Julia Janssen (‘ 94) is an Amsterdam-based artist who researches the influence of digitalisation on our physical world. She makes the challenges of data, AI and technology tangible in interactive and performative installations. How do we deal with fairness, equality, autonomy, freedom and democracy in a data-driven society?
Janssen studied Graphic Design at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem (2012-16). Her designs were research-driven, often using mathematics and mainly socially or politically engaged. She saw art and design as tools to ask questions and create new perspectives. Her fascination with our relationship with technology grew and shaped several projects. She researched social media timelines, digital identities in games, virtual worlds, terms and conditions, alternative monetary systems and the advertising economy.
For her graduation project, she dove into the business models of Big Tech and stated, “The data business has enslaved us.” Janssen created a speculative boardroom Bank of Online Humanity to explain and criticise the data-guzzling practices of companies– Using our data to target, personalise and nudge our behaviour for their own profit. It was a difficult time to create urgency for this topic – it was before all the big scandals, whistleblowers and law enforcement. Nevertheless, Janssen was unconditionally motivated to take a stand for the impact of data and digitalisation on our society.
Bank of Online Humanity winning the Crypto Design Award later in 2016 motivated her to continue her research and follow her fascination for the topic. In 2017 she received a grant for Talent Development from Creative Fund NL and a Pionier Grant from the SIDN fund for Innovation and Internet – which enabled her to dedicate her artistic practice to data sovereignty fully. She got invited for presentations about her work and panel discussions, e.g. with Cathy O’Neil (Weapons of Math Destruction), leading up to a career as a public speaker and thinker.
To continue her research after graduation, she contacted highly renounced experts in the field, connected different perspectives and combined academic papers with fiction and other sources – Associating with different theories to develop her thoughts and visions. A process that has continued over the years – and will continue for many more – shaping her own philosophy.
With these grants, Janssen worked on a new installation for about fifteen months. She experimented with the value of information, profiling and (data)economics to develop a speculative data currency. This system was inspired by the stock exchange and measured the value of the data based on the relationship with other information. She categorised personal data into demographics, sociographics and psychographics, each decided in four value tranches. The research took shape in The Attention Fair (2018) – an installation consisting of twelve experiments, games and visualisations on the value of your data. You could gamble with information, discover data for sale and find out the value of your own online behaviour.
Granting informed consent is one of the foundations for collecting and processing our data. One Click makes the poor execution of this very important right painfully clear. Janssen wanted to enforce the project’s impact by making it a collective read-out-loud performance. She designed a pop-up radio studio and started 0.0146 seconds during Dutch Design Week 2019 in Eindhoven. After reading the first page herself, she invited people to read from the book for 12 minutes. Recording and documenting the whole process until it is finished. The project attracted lots of media and press – motivating many people across the country to come to Eindhoven and read.
0.0146 seconds travelled to several festivals, conferences and other events. Hundreds of people from all over the world participated. From age eleven to eighty-two and from data leaks to data lawyers– all raised our voices against the exploitative data business. Participant Kathalijne Buitenweg (former vice chairman for the Green Left (NL)) shared her reading experience with parliament during a debate on the future of the information society. The project inspired her to ask parliamentary questions about giving informed consent.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 did postpone the reading process for a while. The book still needs to be finished, and the process continues. During the pandemic, Janssen started a podcast to stay connected to her audience, to reflect on technological developments in covid-times and to develop her knowledge. She started with Achter de klik (in Dutch), and after eight episodes, she switched to the HyperClick Podcast to speak with internationally renowned experts.
In 2020 Janssen also worked on Non-discrimination by design. Commissioned by The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, she collaborated with a team of lawyers, human rights experts and political scientists to create a legal framework to minimise bias in algorithms.
That year she also got another grant from the SIDN fund for research into the data and profiling. She started by mapping the mechanics of data provenance, a relatively new field in data science, to create lifecycles for data. During this project, she was practically curious so see not only what data companies collect about her but how that leads to certain interest or risk profiles.
In Why :i:like Green (2021), she shows the infrastructure of Meta’s extended data collection. She already knew that Meta is a master of collecting data beyond its own service. But how intricate it was, was memorising. Via pixel technology, for example, Meta creates access to many applications and websites you use. Janssen used Bumble, a dating application, for a while. Since the conversations on these apps are not encrypted, Meta could access all her private conversations on the app. She visualised her research into 3500 ping pong balls – printed with her personal data, accessed by Meta in various devious ways.
In 2022 Janssen started as a Tutor at Design Art Technology, ArtEZ institute of the arts in Arnhem – The academy she studied herself. She gave Information Architecture and Design by Information Spaces to first- and third years students.
That same year, she worked on a new, interactive installation for Lowlands Festival 2022. She used the collection of 3500 ping pong balls as a starting point for broader research in the mechanics of profiling and digital identity. She created games to explain the categorisation and classification of data. A process that is mainly done by humans, labelling data into ‘apple’ or ‘pear’, ‘woman’ or ‘man’ and ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. She questioned the social and political complications of human bias in training AI systems. We now use technological decision-making as an objective process, but it’s highly injected with stigmatisation and prejudice. Dear data, how do you decide my future (2022) is an interactive installation about the decision-making process of an algorithm– and why this process is not neutral.
In February 2022, Janssen got contacted by the Dutch Data Protection Foundation– A new organisation to fight against illegal practices of Big-tech companies and to create awareness of the importance of data protection. In secret, Janssen worked with a small team on a lawsuit against Twitter and an awareness campaign Je staat te koop (You are for sale). The foundation named her the ambassador of this mass claim, representing over 10 million Dutch citizens who are victims of illegal data collection practices by Twitter. Twitter collected and used this data via the advertising platform MoPub. They created an SDK and integrated this in over 30.000 ‘free’ applications like Buitenradar, Duolingo, Grindr, Happn, Vinted, Shazam, etc.
Over the years, Janssen became a public figure in addressing the challenges and opportunities in our digitalising society. She shares her vision through her art and elaborates via lectures and media performances on TV, radio and podcasts.
Currently, Janssen is touring with Dear data and is active as the ambassador of the lawsuit against Twitter. In 2023, she starts a guest residency at the Rijksakademie voor beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam to work on a new project.
Newsletter: Updates on what’s happening at Studio Julia Janssen | 3-4 times a year
LinkedIN: Julia Janssen
Podcast: The HyperClick (EN)
Podcast: Achter de klik (NL)
Maakgemeenschap de Hoop – A community with 160 artists, makers and creatives on the edge of Amsterdam. Barndegat 6, 1505 Zaandam / Amsterdam North
Julia Janssen | founder
Berit Smit | Project management and advice
mEGG | A robot who writes on spherical and egg-shaped objects
Currently not actively looking for an intern or new team member. Nevertheless, feel free to send in an open application.
/ Own Your Own Data, SIDN fund for Innovation and Empowerment of the Internet user (2020)
/ Paul Moreno, Head of Cyber Security at Catawiki, former head of Cyber Security at Adyen (2019)
/ Grand for Talent Development, Creative fund NL (2017)
/ Pioneer, SIDN fund for Innovation and Empowerment of the Internet user (2017)
/ Dutch Data Protection Foundation
/ Nationale Wetenschaps Agenda
/ Dutch Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations / Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society
/ FreedomLab Institute for redefinition
/ Microphone Media Podcast Agency
/ Lowlands Festival
/ Social Economic Council
/ Oyfo Technology Museum
/ Masterly The Dutch Pavilion in Milan | Salone Del Mobile Milan
/ Into The Great Wide Open
/ Todays Art Festival
/ Dutch Design Week | Ketelhuisplein / VEEM
/ Mozfest | Mozilla Firefox
/ The Big Brother Awards
/ I-Interim Rijk | Dutch Ministry of Interior and Kingdom relations
/ De staat van het Internet | Waag society
/ OBA | Public Library of Amsterdam
/ Tolhuistuin Amsterdam
/ MoneyLab | Institute of Network Cultures
/ Beyond Data: Data for Society
/ Data Sharing Days
/ FAIR Digital Objects
/ ID Next
/ Erasmus Centre for Data Analytics
/ Brainwash Special: hoe intelligent is AI
/ Bits of Freedom Podcast
/ Keuzecast Podcast
/ Radio 3Fm
/ Spijkers met Koppen
/ Maxxi Museum of Contemporary Art
/ Future Shock| VPRO tegenlicht
/ DAMN Magazine
/ De Groene Live: een ander internet | De Groene Amsterdammer and TU delft
/ Bodyscan 223 | Amsterdam Fringe Festival
/ ArtEZ Institute of the arts
/ Dutch Future Society | digital meet-up
/ VPRO Tegenlicht, de slag om het internet (The battle for the Internet)
/ Dezeen Magazine Live
/ Fake Me Hard | Podcast
/ De Nieuwe Wereld (The New World) | Talkshow
/ More-IP | Conference
/ Public Spaces | Conference and Talkshow
/ DDW TV Young Talent
/ Dutch Data Protection Authority
/ Annual congress I-Interim Rijk | Dutch Ministry of Interior and Kingdom relations
/ Art & Consciousness in 2020 and beyond | Todays Art Festival, The Hague
/ Symposium Post-Master IT-Auditing & Advisory | Erasmus University, Rotterdam
/ Workshop Innovation in libraries | Cubiss, Tilburg
/ TITL 25th- conference | Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society
/ The Kick – Design for good | karibu Café, Utrecht
/ Fixing the Internet: Privacy and Data Beyond GDPR | Freedomlab Campus
/ Top Names | Talkshow by Platform Fast Moving Targets
/ Weapons of Math Destruction
/ with Cathy O’Neil | TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht
/ Design Mattters – Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam
/ Crypto Design Award – Winner, audience vote
/ Icarus Award – Nominee