Theatrical Art for Surveillance Lenses

New York Action-Artists Demonstrate in Freiburg Against Video Surveillance

Yesterday afternoon in the basement of the Freiburg central bus station: Underneath a globe-shaped surveillance camera -- it looks like a lamp -- a black-clad man lifts his hands in a beseeching gesture, a woman falls to her knees, and another man shakes his head as if to say "No" in a theatrical manner and gives a dismissive wave to the lens. The video eye silently looks at this unusual spectacle. The scene was watched: not five minutes later, a security guard arrives and stops the sketch. It's the end of the presentation; now it is off to the next stage.

Places that are surveilled by cameras are the stages upon which the New York theatre group called the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performs. Their wordless sketches last only a few minutes, and their audiences are the men who watch the images sent to the monitors inside of the surveillance centers by electronic lenses that are installed all over the place. "We make visible the otherwise invisible video systems and the watchers who are behind the cameras to demonstrate our opposition to the use of public surveillance cameras, whether they are operated by the police or by private security guards," declares the SCP's Bill Brown.

For years, the theatre group has been giving "surveillance camera walks" -- Sunday strolls that move from one camera location to the next -- and use surveilled places as if they were theatrical stages. On Monday, the three members of the SCP were invited by the Freiburg action-group "Art Against Video Surveillance" to give an informal, hour-long tour of the hardly visible surveilling eyes. About 40 people attended it. "Surveillance violates our privacy rights and by no means provides security," says Susann Hall [sic]. "To be left alone, to be anonymous, even in public places -- these are the basic human rights that must be protected," the New Yorker says. In Germany, the use of surveillance systems is growing, while in England and the USA there are already a large number in operation. The action-artists would like to see even more German cities mobilized against the increase in video surveillance.

(Written by Martin Hoextermann, published in the 28 May 2002 edition of Die Freiburger Zeitung and translated from the German by Bill Brown.)

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NY Surveillance Camera Players