Who watches the watchers?

From outside.

Bologna. One o'clock in the morning. In the middle of the street, there are approximately 30 people lined up in a row. The first one in the line has his eyes fixed upon something a couple of metres up ahead. He has a heap of placards under his arm. He puts the majority of the placards on the ground. When he raises one of them up over his head, his eyes will still be focused on the same spot. What's addressed to us, rather than to those in the sight line, is difficult to know. The placards go by very quickly. With each new person, there's a new placard.

From inside.

The images on the placards are black-and-white, decidely low-tech. The people appear in front of the screen, taking their turns. A man with something under his arm steps to center-stage, behind the others in the line. For a second, he looks at the lower part of the screen. Then, with a barely perceptible curtsy, he raises up a placard. Written in clear, hand-printed characters are the words "The Beginning." After a few seconds, the man holds up a different placard, one that says, "We spy on those we see."


"SCP" stands for Surveillance Camera Players, a group of New York performers who came together 5 years ago to make citizens aware of the problem of surveillance cameras. Small, often invisible and scattered throughout the big cities, these surveillance cameras are the new version of the old Orwellian ideal. Small eyes installed on the outsides of banks, of businesses; on the doors of commercial institutions; between the shelves at the supermarket; above the doors of condominiums; or hidden by the police forces in the streets and public squares, so as to control strategic locations in the cities.

A marginal problem? In [New York City in] 1998, volunteers from the [American] Civil Liberties Union took it upon themselves to monitor the proliferation of surveillance cameras in Manhattan. Today, there are 2,397 and the map, which is continuously updated, can be downloaded from the Internet. 2,397 "Little Brothers" who scrutinize, catalogue and archive what they see. 2,397.

This is where the SCP came in. Their intent is to inform their fellow citizens about the existence of the problem and to give a clear political message to those on the other side of the cameras. The message is simple: "We know you are watching; this time, we are here to control you."

This past Saturday evening was the first Italian performance by the Surveillance Camera Players. In Bologna, 30 participants paraded in front of every surveillance camera they saw. At the beginning, there were confused looks on the faces of the passers-by and police re-inforcements were called in to guard public buildings. Then, as the performance went on and the sense of it became clear, there was applause and people joined in. At two in the morning, a group of 60 people stood in a public square with all the placards placed on the ground, joined together as if one. The birth of Bologna Surveillance Camera Players!

[Published by RAI's "Smart Web" on 29 May 2001. Roughly translated from the Italian by an Internet robot. Translation corrected by Bill Brown.]

Contact the New York Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail SCP-New York

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

New York Surveillance Camera Players