WATCHED! Surveillance, Art and Photography


Watched! is an interdisciplinary research project on surveillance, art, and photography in Europe after the millennium initiated by the Hasselblad Foundation, which has resulted in a range of seminars, articles, a publication and a touring exhibition.


Inspired by recent works by artists, photographers, activists and theorists, the project probes questions about how we can live in a society of multiple surveillance networks without contributing to the inequalities that surveillance produces, and instead engage in inclusive and enabling viewing practices.


Contemporary surveillance is not limited to visual monitoring, but in order to understand how surveillance works, it is still necessary to address the photographic. The digitalization of cameras, photographs, and image distribution play a big part in the implementation of everyday surveillance, as well as in surveillance technologies that are kept out of the public eye. Our reality is arguably made up of images and our entire existence is being photographed to an unprecedented degree, which not only raises new questions, but also reactivates issues from the history of photography and visual culture of watching and being watched.


The art works in Watched! appropriate imagery and apply CCTV, Facial Recognition Technology, Google Street View, life-logging and virtual animation. The artists also reactivate older practices of spying, exposure and voyeurism. They convey different approaches to surveillance: from technologies used by state and authorities to everyday monitoring practices that have become an integrated part of our lives, especially within social media. They especially probe issues of security, which are used as arguments for enhanced surveillance, but which often ignore the discriminatory scrutiny, criminalization and vulnerability that follow.


In spite of recent revelations of global mass surveillance, studies have shown that Northern Europeans, and Scandinavians in particular, have a high level of trust in social surveillance – be it for security, crime prevention, administrative, commercial, medical, or other purposes. Surveillance scholars suggest that the positive attitude is due to people focusing less on the right to privacy, and more on welfare, transparency, and social equality. However, more and more cases manifest how surveillance discriminates; that negative, invasive, and harassing forms of surveillance target minorities and the most vulnerable subjects. We might all be watched, but we are not all exposed to surveillance on equal terms.


Artistic practices can function as valuable contributions to the general debate and research being conducted in the field of surveillance. Photography and video art is able to offer new perspectives and question dominating ideas about the authoritative gaze of power, as well as pointing to forms of resistance by using mimicry, performance, satire, play, fiction, invisibility, and enabling forms of ‘multiveillance’.


The exhibition premiered at the Hasselblad Center on May 28 2016.


It travelled to Kunsthal Aarhus autumn 2016 with a special showing of Seamless Transitions by James Bridle at ARoS and the soloshow Apophenia by James Bridle at Galleri Image.


The exhibition will continue in a modified and expanded form at C/O Berlin in spring 2017



Bild: BankerWessel

Image: BankerWessel


The edited book, published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, includes a selection of artworks by forty artists, as well as in-depth essays on surveillance by Peter Weibel, Tom Holert, Hille Koskela, Liisa Mäkinen, Shoshana Magnet, James Bridle, Alberto Frigo, Ann-Chris Bertrand, Niclas Östlind, and Louise Wolthers.


Wolthers, Vujanoviç and Östlind (eds.), WATCHED! Surveillance, Art and Photography. Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Cologne, 2016.


In November 2016 the book was selected as one of the 35 best photobooks of the year in TIME (by writer, critic and curator Fred Ritchin). Read the article here.

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