You are being watched!

Artist: Barbara Kruger

Since my mind has been on Surveillance Art the past few days, I couldn’t help but write about it (again). Specifically, my interest lie in the legal aspects and ramifications surrounding this particular art form and its effects on citizens. Aside from issues of safety and privacy, footage of any kind becomes art when you modify what it. With so much altering of anything these days (i.e., photos, audio, film footage, etc.); what is believable, verifiable, or trustworthy?

Last year, I did a Shotgun Review (by way of Art Practical) regarding the art collective, HUSH. Much of their art, let’s face it, may be perceived as intrusive and incredibly risqué art making, which is the best kind because you’re forced to discuss and ponder the aim of the piece. HUSH look at laws (cross culturally) and conduct surveillance themselves. Yes, folks, anything is possible and you may be the subject of art work and be completely unaware.  You’re probably being watched as you read this (imagine that, a camera somewhere recording your actions at this very moment). Something innocuous like reading this blog post on your phone or laptop. Not to increase paranoia but this is the world we live in.

Surveillance is meant to protect and serve people but, primarily, it’s used to dictate the actions of people. Subconsciously, people conduct themselves in accordance with the law but surveillance almost ensures compliance. Or, does it?  Within the realm of art, surveillance may be used to showcase the need for connection with others or how one method of perceiving and communication with the world (i.e., via digitally) has a negative affect (check out The Public Isolation Project). When you know you are being watched, you act and speak differently. There are no barriers other than your perception of what is being seen.

In any case, I will leave it at that today. Someone is probably watching…

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Author: Dorothy R. Santos

Dorothy R. Santos (b. 1978) is a Filipina-American writer, editor, curator, and educator whose research interests include new media and digital art, activism, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Born and raised in San Francisco, California, she holds Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of San Francisco, and received her Master’s degree in Visual and Critical Studies at the California College of the Arts. She serves as one of the editors-in-chief for Hyphen magazine. Her work appears in art21, Art Practical, Daily Serving, Rhizome, Hyperallergic, and SF MOMA's Open Space. She has lectured at the De Young museum, Stanford University, School of Visual Arts, and more. Her essay “Materiality to Machines: Manufacturing the Organic and Hypotheses for Future Imaginings,” was published in The Routledge Companion to Biology in Art and Architecture (2016). She is currently a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts fellow researching the concept of citizenship. She also serves as executive staff for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism and board member for the SOMArts Cultural Center.

2 thoughts on “You are being watched!”

  1. Wow. I never heard of Surveillance art before. You got me thinking about the point where art becomes intrusive. If I take a photo of (say) a crowd watching a parade, that’s probably not intrusive… or is it? (Do I have to get the permission of everyone who was there?) But I guess the goal of surveillance art is to say something about the surveillance itself, yes?

    1. Surveillance is a complicated issue and I think many people don’t realize that the arts is a great place to explore the ramifications of something that is, intrinsically, supposed to help create order, semblance, and law abiding citizens within a community BUT humans are so unpredictable. No matter what, the human spirit will always find some way to go undetected. Be under the radar. Well, that’s what I hope…humans can’t really be contained…or, can we?

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