictive policing’) grants that their product “kind of sounds like fiction,” only to then make an appeal for its legitimacy by maintaining that “it’s more like science fact,” an all-too-common strategy that falsely equates statistics with neutral facts. [1]

Algorithms are far from being objective, as they reproduce the biases of the datasets they draw on, creating new realities in almost hallucinatory ways, albeit with real consequences. As Wang notes, “spatial algorithmic policing, even when it does not use race to make predictions, can facilitate racial profiling by calculating proxies for race, such as neighborhood and location.” [2] Most of the footage in Artist’s video is recorded in the predominantly Black and Hispanic Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, pointing to the police’s targeting of communities of color. The video is not aiming at the problem of algorithmic prejudice per se, but at the structural bias that informs both technology and policing in the United States and elsewhere, producing a reality that perpetuates anti-blackness and the legacies of slavery. The NYPD adopted predictive policing in the wake of widespread criticism of the city’s ‘stop-and-frisk’ program that disproportionally affected Black and Latinx people, with the number of stops peaking at more than 685,000 in 2011, and a string of widely reported murders of Black people by police across the country.

American Artist, “1956/2054,” 2019, video still

American Artist, “1956/2054,” 2019, video still

As the introductory wall text for “My Blue Window” explains, predictive policing falsely promised a more neutral (and purportedly science-based) approach, but it is actually an extension of older policing methods such as ‘stop-and-frisk.’ In the video, the ‘blue window’ through which viewers see Brownsville offers the perspective of law enforcement – forcasting activities in a specific neighborhood by the putatively neutral expertise of an algorithm – which appears to be disconnected from what can actually be observed in the footage. The descriptor ‘blue’ not only refers to the color of police car lights and uniforms, but also to the efforts by members of the police force to claim the color as a quasi-racial identity distorting the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement and projecting a sense of being endangered. Nijah Cunningham and Tiana Reid have laid out that “‘Blue Lives Matter’ is, fundamentally, a moral claim that conjures an ever-present threat ‘out there.’ It fabricates a hatred of the police that somehow supersedes the violence and terror that the police state injects into everyday life. […] Blue life effectively obscures the violent operations of police power by attempting to give it flesh.” [3] Intermixing real facts, obviously staged images, and science fiction tropes, 2015 quietly delegitimizes this ‘blue window,’ showing it as the weaponized construction it is. [4]

1956/2054, the second work in “My Blue Window,” consists of an app Artist has produced, and a short animation promoting it. Again superimposing science fiction and current reality, the title references Philip K. Dick’s short story The Minority Report from 1956, which is set in the year 2054. Dick’s plot involves three mutants that have developed the ability to predict crimes before they occur, and parses the consequences of the inherent possibility of uncertainty and error in their forecasts vis-à-vis the public perception and credibility of the system. Algorithmic policing, as it is in use today, seeks to avoid these questions by invoking the authority of science. In turn, Artist’s app, which visitors can download on their phones, provides information about the issues undergirding the promise of mobilizing technology to prevent crime. Adopting the format of a newsreader, the app aggregates current articles about predictive policing that touch on issues such as privacy, surveillance, legislation, and the business relationships between private software companies and the civic entities that use their products.

In a recent interview, Artist talked about their decision to eschew the spectacle of videos showing police brutality in their work, asserting “it’s not something that we aren’t already familiar with.” [5] Predictive technology has been in use for several years, despite seeming like science fiction. The images it produces strike one as mundane and do not circulate widely. “My Blue Window” seizes on this banality. Superimposing the otherwise unremarkable dashcam footage with stock sci-fi visuals, 2015 renders predictive policing strange and offers images that counter the relative invisibility of the practice and the misguided premises of neutrality and efficiency that surround it. Algorithms tend to be oblique to the average user. Most of us simply rely on the assumption of their expertise. While 2015 queries what it means for a predictive algorithm to work as expected, the accompanying app provides starting points for researching the structures that carry the implementation of algorithmic prediction in police practices. Together, the works in “My Blue Window” make a strong case for understanding predictive policing as an extension of the more visible excesses of violence constitutive of older policing practices, rather than as a more benign version of them.

“American Artist: My Blue Window,” Queens Museum, New York, October 6, 2019–February 16, 2020.


[1]Jackie Wang, Carceral Capitalism (South Pasadena, CA: semiotext(e), 2018), p. 237.
[2]Wang, p. 247.
[3]Nijah Cunningham and Tiana Reid, “Blue Life,” The New Inquiry, September 24, 2018,
[4]“My Blue Window” builds upon questions Artist had also addressed in their exhibition “I'm Blue (If I Was ννννν I Would Die)” at Koenig & Clinton in Bushwick earlier in 2019, which staged a ‘blue’ classroom featuring, among other elements, stacks of books with titles such as Black Lies Matter or The War on Cops.
[5]Julie Hoangmy Ho, “Slowing Down to See Black and Blue,” New York Times, October 23, 2019,