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Exploring Surveillance through Moving Images

Manifattura Tabacchi

Project proposal for IED Master in Curatorial Practice 


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Further, Reframing the Observer - Exploring Surveillance Through Moving Images addresses our society as that of the “digital bystander”. Our inability to act comes from witnessing events through our devices, either in the form of a stream, or when recording in the physical presence of the event. This inability is further reinforced by the perception that surveillance is beyond our control.


In a society where the notion of being watched is common knowledge, how do we modify our behaviour in response to being observed? What are the effects of a "watched" society? Are we passive participants in this system? In what way can we regain an active role in our society? The exhibition features eleven films, videos and installations dealing with fundamental themes of our times such as the fragility of privacy, the spread of information, government interference, paranoia, and an increased awareness of self-perception. Through the selections of works, viewers are invited to reflect on their role not just as victims in our surveillance-oriented society, but as willing participants.

Room A

In recent decades, electronic devices have become the dominant tool for documenting our lives. Continued developments in AI analysis, image recognition software, CCTV, the collection of metadata and drone filming all indicate the prevalence of a surveillance society in the digital age. We are acutely aware of being constantly observed.


Reframing the Observer - Exploring Surveillance Through Moving Images offers insight into our human compulsion to observe, which, with the increased accessibility of mobile phones, has translated into our compulsion to film. Almost instinctively, we record everything we do, from the mundane to the extraordinary, making personal information readily available within a few clicks. A fascinating paradox emerges, where we find ourselves simultaneously retreating inwards through personal introspection, while still actively engaging in outward expressions through sharing and posting.

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Room A: Jacopo Rinaldi’s All The World’s Memory (2015, 6'23") is the opening work of the exhibition. Visitors are immediately confronted by a system of surveillance, through both the work’s literal contents of surveillance footage from Google Data Centres, as well as its positioning in the room directly opposite the entrance. The juxtaposition of the music score from 1956 in the film with the images of the Google servers allows us to think critically about the shift of knowledge in our society, as well as the volume of information readily accessible to us. Meanwhile, Émilie Pitoiset’s The third party (2014, 4’32”) embodies an element of secrecy and a persisting feeling of a larger system at play that exists, but we cannot see. Its positioning to the left of All The World’s Memory further establishes the prevalence of surveillance systems in our society. The score of All The World’s Memory dominates the room, while The third party has headphones available for use.

Room B


Room B: MASBEDO’s Daily Routine (2020, 11'00") presents the audience with a literal depiction of surveillance. The see-through architecture of the house in the film serves as an instrument of control, where the camera is used as an obsessive tool of male domination. Daily Routine’s display on a large screen opposite the entrance of the room, engulfs the audience in the experience of being watched. As the sole work in this room, adequate usage of the space is essential: multiple seating options will be available, both individual seats and a bench.

Room C

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Room C: A shift begins in the exhibition, where the four works featured in Room C address our role as participants in our surveillance society. The two participatory installations in this room, Patrick Alan Banfield’s Mein Bleick (2017, 10'7") and Anike Joyce Sadiq’s You Never Look At Me From The Place From Which I See You (2015), establish the active role we play. Meanwhile, our obsession with recording is highlighted in Marcin Liminowicz’s In Landscape Mode (2018, 7'17") which addresses the repercussions of our compulsion to photograph. Rebecca Digne’s Keino Peinture (2008, 1"00"), confronts the audience as they are literally being “looked back on”.

Mein Bleick's position in Room C ensures enough space for an attendant to be closeby to assist visitors. Likewise, three seats are placed in front of the two screens of In Landscape Mode, as its sound dominates the entire room; other works in the room use headphones, while Keino Peinture is mute. Moreover, You Never Look At Me From The Place From Which I See You's placement in a more enclosed section of Room C allows the viewer to have a more personal and reflective experience with the work. Keino Peinture’s display on a large screen before entering Room D, redirects the responsibility to the audience.


Room D


Room D: With a program duration of 30’53”, the three works featured reflect the modifications of human behaviour that can all be applied in response to living in a surveillance society. Gestures of Collapse (2019, 11'7") reflects the ways in which behaviours are predicted, influenced, reproduced and manipulated, exploring the spread of misinformation, anxieties, and paranoia. Levittown (2018, 13'11") confronts the feeling of invisible threat, while reflecting on the failures of a model of society that bases its well-being and security on exclusion and separation. Voiceover (2017, 6'35") features the internal monologue of a protagonist who introspects, questioning their role from soldier to dancer. The use of movie theatre seating for the programming reinforces this act of spectating.

Room E


Room E: Polina Kanis’ The Pool (2015, 9'37") is the final work of the exhibition, where the men and women within the film wait for their inevitable disappearance. In closing the exhibition, The Pool questions our role as participants, and our passivity as digital bystanders. Through the use of a large screen towards the end of the room, The Pool is all encompassing. The audience has to approach the work more closely, reflecting on its contents with the option of sitting on the bench provided.


Security cameras were discreetly placed in every room of the exhibition, capturing the movements of viewers throughout their exploration. Mounted onto the wall beside the final room's exit, viewers come face-to-face with their own surveillance footage, a direct reflection of their actions throughout the exhibition. By witnessing their own captured images, visitors are encouraged to question the implications of constant observation and the subsequent modification of their behaviour.

The display of security footage in conjunction with The Pool highlights the prevalence and consequences of living in a surveillance society, provoking critical self-reflection. The realisation serves as a powerful reminder as we become the watchers and the watched, blurring the boundaries between observer and observed.

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