Smile, we're filming you!

By Sebastian Amoroso

Two of the great themes of the present are technology and private life. There are so many cameras, recorders, and hidden microphones no one can be sure that their intimate conversations are not being listened to or recorded, and we are not speaking only of curious or hostile neighbors.

This problem is even more serious in large cities. For instance, in Montevideo -- Independence Square, to be precise -- cameras that film 24 hours a day have been installed; and very soon other places of business will begin this kind of surveillance.

In New York, to pick another example, anonymity and losing oneself in the crowd are disappearing underneath the curious, incisive, and inescapable gaze of thousands of inhuman eyes that constantly spy upon the streets, the buildings, the bars, the squares, and practically every other space in which a human body can fit, and that have multiplied in an astonishing manner in recent months. Nobody knows how many cameras exist, to whom they belong, who is on the "other side" of the systems, nor for how long the recorded tapes are kept.

Recently the NYCLU detected three hundred observable cameras within a radius of 8 blocks, and in all of Manhattan it counted 2380. Moreover, it is estimated that, for every visible camera, there could be another hidden one.

Nevertheless, some artists have tried to create defensive strategies against our diverse watchmen. The British artist Heath Bunting created "Fixed Viewpoint," an interesting exercise in counter-surveillance in the form of a campaign of sabotage against closed-circuit systems: an attempt was made to confuse the operators by means of a variety of methods and optical illusions, which essentially consisted of exploiting the fact that the images these apparatuses show are two-dimensional and, except for sophisticated cameras (which can turn and use powerful zoom lenses), have only one fixed point of view.

Bunting plans to use low-technology expedients such as images placed on the pavement and the distribution of many photos of the same thing, posted in different places in the city, in order to create the illusion of omnipresence, or so as to present to the cameras all sorts of impossible phenomena made up of reflections, shadows, plays on proportion, and visual effects.

Another interesting initiative is that of the group Surveillance Camera Players, who mount short theatrical works (like "Ubu Roi" and "Waiting for Godot") in front of surveillance cameras in order to educate and sensitize the monitor-watchers.

I don't know about you, but I don't like people going about filming me without my permission. Slowly fiction is turning into reality, and the work of George Orwell ("1984") is beginning to take on an even more frightening dimension than we thought.

Originally published in May 2000 by El Clima Digital. Translated from the Spanish by Gordon.

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By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

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