Broadcasting the panopticon: Art project transforms wireless surveillance into public art

0 Posted by - March 3, 2008 - Blog, Public art, Screen

Surveillance is a response to fear. A cautious response, perhaps, and sometimes a paranoid response. But what about the product of surveillance? The images and sounds? If the images of people are taken without permission, who owns them?

What few owners of wireless video surveillance systems realize is that their security needs are also little television stations broadcasting images to anyone who can find them. Dublin-based artist Benjamin Gaulon is doing just that and using what he finds to subvert assumptions about the public-private nature of surveillance technologies.

2.4 Ghz (the project name) uses simple consumer technologies to pickup and display wireless surveillance camera signals in a local area. Gaulon installs them in public places – for example, attached to a lamp post in front of a building. What was a private “taking” of privacy becomes public, a kind of turning inside out of the arrangement of surveillance.

The images are eery and, of, course immensely banal. And, I admit a certain weakness for highly textured and low-resolution video images. But these images have been transformed. Once “freed” from their private (and fear filled?) places of intended consumption, almost certainly sites nestled within apparatus and systems of security and control, they become – what?

They become more of what they are and significantly less. We are let in on the secret. Seeing the images in a public space gives a sense of watching the watcher – a sense of power, the kind that comes from taking something forbidden. There is also a sense of hilarity, as if one is participating in a complicated joke. And there is the creepiness of watching dislocated images gathered in the production of control, a sense of being implicated in the spying, of becoming part of the faceless technological panopticon.

And, one confronts these images also with a feeling of relief: there is the sense of witnessing the dirty laundry of fear’s technologies being aired.

An interesting and thought provoking project. To see some of the “found” video sequences check out Gaulon’s website.

Thanks to Neural.it for finding the story.

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