University of the West of England. BA Art & Social Context “Surveillance” by Richard Proffitt.
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Surveillance. Developing Artwork, part 3: Supporting Work.

Contextualised Practice: Evaluation Report. Module: A842S3

by Richard Proffitt September 1997.
Updated in May-July 2015

Supporting Work


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.

Wax T.V.

This is a tongue-in-cheek play on being the victim of the television licensing authority.

In a fit of paranoid creativity, a man covers his television screen in hot wax - rendering it no longer (as the BBC would term it) a ‘public broadcasting receiver’. Now, the wax tv is a piece of artwork. If the TV licensing authority force their entry (they have very powerful rights to entry - akin to the police service) could the television set be in a condition that satisfies the criteria for prosecution? It’s art - but is it still a public broadcasting receiver?

Behind the wax encrusted screen we can just make out a reception of a James Bond film. The soundtrack describes James being directed to a very secret location. Suddenly, a spoon appears (the tool of the consumer) and begins chipping away at the wax - next an extravaganza of spoon, wax, and television feedback, the secret location soundtrack gives way to a kitsch burst of organ music.

The Innocent have Nothing to Fear

This video is a series of digital sketches relating to a central narrative. The story unfolds about the fantasy life of a closed circuit television operator. Partly referential to Philip K Dick’s ‘A Scanner Darkly’ the operator gradually begins to understand that it is his own life that he has under surveillance. The main character is called J. He is seen occupying three distinct locations or realities.

The first is his ordinary reality of his everyday movements and work; he operates a series of surveillance cameras and scrutinises the output. The second reality is inside the surveillance images themselves; Here J. is amongst a group of people who appear to be planning and meeting. The meetings seem to look part commerce, part political and J. is holding a central position within the group. The third reality references the medical institution. J. is undergoing a curious operating procedure inside a dimmly-lit dreamlike operating theatre. He appears to be receiving some kind of prosthetic device; an electronic implant of some sort into his forehead.

As the plot thickens, the three realities merge and J. is seen acting desperately from paranoid fear. The situation into which he has become entangled is now untenable; he is entrapped in the compulsion to watch himself. He has accepted the implant of some awful alien surveillance device directly into neural pathways. Waking from the operation, he stares into the camera, cold, almost devoid of expression.

The sound track is constructed with electronic noise - a mixture of computer generated sounds, reflecting the noise of telematic equipment: dehumanised, coded and complex.

The video is a gloomy look at the increasing growth of surveillance technologies. The quote of the title, ‘The innocent have nothing to fear’ is taken from a speech made by the Home Secretary in 1996, whilst promoting the continual growth of Closed Circuit Television.

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