Grey Room

Extralegal Portraiture: Surveillance, between Privacy and Expression

Monica Steinberg

Paolo Cirio. Street Ghosts, 2012. Colored ink on paper and wheat paste, life size. 4 Spring Street, New York. © Paolo Cirio. Courtesy the artist.


Extralegal portraiture pushes legal plausibility to an extreme level, exploiting areas that corporate actors, lawmakers, and legal enforcers might prefer remain in the shadows and beyond the realm of consideration and regulation. Experiments in extralegal portraiture operate at the intersection of creative practice and legal constraint. They are built on the legacies of coercion, uncivil obedience, antagonism, culture jamming, and détournement. Nothing about this art and these forms of provocation is new. But in the present article, I am not interested in mapping a history of art and surveillance or art’s intersections with law. Rather, I am interested in exploring a mode of creative practice that pursues the construction of a kind of conceptual portrait, one that images both the personal and the legal; that is, the personal information of a chosen subject and the extralegal space facilitating the collection and manipulation of that data. What connections might be mapped between experiments in extralegal portraiture and broader corporate and regulatory practices? What (if any) reactions have creative interventions triggered within various publics? And in what way has extralegal portraiture intersected and interfered with a legal culture informed by permissive constraint?