In London, England, we are captured on film every 30 seconds. The authorities do it, supermarkets and high street shops do it, the railway and underground network does it. In Britain surveillance vans check we are not watching BBC1 without a license. The police watch the roads, checking for speeders, congestion, get-away drivers. Some newspapers listen to people by intercepting voicemail.
And the Home Office encourages us to help them by “being on the look out” for benefits cheats, tax-evaders and terrorists.
In a very Big Brother, Orwellian sense, we could be justified in fearing THEM watching US.
But a very different story is emerging:
WE are WATCHING THEM And it’s beautiful.
Although Google-earth is the king of surveillance, WE are using it to tell us the colour of Mrs Smith’s underwear hanging on her line; the size of a friend’s swimming pool; the quickest route up a mountain. WE tune into webcams pointed at government buildings. WE film police abusing people on our mobile phones (resulting in prosecutions). WE Tweet when we see a celebrity with someone who is not their wife. WE photograph the bullet as it enters a peaceful protestor. Not because we set out on secret mission to do so, but because we are all inadvertent operatives. Accidental gentle witnesses. WE ARE WATCHING BIG BROTHER. And we have the added ability to share our intelligence with others.
Overt Surveillance was started by two British artists, Janice Wilkins and Caroline Jaine, who combine an interest in civil liberties and new technologies with the old art-school instruction to “do more looking”. After reading John Berger, Jean Baudrillard, and a bit of Foucault, they thought it best to get out in the “real” world and conduct some very un-secretive observations. The aim of Overt Surveillance is to celebrate the art of watching, but also to understand where it can be harnessed for the greater good.
The operations (performances) began in the summer of 2011. Notification of who, when and where are openly and transparently posted on these webpages. During the surveillance mission, random notes and sketches are taken (and will be posted on this blog), but otherwise the overt surveillance missions will be unrecorded in any format. As when any artist brings out an easel, there may be people who choose to watch them at work. Some may take photographs. They are very welcome. This is all about the art of watching.
As well as carrying out operations, the artists are seeking funding for a high-profile overt surveillance vehicle. If realised, the vehicle will be toured around schools, parks, festivals and galleries of Britain where members of the public can use the vehicle to discover the art of watching for themselves (and become operatives). It will be better than watching reality TV! Learn more about the van plans here.
BECOME AND OPERATIVE
Overt Surveillance would like you to become an operative. Find out how you can join in here.
OVERT AND FOR HIRE
The two artists would be delighted to come and watch you, and help you watch. We are especially interested in visiting schools (because children make some of the best people watchers) – but are equally comfortable watching people in a corporate, official, or an arts environment.
Please leave a message on this blog or send a contact form to discuss any of the above further.