My Mother’s Maiden Name

Venue: 1131 Mission Street

What is your mother’s maiden name?

Who was your first kiss?

Banks, credit card companies, and social media sites utilize password security questions when users sign up for an account online. If the user forgets their login information in the future, they can retrieve access to their account by answering these security questions correctly. In most cases, the questions ask users to recall specific memories of their life and reinvent them as an extra form of protection. If one cannot remember their password, surely they can be asked to remember their first kiss in order to regain access to their account. But what are the implications of this protocol? What if a user must recall someone who raped them or a predatory family member as their first kiss? The security questions utilized by corporations realize a subtle system that hinges on potentially harmful emotional triggers and notions of inadequacy. Within this system, corporations attempt to standardize beliefs, knowledge, and values that dictate when and where personal history is trusted to formulate identity and security.

My Mother’s Maiden Name analyzes this governance of individual history seen in security questions and implements this question and answer protocol as a precedent to discuss online authorship, culture-construction, and systems of knowledge. The selected artists take a considered approach to the fragility of memory and identity amongst digital data noise to account for information that cannot be quantified through such constructs like security systems. The artists evaluate elements that are not concrete in text, visible data, or public, and instead entrench themselves in the emotions and values that come with answering a security question or using an Apple-patented gesture, for example. Albeit a coping mechanism or performance to satisfy interfaces with limited language and context, these actions tell important histories and beliefs that go beyond what is typed, selected in a drop down menu, or tracked via wifi. My Mother’s Maiden Name confronts this regulation of bodies to reveal requisite activism, awareness, and dialog required to make changes to systems that shape identity and culture in facilities that are otherwise untraceable.

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