Broadly speaking, surveillance refers to the act of close observation, making it a natural theme for artists to explore. As surveillance in the modern age has become primarily associated with observance by the administration, contemporary artists have often approached the subject through critical and politically charged works. Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei created marble replicas of the cameras that Chinese authorities installed outside of his home, while American artist Trevor Paglen visualises the surveillance state through constructing maps of secret military plans and projecting military code names onto political buildings.
Back in 2010, the Tate Modern broached the topic, co-organising a show with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, entitled Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera. One of the most surveilled countries in the world, the UK has an obsession with voyeurism, privacy laws, freedom of media, and surveillance – images captured and relayed on camera phones, YouTube or reality TV. CCTV has raised issues which are particularly relevant in the current climate, with topical debates raging around the rights and desires of individuals, terrorism and the increasing availability and use of surveillance.
Exploring the aesthetic qualities of systemised voyeurism in contemporary times, Instagram feed @scenicsurveillance collates intriguing and strangely beautiful stills from security cameras around the world, oscillating between snowy outhouses in Norway, traffic lights in South Korea, mannequins in a Turkish clothing store, to an aquarium in the US. Eerie and serene, these observational studies reframe everyday mundane environments through the lens of a distinctly and recognisably surveillant perspective.
Along a similar vein, photojournalist Michael Wolf spent hundreds of hours trolling virtually around the world, looking for anything peculiar that had been captured by the cameras mounted on the top of Google’s GPS-coordinated Street View camera vans. The final body of work, which he titled, A Series of Unfortunate Events, is completely composed of selected personal calamities caught by random chance by the automatic cameras. Perhaps a precursor to these archives of surveillance images is Ed Ruscha’s project, Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), a book of continuous photographs of a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of the famous 24-mile West Hollywood boulevard.
Feature image via @scenicsurveillance