Surveillance and Art

Essay written for MFA in June 2019 (James Tregaskis all rights reserved)

Surveillance has been with us throughout western history. The use of technology opens up opportunities for covert activities. Increasingly sophisticated methodologies are employed with each advance in technology.
In this paper I set out examples of surveillance, contrasting desirable and undesirable outcomes in its use. I present examples of recent and more sophisticated techniques of surveillance to raise the question – is surveillance out-of-control? Evidence suggests that the Internet has accelerated the advancement and aggregation of bad actors in the commercial arena to a toxic extent, a manifestation referred by commentators on surveillance as ‘surveillance capitalism’ . Could it be that the government-initiated high technology surveillance methods used on their populations are a good thing and perhaps necessary for the ultimate survival and benefit of mankind? The resultant asymmetry of power does not only lie in global corporations but is also held by governments. How has the evolution of surveillance and the questions it raised been dealt with by artists and how do they approach the subject?

Images of the World and Prison Images

— Surveillance / Harun Farocki


On a personal note: my French grandfather, Charles Tricon was held by the Gestapo in 1942 during the German occupation of Greece. They tortured him to get him to reveal the whereabouts of my Uncle Arthur who went missing aged 16, assisting the British navy. My grandfather was blinded by the Nazis in these torture sessions. I remember him fondly as a child, sitting next to the radio in his canvas chair, unable to see.

It was suggested that I watch Harun Farocki’s film, Images of the World and the Inscription of War as it would be important to follow up on, for I am researching into the theme of surveillance with greater scrutiny, my object, to prepare this as a topic for a forthcoming essay.

Reading of Lisa Nakamura; Indigenous circuits: Navajo women and the racialization of early electronic manufacture

Key points of the text:

Lisa Nakamura (LN) focuses on a case history of Fairchild Industries in their manufacture of integrated circuits (IC) in the 1960’s-70’s. The need for accurate and highly reliable IC’s becomes apparent by the semiconductor industry and Fairchild opted for manufacture based in Navaho Indian reservations.

The emerging message from LN’s text that struck me most was the separation of the labourers and the users in the delivery of consumer tech products.

Tech “Archaeology”; Minitel and Inception of a deeper speculative project

Minitel: German Telenorma/Siemens circa 1987.

The use of Minitel as a predecessor to the Internet was piloted in 1978 and rolled out in 1982 in France. President Valerie Giscard d’Estaing was inspired to initiate the project. One has to admire the French with their amazing ability to deliver large projects e.g. Ariane rocket, the Pompidou Centre and the TGV, this visionary network connected Devices anticipated the forthcoming Internet. Its original proposal was to replace paper-based directories for phone numbers it was soon being used interactively to order Cinema tickets email and chat. Other services on offer were mail-order retail, airline and train tickets information on another database and message boards. Even before the advent of Minitel, Parisians could order local grocery deliveries via a service called Peapod.