Less-Than-Lethal & The Active Denial System (2018)

Less-Than-Lethal and The Active Denial System were companion commissioned installations for Custom Program (NY) and a satellite exhibition at The Artist’s Institute at Hunter College.

Both projects were inspired by the “radically-scaled” space of the microwave and explored the existing non-lethal weapon used by the US military, The Active Denial System. Both projects imagined a fictional brain implant product with the same name.

Less-Than-Lethal presented the experience of this implant product from the point of view of a victim of its effects; The Active Denial System was a mini product show room for the implant itself.


January 18, 2018 – March 15, 2018
Custom Program
Brooklyn, NY

I’m sweating; I’m wanting; I’m not sure; I’m horny as hell; I’m not enough. My desire-machine chugs along, programmed to be hungry, but dampened by doubt. Or is that the effects of a social algorithm of denial? I suppose it is easier to be actively denied than wonder to death. Denial can be crippling, incapacitating and heartbreaking, but is ultimately less than lethal.

Innovation is: active denial.

Less-Than-Lethal is a video installation created for Custom Program that imagines the inner monologues of a hypothetical victim of The Active Denial System (ADS). The Active Denial System is a customizable personal social software that proactively repels unwanted contact with people, materials, or situations through enhanced body language, scent, millimeter-waves and other techniques. Personal social software is a software one can, Snowe proposes, install into one’s biological operating system to assist with social interaction.

Less-Than-Lethal is inspired by a weapon developed by the US military of the same name – a less-than-lethal “heat ray” for purposes of crowd control. Originally developed for use in the War in Afghanistan, The Active Denial System’s energy is produced by a gyrotron and transformed into a focused and directional millimeter-wave radio frequency beam. This beam excites tiny water molecules on the skin’s surface and produces a sensation of intense heat. Despite its efficacy in dry-weather counter personnel missions the ADS is inhibited by precipitation such as snow, rain and fog, making the effects of the generated heat ray feel more warm and comfortable than repellent. Playing on this use of, as well as sensitivity to, moisture Less-Than-Lethal employs the imagery of human sweat and ambiguous bodily fluids as signs of both discomfort and pleasure.

January 18, 2018 – March 14, 2018 – by appointment only
Opening Reception: Thursday, January 18, 7-9pm

Closing Reception: Wed. March 15, 7-9PM


The Active Denial System

January 20 – February 6, 2018
The Artist’s Institute at Hunter College
132 East 65th Street, New York, NY

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.