Smile, You Are Being Filmed!

Video surveillance is an object of fascination and fear. And as soon as Big Brother settled into public space, street artists, performers and hacktivists went hunting, using art, humor and technology.

Weapons of mass dissuasion against criminality for some, and weapons of mass destruction of individual liberty and intimacy for others, video surveillance cameras are a reality that is deeply anchored into everyone’s everyday life. Nevertheless, the Orwellian nightmare hasn’t come true because the population seems well accommodated to the advent of a spied-upon society. In virtual space or In Real Life,[1] we are observed, placed in files, followed and controlled by a thousand intrusive technologies.

To divert. This panoptic civilization, widely denounced since the appearance of the first CCTV (closed-circuit television[2]) cameras in the 1970s, became larger in the 1990s. In 1996, a group of performers in New York formed, the Surveillance Camera Players,[2] who fiercely opposed this life under surveillance. Their poetic struggle was, nevertheless, repressed by the forces of order, which did not appreciate the fact that these actors diverted the usage of the cameras by performing in front of them such classics as 1984 and Ubu Roi with the help of placards and the assistance of all those who willingly carried them […]

[1] English in original.

[2] English in original.

[3] A caption to a photo of the Surveillance Camera Players states, “In New York, the pioneers of the Surveillance Camera Players collective perform in front of the surveillance devices.”

(Written by Emmanuelle Dreyfus and published in issue #27, January 2013, of stradda: le magazine de la creation hors les murs. Translated from the French and footnoted by Bill Brown, 28 January 2013.)