Data Trespass: Wyoming v. Wright

Data Trespass: Wyoming v. Wright, 2016, HD Video, 9:43mins, randomized loop. (4min excerpt).

Data Trespass: Illegal Photographs, a conceptual suite of panoramic images that antagonize a recent Wyoming statute that makes outdoor photography an illegal and indictable form of data collection. This video (excerpted here), also titled Data Trespass, derives its footage from a mock trial where Wright was prosecuted for his apparent contravention of the Wyoming ‘no photography’ law. Video plays on a randomized and endless loop. Videography and sound recording by Christopher Payne. With thanks to Glen Bloom. © Andrew Wright 2016.

Upon returning from Wyoming, a discussion with a lawyer with an expertise in copyright and intellectual property, led to the staging of the ‘mock trial’.  The aim was to to explore the legality of my activities, to determine whether infractions had taken place, to explore the degree to which images can be subject to other structures designed at arriving at ‘truth’—such as “Justice”.

The trial was structured based Ontario court proceedings—with the addition of an “inquisitor” who is tasked with questioning the witness (me).  The voices on the video are mine, my defender, the judge, the inquisitor, and the prosecutor representing the state of Wyoming.

Data Trespass: Wyoming v. Wright, 2016, HD Video, 9:43mins, randomized loop. (Production still from the mock trial held January 9th, 2016, Ottawa, Canada. Artist Andrew Wright (right) is questioned by the court about his photographs shot in 2015 in the state of Wyoming, in apparent contravention of the Data Trespass statute. Photo credit: Julia Martin

There are considerable “departures” from standard procedure, which is predictable since it is entirely ‘mock’ and jurisdictional incompatibilities are essentially ignored— the judge claims that the law applies in the same way in both Ontario and Wyoming, while in the same breath declares that only some of what he has said is “true”.  The judge clearly wants to entertain a discussion of the nature of photographs while reminding the lawyers to stick to the law which only concerns the Data Trespass. 

The video is structured to emphasize the difficulty of determining ‘truth’ based on what purports to be evidentiary information.  The photographic truth is the primary issue (“and is it your position that a photograph of air, is air?”), but equally difficult is the determination of legal ’truth’ when the court proceedings often devolve into a bureaucratic exercise in identifying the subject and interpretation of the law for a more than likely biased judge.  The judge goes to some lengths in his preamble to establish Wyoming as a ‘progressive’ and perhaps even cultured place that is not ‘anti-photography’ or ‘anti-art’. 

In the end, no real conclusions are drawn, and the activity of determining guilt or innocence—or indeed what the infraction could have been—remains as unsatisfied as the video—a highly pixelated and provisional, scanning, consideration of the many of the photographs that were on display and that became “exhibits”.  The video does not divulge the final verdict.

This work, along with Data Trespass: Illegal Photographs #s 23-31 was purchased by The National Gallery of Canada in July 2018, and now form part of their collection.