Interactive Surveillance, a live installation by artist Annabel Manning and technologist Celine Latulipe, was held at the Dialect Gallery in the NoDa arts district of Charlotte, N.C. on Friday, December 10th, 2010. I attended this event with the intention of capturing some of the interaction between the participants and the artistic content during the experience, but I came away with so much more. The themes embedded in the installation struck a chord with me on several different levels.
Friday's version of Interactive Surveillance provided participants the opportunity to use wireless gyroscopic mice to manipulate simulated lenses on a large video display. The video displayed on the screen was a live feed from a camera located in the stairway leading to the second-floor gallery. When both lenses converged on the screen, a picture was taken of the stairway scene, and then automatically sent to Flickr. Although it was possible for one person to take a picture of the scene holding a mouse in each hand, the experience was enhanced by collaborating with a partner.
In another area of the gallery, guests had the opportunity to use wireless mice to interact with previously recorded surveillance video on another large display. The video depicted people crossing desert terrain at night from Mexico to the U.S. In this case, the digital lenses on the screen functioned as search lights, illuminating - and targeting- people who would prefer not to be seen or noticed in any way. On a nearby wall was another smaller screen with the same video content displayed on the larger screen. This interaction is demonstrated in the video below:
A smaller screen was set out on the refreshment table so participants could view the Flickr photostream of the "surveillance" pictures taken of the stairway. On a nearby wall was a smaller digital picture frame that provided a looping video montage of Manning's photo/art of people crossing the border.
The themes explored in the original Interactive Surveillance include border surveillance, shadow, and identity, delivered in a way that creates an impact beyond the usual chatter of pundits, politicians, and opinionators. The live installation provided another layer to the event by providing participants to be the target of the "stairway surveillance", as well as play the role of someone who conducts surveillance.
In a way, the live component of the present installation speaks to the concerns of our present era, where the balance between freedom and security is shaky at best. It is understandable that video surveillance is used in our nation's efforts to protect our borders. But in our digital age, surveillance is pervasive. In most public spaces it is no longer possible to avoid the security camera's eye. Our images are captured and stored without our explicit knowledge. We do not know the identities or the intentions of those who view us, or our information, remotely.
We are numb to the ambient surveillance that surrounds us. We go about our daily activities without notice. We are silently tracked as we move across websites, dart in and out of supermarkets and shopping malls, and pay for our purchases with plastic. Our SMART phones know where we are located and will give out our personal information if we are not vigilant, as our default settings are often "public". It is easy to forget that the silent type of surveillance exists. It is not so easy to ignore more invasive types of "surveillance". We must agree to submit to a high degree of inspection in the form of metal detectors, baggage searches, and in recent weeks, uncomfortable physical pat-downs, for the privilege of traveling across state borders by plane, within our own country. In some airports, we are subject to whole-body scans that provide strangers with views of our most private spaces. We go along with this effort and prove our innocence on-the-spot, for the greater good. Conversely, we have multiple means of conducting our own forms of surveillance, through Internet searches, viewing pictures and videos posted to the web, and playing around with Google Streetview.
As I wandered around the Dialect Gallery with my video camera, I realized that I was conducting my own form of surveillance, adding another layer to the mix. Unfortunately, some of the time I had my camera pressed to "pause" when I thought I was filming, and vice versa, and as a consequence, I did not capture people using the wireless mice to interact with the content on the displays. I went ahead with my mission and created a short video reflection of my impressions of Interactive Surveillance.
If you look closely at the video between :40 and :47, you'll see some people from across the street from the gallery that I unintentionally captured, and now they are part of my surveillance. Although the video below was hastily edited, it includes music and sounds from the iMovie library that approximated the "soundtrack" that formed in my mind as I experienced the exhibit.
To get a better understanding of Interactive Surveillance, I recommend the following links:
Interactive Surveillance Website
Interactive Surveillance Flickr Photostream