The exhibition ‘Surveillance.02’ questions the notion of privacy, assesses the consequences of drone technology and questions humanity’s environmental impact through a series of mixed media works.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘Big Brother is watching you’, coined from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949. The story is centred around the idea that every citizen in an imaginary community is under constant surveillance by the authorities. The notion that this continuous tracking could ever exist was no doubt unimaginable to readers of Orwell’s novel 66 years ago.
Fast forward to 2015 where satellites, drones and surveillance cameras have the ability to capture our every move, and Orwell’s vision seems pretty accurate. In a society that thrives on social media and where everyone owns a camera phone, issues of privacy have become a growing concern and it’s the central focus of the exhibition ‘Surveillance.o2’, taking place at East Wing gallery in DIFC until Thursday April 30. The artists exhibiting offer an insight into the global war on terror and humanity’s impact on the environment, as well as questioning the notion of privacy. It highlights how we are all essentially spied on by cameras, satellites and drones and it questions corporate and state surveillance.
The show is overseen by New York-based curators Anna Van Lenten and Liza Faktor – who is also a visual documentary producer. As curator of the ‘Half King Photography Series’ – an exhibition that showcases stories told through images – Van Lenten has exhibited some of the best documentary photographers working today. Of ‘Surveillance.o2’, she says that she and Faktor wanted to focus on this topic ‘because it is a figurative one – opaque, jargon-ridden, and by nature, elusive and virtual’.
‘We want to identify the nuts and bolts of government and corporate surveillance by looking at the best of what photographers, filmmakers and data artists are creating to illuminate its consequences and ambiguities so that people can understand it,’ she says.
Van Lenten and Faktor chose to feature Massimo Berruti’s ‘Hidden Wounds’ series, World Press Award Honouree 2015 Tomas van Houtryve’s ‘Blue Sky Days’ works and Jenny Odell’s ‘Land Marks’ collection. Berruti’s ‘Hidden Wounds’ is a portrait series that focuses on the people of North Waziristan in northwest Pakistan who have been affected by drone strikes. Some of the people captured have been injured, while others have lost family. ‘In such close encounters, tenderness collapses the distance we typically feel with regard to the drone war and the men become imaginable individuals,’ says Van Lenten. ‘Pervading the images is a sense of both modesty and outrage.’
With access to North Waziristan forbidden to journalists, Berruti’s subjects risk being tracked by the authorities, making the research process more challenging for the artists. ‘Berruti’s photo of Salman Khan shows a 20-year-old student from Hisoori village, North Waziristan. He lost his father in a drone attack and is distressed and angry with his own government, which does nothing to stop the attacks and which does not compensate the victims,’ says Faktor.
‘Land Marks’ by Jenny Odell is a series of satellite photographs of mining, excavation, plutonium production, waste storage, and fracking sites. The San Francisco-born artist aims to show the damaging effects that energy production sites have on Earth’s surfaces. ‘Odell erases the ground or the natural settings around these sites. In “Athabasca Oil Sands” she has taken out the boreal forest that surrounds the excavated areas of the mine. What’s left is the interlaced parts: excavated ground, trails, roads, cars, buildings, waste ponds,’ says Faktor. Each of the artist’s projects has taken between a few weeks and several years to produce. ‘We hope that people will appreciate the beauty, elegance and weirdness of the imagery presented in the show, and that the questions raised by the artists will stay with the viewers for a while,’ she says.
The show, which has brought together photographers and visual artists who share a desire to discuss issues of national security, the internet’s intrusive dominance, the global war on terror and notions of privacy, is a thought-provoking addition to Dubai’s art scene.
Sat-Thu 10am-3pm; 5pm-8pm. Until April 30. East Wing gallery, Limestone House, DIFC (050 553 3879).