Between 20 and 30 May 2002, three members (Bill, Susan and David) of the New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP-New York) toured Germany, in which the group has been covered in the mass media since the performance that marked the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall. Prior European tours have taken the SCP-New York to Amsterdam, Bologna and four cities in England. By far the most successful tour undertaken by the group, the tour of Germany was -- not coincidentally -- the first one to be organized by locals, and not by the SCP-New York. The most important of the German locals was Rudi Mauss, who -- based upon his extensive experience as both a political organizer and a touring musician -- arranged for autonomous but interlinked groups in 10 different German cities to host the SCP-New York for a day.
In only one city (Frankfurt) did this otherwise faultless tour encounter problems, but not because of any oversight or mistake on Rudi's part. At the last moment -- while the SCP-New York were already in Germany! -- the group in Frankfurt announced that, due to financial problems, it was backing out of the arrangements they'd made with Rudi and wishing the SCP-New York good luck in finding other hosts in Frankfurt for their tour. But "financial problems" had little to do with the Frankfurters' decision, which was instead a reaction to Bill Brown's honest responses to an e-mail they had sent him back on 27 March 2002, that is, while the tour was still in the planning stages. In that e-mail, the Frankfurters (Folkard, Holger and Astrid) wrote:
since we contacted you a couple of weeks ago concerning a possible performance togethr, we have started to discuss some issues on camera surveillance and would like to share some of our ideas with you.
Probably you are right in that it might be too difficult to perform at the airport but before starting to plan any actions some ideas concerning the concept. One of the points we discussed - on the background of the installation of cameras at a main public square in the inner city/shopping area in frankfurt was that the overall feedback of people living and/or working in frankfurt was positive in the way that cameras were welcomed as an improvement ofÊtheir feeling of personal security. most people do not perceive the cameras as an instrument of control.
So we think a strategy to make people aware of the cameras, aware of the fact that they are being watched will not lead to them thinking/arguing critically about cctv. we also thought that an approach of just scandalizing the cameras in terms ofÊa big-brother scenario would imply that all people are affected by camera surveillance in the same way and negate different power relations in terms of racism, sexism etc. The cameras are installed to target certain "groups" of people, previously defined as deviant or at least as problematic. instead of counting on broad concern we think it more important to focus on the issue of racism in this context.
These are just a few ideas we would like to discuss with you - though we have no precise idea yet of how we could link this to the idea of a joint performance.
In other words, the Frankfurters were no longer questioning the SCP-New York's tactics (perform at the airport or some other place?), but were now questioning the group's strategy (anti-surveillance group that is also concerned with racial profiling, sexism etc or anti-racism and anti-sexism group that is also concerned with surveillance cameras?). Bill informed them that the SCP-New York were willing to discuss tactics with hosting groups, and modify them when desirable or necessary, but were not willing to change their strategy, because the members of the SCP-New York had long ago decided that they wanted to focus on generalized surveillance, and not on the targeting of groups according to race, gender etc., and, furthermore, because they had found that this particular strategy worked well enough for them.
Bill also informed the Frankfurters that, when they said that they didn't want to "imply that all people are affected by camera surveillance in the same way and negate different power relations in terms of racism, sexism etc.," they were worrying about how they would respond if someone somewhere made this objection, instead of spending time on the performances themselves. There was no certainty that such an objection might be made! And would it really be that bad if such an objection were in fact made? The Frankfurters were missing the obvious point that sufficient work on the performances themselves would adequately prepare them for any and all objections that might be made after the performances were staged.
It should be noted that the very idea (the necessity) that the SCP-New York's theatrical appearance in Frankfurt would be a "joint performance" -- one in which both visitors and hosts would have artistic control -- was imposed by the Frankurters, was not desired by the SCP-New York and was not a requirement at any of the other cities in which the group was hosted. As a result, when the Frankfurters couldn't get the SCP-New York to change its strategy and decided that they personally didn't want to participate in "the performance," all performances -- by either locals or visitors from New York City -- were canceled. In short, behavior typical of leftists, not anarchists.
In each of the 9 cities they visited, the three performers -- who used a rented car to get from place to place -- gave an increasingly polished presentation in which they A) explained what the group as a whole did and what they, as individuals, did for it, B) showed about 20 minutes of video clips, including the group's versions of 1984 and the Mass Psychology of Fascism, and C) answered questions from the audience. In his part of the presentation, Bill gave an overview of the SCP-New York's activities (performances, a website, maps, walking tours and interviews with the media); in her part, Susan offered her explanation as to why the vast majority of performers in the group have been women; and in his part, David spoke for all of the performers (male and female) who have floated in and out of the group, which he described as radically open and democratic. David also doubled as translator for the group, which meant that Susan (who speaks no German) and Bill (who speaks some German because he, too, has lived in Germany) were always informed of and capable of commenting upon what was going on around them.
At each of the 9 presentations they gave, the three performers also displayed A) the poster boards that make up Alles Klar, Herr Kommissar, which is of course the German version of the group's play It's OK, Officer, and B) huge blow-ups of maps of camera locations in Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side, which the group used to highlight the fact that surveillance cameras are only used where there is property worth insuring and protecting.
In some of the 9 cities they visited (see below), the three performers also gave a "camera walk" that -- in a first for the SCP-New York -- combined a walking tour with performances of The Circle and God's Eyes Here on Earth, both of which can be and were in fact presented as pure pantomimed action, without the use of any boards whatsoever.
Everywhere they went, the three performers were also housed for the night, fed, and brought to the best of the local bars and bought bottles of the best of the local beers. Combined with the locals' willingness and ability to publicize each SCP presentation through the printing and dissemination of posters and flyers, and to arrange media interviews for the group, these marvelous gratuities made the three performers feel like the popstars of the international anti-surveillance movement. Every day, they performed the same wonderful, grueling routine: sleep late; wake up and have breakfast; drive 3 hours to the next city; arrive and, depending on whether or not a "camera walk" was scheduled to take place, get a tour of the city's surveillance cameras by local anti-surveillance activists or go right to the place at which the group was sleeping that night; give a camera walk (or not); get something to eat; give the three-part presentation described above; go to a bar and drink and smoke until late at night.
In Mannheim on 20 May 2002, the SCP-New York was given a very impressive walking tour of the city's newly installed surveillance system by two local activists, Robert and Christopher. Mannheim is one of several German cities in which the video surveillance of public places is being officially "tested" by the police, and so the city centre contains a few very awkwardly worded signs that call attention to the existence of the cameras. (These signs also inform the public that there is "limited recording capacity" and encourage people to "inform the police without delay" if they should happen to see something suspicious. And so the ideology-effect of public surveillance is clear: get used to being watched all the time, even if you aren't in fact being watched all the time; become a watcher yourself.)
To the delight of the SCP-New York, Robert and Christopher had not only mapped out the locations of the Mannheim police cameras (13 of them and counting), but had also obtained copies of diagrams that show how the "model" system works. In this system, the video images captured by the cameras (at the rate of 25 frames per second) are converted into data. Using fast Ethernet connections (internal computer networks or "intranets"), this (unencrypted) data is sent to close-by hub stations, at which the data is transmitted over fibre optic cables to a central hub station, at which the data is switched back to fast Ethernet transmission and sent to as many as four different destinations: 1) a device that converts the data back into video images and sends them to a montor watched by the person(s) who control the cameras' physical movements (pan, tilt, zoom); 2) a video server that offers live viewing and digital recording of the images captured by the cameras, but no control of the cameras' movements; 3) a computer workstation that has no control of the cameras' movements but can display (but not record) the images; and 4) a laptop computer that also has no control of the cameras' movements but can display (but not record) the images. In sum, unlike the "OCTV" (Open Circuit Television) system being installed in Washington, DC, the Mannheim system is a "CCTV" (Closed Circuit Television) system, and thus far more secure than its American counterpart.
Based upon Robert and Christopher's walking tour and maps, the SCP-New York later in the day moved from camera to camera through the city's pedestrian zone, performing Alles Klar, Herr Kommissar (the German translation of It's OK, Officer) along the way. In the Market Square, using only pantomime and no printed boards, the group performed The Circle and God's Eyes Here on Earth (here are pictures of David and Susan praying to a police surveillance camera). At the end of the performance, the players were joined by several children, who pointed at the surveillance cameras installed in the Paradeplatz (here's another picture of the children).
Soon after the performance was over, and while the performing group was surrounded by a large crowd of children, supporters and new-found friends -- the local newspaper, The Mannheim Morgen, said that 100 people were in attendance -- a pair of Mannheimer police officers drove up, stopped their car, got out and talked to the members of the SCP-New York in German. It quickly turned out -- the affable officer who did most of the talking presented his business card -- that the New Yorkers were in the presence of not just any Manniheim police officer, but the Police Commissioner (the Polizeioberkommissar), one Dirk Herzbach. When asked if he had seen the performance in one of the cameras, Herr Herzbach replied that he'd seen the performance in all of the cameras. He and his grim-faced partner left without further incident. Later in the evening, as part of the SCP-New York's formal presentation at the ASV (Workers' Sport Club), a videotape of this performance was screened.
In Tuebingen on 21 May 2002, the SCP-New York did not offer a camera walk or a performance of any kind because the town doesn't have any police surveillance cameras installed in public places. The group's formal presentation was made at the Club Voltaire, which is located in the heart of the town's picturesque pedestrian zone. About 25 people were in attendance.
In Munich on 22 May 2002, Sabine gave the SCP-New York a walking tour of the city's surveillance cameras, most of which are located in the central train station. With a TV crew from Sat1 in tow, the SCP-New York later in the day marched through this train station, all the while performing Alles Klar, Herr Kommissar. There were no problems at all with either the police or the private security guards who are assigned to patrol the station. After the performance, Sandra Butscher from Sat1 interviewed Bill and Susan in English, and David in German. That should have been enough. But the Sat1 crew then insisted on attending and videotaping the SCP-New York's performance in front of a webcam installed in the Marienplatz. Reluctantly, the group agreed. After taping the group performing "God's Eyes Here on Earth" in front of the webcam, Sandra Butscher and her crew finally departed.
Contacted a month or two later by e-mail, Sandra Butscher confirmed that her piece on the SCP had indeed aired, but several days after it was supposed to. (She has not answered the e-mail in which she was asked if she could send the group a copy of the tape.) To make matters worse, when the Munich police contacted Sat1, the TV station told the officers that what the SCP-New York had done in the train station earlier in the day was a political demonstration, not an artistic performance. Which meant that, as far as the Munich police were concerned, the SCP-New York had violated the law that requires that all political demonstrations must be announced to and given approval by the police. Artistic performances require no such procedures.
The Munich police caught up to the SCP-New York at a very interesting moment: not during or immediately after one of the group's performances, but moments after David and Bill had finished addressing a large anti-Bush demonstration in the Marienplatz in German and English. (Self-avowed U.S. President George W. Bush was in Berlin on that very day, discussing the phony "war on terrorism" with a group of high-level European politicians. There were demonstrations all over Germany.) During their remarks, David and Bill not only denounced the war on terrorism, but also the use of surveillance cameras to protect the World Trade Center. Evidentally, this was too much for the police, who sent six undercover officers to surround the group, show their badges and demand that its members to submit to a few minutes of questioning around the corner, where their vehicles were parked. After several minutes of heated discussion, the members of the SCP-New York (and several of their local hosts) went with the police, who took down their names and addresses in the USA, copied down the information in their passports, took Polaroid photgraphs of their faces, and confiscated the placards they were carrying, even though most of them were completely blank and the only one that said anything simply said "Surveillance Camera Players" in German. And then the police said the performers and their friends were free to go.
In the evening, the group gave its formal presentation at Schoen Kaffee. About 25 people were in attendance. The mood was grim. During the question-and-answer period, the weary SCP-New York was gently but repeatedly rebuked by one man for performing The Mass Psychology of Fascism in New York, for comparing NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani with Adolph Hitler, and for using the word "fascist" to describe certain tendencies in American society. The SCP-New York was certainly prepared to answer these objections. As a matter of fact, it was in response to Robert Lederman's repeated characterizations of Giuliani as Hitler that motivated the SCP-New York to create and perform its version of The Mass Psychology of Fascism in the first place. But it didn't seem that the man who objected was truly interested in a discussion of the vagaries of contemporary fascism. Rather, it seemed that he preferred to think that "fascism" is a word that should only be applied to Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, because this limitation allows him to feel that his own struggles, despite their political moderation, are more relevant and effective than anyone else's.
In Nuremberg on 23 May 2002, the SCP-New York was given a walking tour of camera locations in the city by Gabi. As a result, later in the day, the group was able to offer a "camera walk" that stopped underneath most of the city's important camera locations. Approximately 50 people attended this camera walk, which was greatly aided and enriched by the presence of A) Dieter, who also knew where all the cameras were located, B) Andrea, a professional translator and C) a local civil-rights attorney. During the walk, the SCP-New York briefly performed Alles Klar, Herr Kommissar in front of a surveillance camera installed on a police station, and both The Circle and God's Eyes Here on Earth in front of cameras at an arts museum located on the Alley of Human Rights. In the evening, the group offered its formal presentation in the Art Bunker, a subterranean former nuclear-fallout-shelter. Once again, the SCP-New York was assisted by Andrea, which meant that each performer could concentrate more on what he or she was saying and less on how he or she was saying it (or how it might sound to a non-native speaker of English). About 50 people attended this presentation.
Later, on the door of an apartment near the one in which they were spending the night, the SCP-New York spotted a poster for a "Reclaim the Streets" party held in Germany; this poster contained an image (a traffic sign showing two people dancing) that looked exactly like the one that a former member of the SCP-New York designed for a "Reclaim the Streets" party held in NYC back in 1998. When asked about the apparent coincidence, Dieter explained that it was no coincidence at all. He himself had been to New York in 1998, had seen one of the T-shirts made in NYC that contained this image, and had liked it so much that he bought the T-shirt, brought it back to Germany with him, and used it as the source for the image on the "Reclaim the Street" poster that was on the door of his neighbor's apartment. Eine kleine welt, oder?
In Ludwigsburg on 24 May 2002, the SCP-New York did not offer a camera walk or a performance of any kind because the town doesn't have any police surveillance cameras installed in public places. The group's formal presentation was made at DemoZ. About 20 people attended. All of the questions were posed in German. Rudi Mauss himself was the SCP-New York's translator!
In Heilbronn on 25 May 2002, the SCP-New York was given a walking tour of camera locations in the city by Ozze. As a result, later in the day, the group was able to offer a "camera walk" that visited most of the city's important camera locations. (Like Mannheim, Heilbronn is one of German's "test" cities.) Despite steady rain, this camera walk was attended by approximately 30 people, many of them young punks. During the walk, the SCP-New York performed God's Eyes Here on Earth in front of a camera that watches the platform at a train station, and The Circle underneath a camera operated by a bank. Despite the fact that they weren't supposed to be operational until 8 June 2002, two police cameras in the city's pedestrian zone swiveled round to look steadily at -- and no doubt videotape the appearance and behavior of -- each and every participant in the camera walk. It was a sickening sight. At the very end of the walk, a police car arrived, but nothing came of it. In the evening, the SCP-New York gave its presentation at the Hans Riesser Haus. Annabel provided the translations. Most of the 30 people in attendance had also attended the camera walk earlier in the day. As a result, there wasn't much discussion. The swiveling cameras had already said everything worth saying.
In Heidelberg on 26 May 2002, the SCP-New York did not offer a camera walk or a performance of any kind because the small town doesn't have any police surveillance cameras installed in public places. The group's formal presentation was made at the Aktionhaus Wieblingen.
During the question-and-answer period and then, afterwards, in a bar, Julia, one of the people who organized the event, said that there was something bothering her. It wasn't a problem at the moment, she explained, but it clearly could become one in the future. (Julia had been paying close attention to the German press, which, especially in Mannheim [see below], 1) covered the SCP-New York's tour, instead of ignoring it, and 2) made sure to contact and get a quote from a police officer who wasn't offended by the group's performance of Alles Klar, Herr Kommissar, but saw the humor in it, even felt flattered by it. By contrast, when local activists organized a demonstration against Mannheim's surveillance cameras on 13 February 2001, news coverage was very hard to come by and, when it came, no one was laughing.)
Julia's premise was this: Say a group arises that, unlike the non-violent SCP-New York, chooses to destroy surveillance cameras instead of performing in front of them. Fine: everyone has the right to choose their own tactics. But because the SCP-New York has repeatedly distanced itself from camera-destroying "militant anarchists," the mass media (goaded on by the police) could easily position the SCP's form of protest as "distracting, but acceptable" and the militants' form of protesting as "totally unacceptable." A wedge or an opposition could be created between groups that actually should be united in their respective struggles against generalized surveillance, despite their apparently superficial disagreement on what kinds of actions to take. Though the SCP-New York still maintains that smashing cameras is precisely what the police and the companies that make the cameras want anti-surveillance protesters to do -- camera-smashing increases the demand for smash-proof cameras and cameras that watch over other cameras -- the group doesn't wish to make it any easier for the mass media to broadcast hysterical and hypocritical denunciations of "violence" and for the government to pass even more laws that criminalize radical forms of dissident.
In Freiburg on 27 May 2002, the SCP-New York gave a camera walk without getting a tour first. Thanks to the efforts of the locally based and satirically motivated "Institute for Urban Security," which sketched out a route in advance and gave an introductory speech, and to Kai, a highly skilled translator, the camera walk was a great success. About 30 people attended. During the course of the walk, the SCP-New York performed both "The Circle" and "God's Eyes Here on Earth." The group's formal presentation was made at the KTS. Once again, Kai provided translations; he was assisted by several other translators, including Winni, one of the tour's organizers and hosts. Bill, as usual, introduced the videos. The question-and-answer period that followed the presentation was easily the longest (it lasted over an hour), the deepest and the most rewarding of the entire tour. The most interesting questions concerned the centrality of surveillance to capitalism as a whole; the uneven development of surveillance in Europe; and the error rates of face recognition software. In appreciation for the attention their actions and ideas were paid, the SCP-New York gave the Freiburgers one of the boards from the group's version of 1984.
In Swabish Hall on 28 May 2002, the SCP-New York did not offer a camera walk or a performance of any kind because the small medieval town doesn't have any police surveillance cameras installed in public places. The group's formal presentation was made at Club Alpha 60. In attendance were 6 people, all of whom asked questions.
Back in the Mannheim area (in neighboring Ludwigshafen, to be exact) on 29 May 2002, the SCP-New York once again met up and socialized with Su and Julia (organizers of the group's Mannheim and Heidelberg appearances), Robert the mapmaker, and Rudi Mauss. The following day, the three performers flew back to New York City.
Though none of the performers experienced any problems whatsoever with immigration or customs at either one of the airports (JFK and Frankfurt International), the entire tour was monitored from a distance by several U.S. military units stationed in Germany, most notably Army Signal Command, whose Mannheim eavesdropping station visited the SCP-New York's website twice (a few days before and a few days after the group's tour) and whose Heidelberg eavesdropping station visited the group's website the day before the performers were scheduled to arrive in that very town.
Tuebingen German-American Institute April-July 2002.
Alpha Express April/May 2002.
Litt Stuttgart May 2002.
Schlaglicht May 2002.
Der Mannheimer Morgen 21 May 2002.
Die Rheinneckar Zeitung 21 May 2002.
Die Stuttgarter Zeitung 21 May 2002.
Der Mannheimer Morgen 22 May 2002.
Die Ludwigsburger Wochenblatt 23 May 2002.
Die Stuttgarter Zeitung 24 May 2002.
Die Freiburger Zeitung 28 May 2002.
Contact the NY Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail SCP@notbored.org
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998