New York. "On each landing, opposite the lift shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran" (from George Orwell, 1984).
What was fiction in 1949 is today everyday reality. Surveillance cameras (pardon -- security cameras), Webcams, and Nannycams capture every one of your movements. Whether you are in a public building, a subway station or in the park, you are constantly being watched without knowing about it.
In the name of security, or so we are told, our private-sphere must be limited. And, in New York, the surveillance industry is becoming a billion-dollar business, but isn't closely scrutinized. To bring about such scrutiny, the SCP have a plan: the troupe of artists and actors perform moderately critical theater-pieces such as Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, Wilhelm Reich's The Mass Psychology of Fascism, and even George Orwell's 1949 dystopian novel 1984 -- all for modern cameras . . . surveillance cameras.
The group's performances are truly unusual and are partly improvized: to set the scene, the group holds up placards with dialogue printed upon them; these placards are emphasized by the pantomimed action. The obvious audience are the Big Brothers and Big Sisters behind the surveillance cameras, but the SCP's shows naturally have the character of protest. Both passersby as well as the media are interested in what the group is doing, given the imminence of the Surveillance State to our private lives.
The Surveillance Camera Players chose to use this art as their form of protest, declares Bill Brown, mentor and spokesperson for the activists, because:
Most protest styles are very aggressive. You see a crowd of agitated, yelling people and they seem unapproachable. With the Surveillance Camera Players, it's different. It makes people curious. On the one hand, they're not sure if this is really a protest, so they actually come up and talk to us about what we are doing.
Nevertheless, the group wonders if the movement in the direction of total 24-hour-a-day surveillance is stoppable. To many people, security can only be guaranteed by digital control. The labeling of surveillance cameras, which otherwise are invisible eyes watching over us, may help to avoid such a horrible future, Brown says.
[Written by Nina Peppero and originally published online in German on 19 October 2000. Translated by Bill Brown.]
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail Info@notbored.org
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998