Cologne, What is Your Mother’s Maiden Name? – Max Dovey

A collaboration between London-based artist & cultural producer MAX DOVEY with participants Youth Academy Cologne: Emma Bieck, Johannes Hofmann, Bessie Normand and Argia Helen Wehner.

Rebekka Endler interviewing Max Dovey for a reportage broadcasted on WDR/ Deutschland Radio Kultur Kompressor

future of the automobile is digital – with fully
electric and automatic driving, the robot car and the sharing economy.
Companies like UBER, Dixi Chuxing and Apple undermine the idea of ownership.
Moreover, Google’s Android Auto, Apple’s Carplay and Amazon’s Alexa are
turning the car into a source of valuable
consumer behaviour patterns. This transformation matches a broader process:
data are being gathered from human experiences to predict and influence our
coming behaviour. In these predictions lies the new profit, a system aptly
described by economist Shoshana Zuboff as Surveillance Capitalism. “Cologne,
What is Your Mother’s Maiden Name?” was a participatory taxi tour that used
GPS, psychogeography[1]
and augmented reality to create psychological portraits of the city. Passengers
were asked to play ‘I-spy’ and record their experience as they explored the
urban landscape. Their written observations were then analysed for their
psychometric properties, similar to the techniques used by companies such as
Cambridge Analytica[2] to target
consumers in online advertising and political campaigning to produce a
psycho-geography of Cologne.

[1] Guy Debord defined psychogeography in his
“Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography” (1955) as the experimental
exploration of the environment. What influence does the geographical
environment have on perception, psychic experience and behavior, are Debords
central issues. Methods of psychogeography are wandering, drifting or a dérive.
This is connected with the process of walking or collecting, recording, mapping
and misappropriating found objects, conversations with passers-by and sounds.

[2] Cambridge
Analytica Ltd (CA) was a British political consulting firm which combined data
mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication during
the electoral processes. The personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users
were acquired in 2015. CA performed data analysis services for Ted Cruz’s
presidential campaign (2015), for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (2016)
as well as for Leave.EU. In the course of the Facebook data scandal, the
company closed in 2018.


The psychometric taxi tour was produced as part of a series of workshops in collaboration with artists from the Youth Academy.

The fixed route went along
different stages of Cologne, its past, present and future and encountered some
old friends, some familiar sounds and discovered an automated augmented future.
Complemented by artistic interventions, the observations of the passengers got
influenced and manipulated. All the data gathered during the rides appeared
directly on a corresponding Googlemap on-screen at the Kiosk. Situationism 3.0
at your service!

The participants looked at methods to produce locative based experiences. Max introduced them to site specific media art and together they explored methods of the Situationists International and the dérive as a mode of re-navigating the urban environment. Another point of departure was the French Mathematician Literature group Oulipo that featured writers such as Georges Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino. While performing a series of Exhausting-a-Crowd writing exercises the participants explored their city in intensive ways and together with Max, developed routes for the taxi ride. A combination of oldskool Situanist methodes, combined with psychometric computer programming and data analysing. There were some technical issues to be solved, while trying to create a immersive ride where the passenger would be activated to observe and describe the city. Integrating an I-Spy element in the computer program, would make it easier for the passenger to focus on a limited range of options and to structure each passengers journal.

Immersive taxi rides

The  tour started in front of the Kiosk, offering a view on the traffic and pedestrians that endlessly circulate around the Ebertplatz, with the sound piece “Tackt” (Argia Helen Wehner) – an automated recital of the phonetic sounds that she transcribed during a writing exercise at the corner of Ebertplatz.

A translation of the urban noises got performed by computer software voices in the three most common languages in contemporary Cologne. It promised to wipe out the daily worries of the passengers and sharpen their senses  before actually getting in the taxi. After Tackt, the host guided the passengers to the taxi and handed out tablets. As people typed in a nickname, the taxi headed for the touristic Altstadt.

During the ride, an intervention
by Bessie Normand in the form of an angry poem echoed from the speakers that
referred to places the taxi passed by, in order to manipulate the observation
of the passengers.

people turned out to be physically unfit for one of the many affordances
promised by the manufacturers of 
the self-thinking car. The surplus attention gifted from not having to
concentrate on the road can be directed towards interior screens and in-car
entertainment. For many however,  using
a tablet and typing in a moving vehicle is a very efficient way to quickly feel
nauseous, so the ‘free time’ created by automated driving may be spent nursing
a sore head. To help recovery upon returning, passengers could clean their
thoughts in a parked car, where a virtual reality headset took passengers
through a fully automated car wash.

VR Goggles, the installation alluded to a post-human future of an automated
self-service carwash. While it encouraged the passenger to consider our role in
a future of increasing automation, at the same it paid an homage to the culture
of carwashes in Germany NRW.

the VR carwash, passengers were guided back to the Kiosk where they received a
printout of their journey. A work by Emma Bieck formed the closing act of the
tour. Passengers picked a personal Tarot Card with mysterious predictions for
the future, redesigned with quotes from Situationist International.

In “Cologne, What is Your Mother’s Maiden Name?” personality models and psycho-geographic were created from the individual’s experiences and observations of a city. Software that had been used to identify differences between individuals and amplify polar extremes between citizens was reconfigured to portray the psychological characteristics of a city.

LECTURE-PERFORMANCE 06-06-2019 at AcademySpace

Dovey performed the data science behind psychometric profiling and revealed how online data is analysed to produce different personality archetypes which are then used to influence human behaviour. During his lecture at the AcademySpace the visitors learned more about their data personality and how to manipulate language and psycho-analysis in the digital age.

City Records- Max Dovey 2019

About Max Dovey

Dovey (1987, lives and works in London/UK)received a Media Design & Communication Master at the Piet Zwart Academy, Rotterdam. He creates scenario based experiences, using technology that involve audience participation. Dovey critically reflects on emerging technology and explore the politics of a networked society. For example, ‘A Hipster Bar’ (2015), a pop-up bar that uses image recognition to only admit people that are recognised as a hipster according to a custom made algorithm or ‘Respiratory Mining’ (2017) turned the act of breathing into crypto-currency. Dovey worked amongst others with V2_ and The Patching Zone in Rotterdam, showed at Ars Electronica and at The Lowry in Manchester; ‘Humans Being Digital’. He teached at the Dutch Sandberg Institute and St. Joost Academy Breda and is affiliated researcher at the Institute of Network Cultures, at Agorama London and he writes for Open Democracy, Imperica & Furtherfield.