Smile, you are being filmed!

Nicolas surveys the streets of Brussels. To count the surveillance cameras. For a Web site.

Member of the non-profit organization Constant, Nicolas invites you to construct an interactive map on the Web.

Webcity: When and why did you start this project?

Nicolas: I began my mapping of the streets of Brussels in October 1999. I have been taking photographs for a month. It is a project linked with the Kunsten Festival des Arts. It involves seeing how artificial technologies of visibility -- that is to say, technologies other than the naked eye -- are being developed for the purpose of surveillance or military strategy. I also wanted to see how these [artificial] technologies can be diverted for artistic purposes. In the United States, for example, some activists, the Surveillance Camera Players, stage performances in front of surveillance cameras connected to the Web.

Webcity: Where does one find the most surveillance cameras in Brussels?

Nicolas: In front of the banks, parking lots, police stations, bookstores -- where there is at the moment an exaggerated fear of violent hold-ups -- late-night stores. . . . Following the riots in Anderlecht, cameras are also becoming widespread in the high schools. This generates more violence, because the students don't want to be permanently surveilled. [Translator: for more on Anderlecht, see below.] There are also a lot of cameras in unexpectd places, such as the funeral center of Brussels and the glass bubble of Ixelles!

Webcity: Are there zones that are more surveilled than others?

Yes, certain specific neighborhoods. Like the La Place Bethleem, at Saint-Gilles, where cameras were installed following a riot. [Translator: for more on Saint-Gilles, see below.] But there is a distinction to be made between the zones surveilled by the public authorities and those surveilled by the private sector. In certain neighborhoods, individuals install cameras in front of their garages. Companies do the same thing. Belgacom, for example, has installed an incredible number of cameras all along the street at its headquarters on Rue Lebeau. One wonders, furthermore, if these cameras are there simply for the purpose of dissuasion. This poses a problem. One can still hope to have democratic control over public cameras, but when the private sector begins to make a [surveillance] grid of public space. . . .

Are we headed for a totally surveilled society?

Well, in any case, the optical systems of surveillance are already obsolete! The new technologies are not concerned with images, but with sound. Echosonography, for example, travels through walls. And infra-red detection devices can localize a bodily shape, even if the person is concealed. Protective barriers are much less resistant [to intrusion] now. We'll need to take a look at how existing surveillance systems are going to be replaced by these newer technologies.

Nicolas will be available on Wednesdays, 17 and 24 May, at 3 pm at (22 place du Nouveau Marche aux grains) for guided tours of "Brussels under surveillance." Each person on the tour will be given a disposable camera to photograph the cameras in his or her neighborhood.

By Christopher Haveaux

Translated from the French by NOT BORED!, with assistance from Nicolas and DAC.

Originally published by Webcity.

Translator's notes.

1. Riots occured in Anderlecht, which includes very poor neighborhoods. The high schools that installed cameras were mostly attended by immigrants, who were totally outraged to be under surveillance both in the streets and in high school. In addition, it is important to know that the so-called Socialist government drastically reduced the budget for education. So when the problems occured in Anderlecht, the government installed cameras instead of hiring teachers because the former were cheaper to buy and maintain. Afterwards, school officials offered to use security guards and dogs, but, by then, even the teachers and school administrators were shocked.

2. The riot in the poor areas of Saint-Gilles was provoked by continuous harrassment by the police, who tried to push the drug dealers to the neighboring municipality (the above-mentionned Anderlecht). Eventually the permanent presence of the police provoked a backlash, which was cynically used as an excuse to use violence. After the area was "cleaned," surveillance cameras were installed to make sure the drug dealers did not come back.

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail

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

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