We perform our daily routines in environments, virtual or real, that record and use our images, information, and biographic details in diverse ways. Aware that surveillance cameras and tracking systems are pervasive, we habitually filter out their presence regardless. Our ability to tolerate and even flaunt this omnidirectional, surveillant gaze relies on assumptions about the frequency and banality of surveillance activity. As society moves towards a structure that is fully regulated, tracked, and documented, the volumes of image-data required are furiously expanding, filling up ever-accumulating archives that paradoxically function to erase as much as to preserve.
The artists in this program find ways to make this seemingly inadequate data speak, to locate the extraordinary within the trivial. In Christina Battle’s short video, the CIA’s legacy of spying and the mysterious secrecy of its archive visually erupts, only to reveal a paucity of information and the mundane labour of filing. John Smith likewise offers minimal yet pointed visual imagery while producing a personal narrative that navigates the increasing pressures of state surveillance accumulating outside the frame. And in her experimental documentary Rebecca Baron explores historical precedents for public surveillance through the twinned developments of lens-based camera technology and the mass observation movement. In each of the works, the technologies of surveillance reveal themselves at once as personally subjective, authoritatively powerful, and determined by multiple, unknowable agents. – Stephen Wichuk and Jayne Wilkinson
Christina Battle, Wandering Through Secret Storms. 2009, DV, 6 mins, Canada.
John Smith, Frozen War. 2002, DV, 13mins, UK.
John Smith, Dirty Pictures. 2002, DV, 14min, UK.
Rebecca Baron, How Little We Know of Our Neighbours. 2005, DV, 49mins, USA.
Total running time: approx. 83 mins.
This program was curated by graduate students at the University of British Columbia in a seminar, led by John O’Brian of the Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory, titled “Surveillance, Voyeurism, Criminality, and Photography.” Participants included Vikki Addona, Kate Henderson, Jeremy Jaud, Kyoung Yong Lee, Dana Loughlin, Vanessa Parent, Robin Simpson, Sofia Stalner, Shalini Vanan, Stephen Wichuk, and Jayne Wilkinson.
Videos courtesy of Video Data Bank and Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre. Image courtesy of Video Data Bank, Frozen War (2002) by John Smith.