Be Seeing You

[...] Contemporary artists' responses to the Surveillance Society are varied. In 1996 a group of New York City-based group of media activists and performance artists formed the Surveillance Camera Players [SCP]. In 2002, affiliate groups of surveillance camera players exist around the world, including Arizona. The SCP performs media-based street plays and engage passers-by in dialogue. They "protest against the use of surveillance cameras in public places because the cameras violate our constitutionally protected right to privacy. We manifest our opposition by performing our plays directly in front of these cameras."

Another coalition of activists, artists and NYC ACLU members created the NYC Surveillance Camera Project -- sometimes called "Map Quest for paranoids." This online interactive map allows a viewer to locate all public surveillance cams in Manhattan and if desired, plot a course avoiding them. [The writer has confused the NYC Surveillance Camera Project with Applied Autonomy's iSee software program.] It has been controversial, to say the least.

In 2001, the Arizona Surveillance Camera Players [AZSCP] were founded by Chuck Banaszewski, a graduate student in theater at ASU. The AZSCP chose Tempe's Mill Aveenue [sic] as their turf, zeroing in on two web cams operated by the City of Tempe. One is a "roving" camera with a changing view; the other views the Coffee Plantation's outdoor space at Mill & 6th St. The players create a series of signs with varying themes and messages and display them in view of the web cam, while also leafleting and talking to passers-by. Some typical messages captured by web cam: "We're Watching You Watch Us," "Don't Worry, You'll Still Be Allowed To Shop," and the ever-popular "Big Brother Is Watching You."

Banaszewski says that the group "takes theater out of the box, off the stage, and into the streets. Our intentions are artistic, nonviolent and political. Creating a dialogue is the key." Banaszewski is also concerned with many other ways we can be surveilled: "On the internet, using a shopper's card at the grocery store, checking out a library book. I love America, but I'm worried about the increasing invasion of our privacy and the erosion of the Fourth Amendment."

The AZSCP's next project involves locating police "speeder vans" and warning-approaching motorists with strategically placed signs. "We want to see how close to the van we can display our signs. We'll be testing new waters with this project."

Two recent exhibitions, both curated by Thomas Y Levin of Princeton University, assembled a large array of surveillance-themed art. Princeton sponsored "Anxious Omniscience: Surveillance and Contemporary Cultural Practice"; [and] in Germany, Zkm sponsored CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. Art and performances [in both exhibitions] included the Surveillance Camera Players [...]

(Written by Robert Scott Curry and published in the October 2002 issue of Shade.)

Contact the Arizona Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail Arizona SCP

By snail mail: Charles D. Banaszewski, Department of Theatre, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2002.

Home page of the

New York Surveillance Camera Players