The Active Denial System

*Satellite Exhibition*
The Artist’s Institute at Hunter College
132 East 65th Street, New York, NY

Megan Snowe, The Active Denial System
January 20 – February 6, 2018

The Active Denial System (ADS) is a less-than-lethal, millimeter-wave direct-energy weapon developed by the US military for the purposes of perimeter security and crowd control. The heat ray emitted by The Active Denial System, manufactured by Raytheon, heats the outer layer of human skin to an uncomfortable degree.

The initial model of The Active Denial System was mounted atop military vehicles. Recent smaller-scale consumer models have been developed for use by prisons systems and police forces. Originally developed for the War in Afghanistan, the ADS’s energy is produced by a gyrotron and transformed into a focused and directional millimeter-wave radio frequency beam. The technology used to create the ADS heat ray is often confused with the technology used in microwave ovens. However, the two are different, but are in fact related. The microwave oven uses longer wavelengths to penetrate deeper into a material, where as the ADS’s millimeter waves are significantly shorter and are projected for a shorter duration, thus only penetrating 1/64 of an inch beyond the skin surface.

For Custom Program’s satellite exhibition, Megan Snowe has taken inspiration from the gallery’s setting to create The Active Denial System, a speculative personal software based on the military weapon, designed to manipulate the physical and emotional comfort of both the user and the object of the user’s denial. For this installation, a sort of software mini showroom, Snowe has created a crude model of a cross section of human epidermis and paired it with literature about the proposed software. The fictional ADS technology purportedly helps a user protect themselves from various forms of social, emotional, and physical threats through what the system deems the power of active denial. This customizable software also assists in ingraining bias and avoidance of challenging and inconvenient situations. The sculptural installation and fictional promotional pamphlet connect the visceral anatomy of our bodies with the concept of social algorithm hacking.


The Active Denial System is the companion exhibition to Less-Than-Lethal, a video installation on display at Custom Program from January 18 – February 25, 2018.