Monday, November 30, 2009

Subverting, Unpacking and Reverting the Authoritative Gaze

The section in the reading concerning CCTV (video surveillance) paints a dismal picture of surveillance technology. While the use of surveillance in the wake of the patriot act might give footing for Cartwright's pessimism, there have been steps (though few and far between) to try and reverse the effects of authoritative technology. In thinking about the various artistic interventions and activist activities aimed at dismantling our surveillance society I'm reminded of three project which come to mind in regards to the text's Foucauldian notions of regulatory and authoritative systems:

1. The Institute for Applied Autonomy, iSee
For this project, the (h)activist group created an interactive map of all the known (and in many cases unknown) CCTV surveillance systems in place throughout Manhattan. The software included with the map allowed users to chart out "the path of least resistance" (the route containing the fewest number/ or no surveillance footage. This project, understandably generated much controversy both for its potential as a tool for criminal activity and (from the left) for their condemnation rather than re purposing or democratization of surveillance technologies.

2. Jill Magid, System Azure
A more whimsical approach taken by the Amercian artist Jill Magid, who was able to convince Dutch officials to contract her fake company (System Azure) to decorate the the city's surveillance systems with rhinestones. Though this project was more symbolic than utilitarian, it was successful (for better or worse) at defusing the symbolic authority that the image of the surveillance camera holds.

3. David Brin, The Transparent Society
Lastly, the most explicit argument for the repurposing of surveillance technology can be found in Science fiction writer David Brim's novel The Transparent Society. Though more than twenty years old, the novel predicts much of the surveillance society in effect today. The book, set twenty years in the future, imagines a city (much like ours) where surveillance is ubiquitous. But rather than being monitored by an authoritative body "every citizen could access an image of every street corner." Brin goes on to address issues of privacy by proposing "cameras, both individual and state owned would be banned in certain public (and private) places, but not in the police stations where they would be ever pointed inwards." Brin's city is one built on trust rather than control and while its implementation is strictly utopian, it provides insight into the potential usage of certain technologies.

1 comment:

  1. I am not quite sure about the message behind the display windows at Louis Vuitton a few seasons ago, but they too feature a bunch of surveillance cameras pointed at its products.

    Here's a photo at this link: