Surveillance art: yey or ney?

For many this could be a new term… for others not so much. Using surveillance systems as a form of art is not exactly a novelty anymore, and emerged as a critic to the enhancement of surveillance imposed by a few governments plus the technology used to achieve it, especially when it comes to public security and the fulfillment of laws.  This type of art may manifest itself in several ways such as short videos, photography, architecture or performance.

The question that prevails is how far can the artists go, in the name of art, without violating people’s privacy? The surveillance systems itself are already seen as something negative, so therefore, can we take advantage of it?

Borrowing a neighbor

Arne Svenson, renowned photographer, was recently sued due to its last series ‘The Neighbours‘.  This work contemplates a set of photographs with saturated tons of Svenson neighbors in their daily lives, watching TV, eating, taking a nap, etc. The family that was photographed was not happy to know that there were images of them out there being commercialized as art, ending up taking the artist to court. In this case the artist did not intent to be evasive; he just wanted to capture real human moments, without identifying a specific being. In fact, he managed to do just that because the pictures maintain the anonymity of the photographed family, except when the news came out and the family itself assumed their identity.




Some artists go even further and use actual surveillance cameras to develop their artworks. ‘Nosy‘ (2006) by Christian Moeller, consisted in a video camera installed at a street of Tokyo which captures people that where walking by the de surrounding environment. The footage is then displayed on three towers covered in LED panels and laminated glass.

Staged Goolge

Google was also part of a performance episode with their ‘Google Street View’ when in 2008 the artists Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley invited them to integrate their spectacular project. ‘Street with a View‘ was a performance on which the Google Inc. Street View team and the residents of Pittsburgh Northside were invited to collaborate on a series of staged moments such as a parade, a marathon, 17th century sword fights, garage bands and epic rescue among others. Google technicians captured these images and integrated them on the Google Street View platform.

How to escape the cameras?

Tired of this public “stalking”, Adam Harvey developed a way to escape the surveillance cameras. ‘CV Dazzle‘ is a project that allows people to use make up as a camouflage technique for the technologies of face recognition. It can be used at any environment that has systems of facial recognition including platforms like facebook. Harvey has already collaborated with hairdressers, DIS Magazine and artists such as Jillian Mayer and Bronwyn Lewis, that also  made available tutorials and workshops about how to hide your face away from cameras.



 Living under surveillance

There are many other artists that develop artworks related to the issues of surveillance which are still a matter of discussion. In 2010 the Museum of Modern Art San Francisco organized an exhibition called  ‘Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera Since 1870‘, that aimed precisely to the differences between seeing and spying, the private act and public image with examples of artworks from photography, film, video by well-known artists and others unknown.

Artists are definitely the most capable ones to attract attention to a specific subject or issue. Especially on this case is important to try to understand this variant of art so that people can analyze and also reflect on the questions centered on the transgression of privacy.