I have gathered a small amount of documentation of artwork produced by various artists on the subject of surveillance. Each of the artists chose different aspects of the subject to influence their work. Whilst the work that I’ve looked at has been quite diverse, the intention of the artists to scrutinise and intercept the mechanisms of surveillance is the same. There is adesire to corrupt the power and authority that are interwoven in the surveillance systems – and the institutions that operate these systems.
Constructivism was an artistic and architectural philosophy that originated in Russia beginning in 1919 and was a rejection of the idea of autonomous art. The movement was in favour of art as a practice for social purposes.
An Interpretation of Surveillance
Surveillance is a term which attracts a wide variety of notions. To survey something implies a kind of active looking with the emphasis on gathering information; considered in this sense, the concept could be (and indeed is) applied to an array of political and cultural appraisals and judgements. ‘Appraisals’ because information is related to a system of values and ‘Judgements’ because the system of values belongs to that of the surveyors, whose gathered information in conjunction with their value system allows the surveyors the authority to act upon the bodies of the surveyed.
The State: The State System
Surveillance and Panopticism
Surveillance and the State
The term ‘State’ is rather complex in interpretation: in particular relevance to the subject surveillance, there are aspects of the state system which are of interest. The State system consists of institutions such as government (and local government to a lesser extent), the military, the paramilitary, administrative elements, the security and police forces and the judiciary. These are the institutions that Ralph Milliband identifies as constituting the state system.
The truism that technology moves at an alarmingly fast rate is readily applied to the advancing science of surveillance. The quality of the images produced by today’s CCTV cameras are far removed from those seen in the James Bulger case for example. Within a typical system, the high definition cameras (often equipped with infrared capabilities) are able to zoom in to magnifications that call to mind the claims of the spy satellites’ strengths. Worryingly, it is not only the increased quality but sheer number of the cameras available. Placed at strategic locations allowing fields of vision to intersect, an entire web of cameras can follow ‘persons of interest’ often for miles. A system of operators can track a person’s movements, activities and contacts as long as they stay within reach of the cameras’ gaze. Should a break in the web need filling, a mobile CCTV unit can be used to fill it; Bournemouth police posses such a mobile unit, along with over 200 fixed cameras in there town’s surveillance web.
The Closed Circuit Television Revolution
Football Hooliganism is partly the cause for Britain’s current obsession with CCTV. In 1985 the violence related to football (perceived as an almost exclusive ‘British Disease’) reached a peak and 92 grounds received grants from the Football Association to install CCTV systems. A similar grant was given by the Football Association to the police to establish mobile CCTV units throughout Britain. It didn’t take very long before the police realised that there was great potential for gathering evidence and for social control, offering a significant increase in police powers.
In the decade that followed its introduction, CCTV has gained (quite understandably) support in the highest levels of government, John Major in 1994 addressed the Tory Party conference with his commitment to further funding the implementation of the technology. In 1996 Michael Howard boasted how Britain now ‘...rules the world in closed circuit technology.’ By March 1995 the government had handed out over £5 million for distribution to towns and cities having difficulty funding their own CCTV systems; added to this, is a further £14 million from the private sector in ‘partnership’ schemes. The reason for such a complete acceptance for CCTV in Britain seems fairly clear when considering the power of the belief that CCTV = Crime-free streets. CCTV is promoted as the ultimate crime prevention tool. It would appear that everyone will benefit; with the exception of criminals, hooligans and enemies of law and order. The image of the technology is so powerful that few people think beyond the immediate promise of the moment.
Working primarily with video and photography, I’ve produced a body of work intending to engage with some of the issues around surveillance which I’ve outlined in the previous chapters. The main characteristics of any surveillance system are those of Paranoia and Voyeurism; but I have also considered ways of manipulating and interrupting the power-structures within such systems in order to dispel the paranoia and reveal the voyeur.
The installation ‘Video Mandala’ is an interactive work which has not, to date, been placed in its most ideal site. It has, however, been fixed in a precursory public site, where it received some feedback. A documentary style video was made with the assistance of three people who expressed an interest in the work (also title ‘Video Mandala’). This documentary serves to explain the powers involved in the installation work.
Video MandalaContext & Development
The Installation ‘Video Mandala’
By manipulating the feed-back between a television and a video camera - the video mandala structure can be constructed.
How does it work? is usually the first question on anybody’s lips. The best answer that I have for this, is that essentially the equipment becomes an analogy to a fractal equation. Like all fractals, a highly complex structure emerges from a relatively simple initial equation and feed-back loop. The nature of the structure is not predictable - as it depends on initial conditions such as light source in the vicinity, type of technology, shutter speed, distance between lens and screen and angle of camera tilt.
Take for example a tilt in the camera of 30 degrees. As each image of the screen is progressively fed back - it retains this degree of tilt, as well as a progressive diminuation due to the distance between the camera and screen being multiplied. So the second image will be at a 60 degree angle and be seen as if twice the distance away.
(It is interesting to note that this is an example of a geometric progression, which is of great importance in the study of sacred geometry)
Video Mandala: Documentary
As a response to the general curiosity about how the images of the Video Mandala are produced; there was a need to create a documentary. One was made, with assistance, and also called ‘Video Mandala’. Jon, Chqui and Simon had shown a particular interest in the work and were happy to collaborate with suggestions, narrative and computer animations.
Wax T.V. and The Innocent have Nothing to Fear
Both of these videos were made along side the installation and resulted from the same areas of research. The work stems from a desire to explore more collaborative ways of working creatively, with people who had felt a sympathy with exploring surveillance issues. This group of people, who identify as artists and non-artists alike, became involved in an informal way through circles of friends; and by discussing the work and ideas socially.
Video Installation: ‘Video Mandala’
Series of stills shown in sequence and taken from the installation during March 1997. The progression shows how the video mandala settles into a ring and them breaks down into a choatic circular form.