Fear of Fear Itself

Anxious Omnipresence: Resisting Surveillance Society

The creep factor of global surveillance does not deserve a passive reaction. The idea that if you have done nothing 'wrong' you have nothing to 'fear' is a patronising ploy that has nothing to do with state paranoia. Caught on camera, there's nothing candid about new surveillance techniques, and it is fertile ground for artist activists to challenge the methods and motivation of the technologically-controlled society.

[...] The New York Surveillance Camera Players (NYSCP), a troupe of urban agitprop activists, perform plays directly in front of security cameras installed in public places. Since most cameras do not pick up audio, the plays primarily consist of them holding up very large, hand-made placards to the camera. In one of its first performances, an adaptation of George Orwell's 1984, the NYPD came to interrogate and shut down the performance -- ironically showing up during the Room 101 torture scene.

While the NYSCP entertain bored police officers and security guards who are forced to watch them on monitors in their CCTV control rooms, the group's primary audience are the people who pass by on the street and realise that they too are being watched and 'performing' for the cameras. 'The plays function like a protest that doesn't look like a protest, which makes it more effective,' contends Surveillance Camera Player Bill Brown. Since many of the performances are broken-up by the police, the plays often provide unscripted drama for curious onlookers. 'We hope to impart to the bystander a critical reflection on whether they would prefer to live in a society that slowly congeals into a police state or a society full of creativity, humour and artistic performances?' remarks Brown. Remembering the classical origins of 'public space' in the Western city link back to theatre and performance, the NYSCP subtly remind incidental spectators that the streets can still be for something more than commerce, transit and circulation.

The group also organizes weekly walking tours of heavily monitored Manhattan neighborhoods, which teach people how to spot cameras and raise citizen awareness about the number of them in public places. With an overall attendance of over 3,000 people, the walking tours have helped train a legion of camera spotters that assist the NYSCP's project of documenting the location and owners of all surveillance cameras in Manhattan. The group, like the New York Civil Liberties Union, has collected a large set of data points that has been used by the Institute of Applied Autonomy (IAA) to create iSee, a web-based mapping application of surveillance cameras [...]

(Written by Alexander McSpadden and published in February/March 2008 issue of DAMn: A Magazine on Contemporary Culture.)

Contact the New York 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