Watching the Watchers

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The third in a series of roundtable discussions at the New School co-organized by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics and Index for the Disappeared, "Agency + Surveillance" assesses the rhetoric of watching in a post-9/11 environment, partly by examining how a handful of engineers, artists, and activists have responded, in their own work, to the increasing state of national security. By inverting the top-down power structure conventionally associated with the act of surveillance, these practitioners are engaging in "sousveillance": a method of "watching the watchers," whereby visual and other data, habitually obscured from public knowledge, finally becomes apparent. Panelist Jenny Marketou's series Flying Spy Potatoes (2003-2004), for example, consists of digital recordings made in New York City public spaces declared to be high-risk targets for terrorist attacks, including Grand Central Station and the World Financial Center. The artist mounted a wireless camera and radio receiver on a helium balloon -- an innocent enough prop to make her infiltration a success. Urban pedestrians are provided with an interface for mapping and avoiding closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) in iSee, a web-based application from the Institute for Applied Autonomy and member/panelist Tad Hirsch. Since its inception in 2001, the application has evolved to provide maps of several cities, a handheld counterpart, and other functions, such as the ability to correlate crime statistics with surveillance camera locations. These projects draw few, if any, boundaries between aesthetic, conceptual and pragmatic agendas, as if to suggest that a phenomenon like surveillance, which affects every aspect of our everyday lives, requires comparably broad-reaching counter-methods. "Agency + Surveillance" takes place on Monday, March 31st at 6:30 pm in Arnhold Hall. - Tyler Coburn

Image: Jenny Marketou, Flying Spy Potatoes (video still), 2003

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Present Tension

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Probing the uncertain grounds between information, misinformation and disinformation, the artworks collected for Hamburger Eyes' exhibit Psymulation: Reenactments of the Present posit a society haunted by the wartime logic of both PsyOps and BlackOps, in which fact and fiction have become increasingly indistinguishable, and power exerts itself through a thick fog of unknowing. The show explores such themes through a cluster of photos, videos, physical artifacts and audio works, at once menacing and absurd, including an interview about psychic spy techniques with a real-life retired US Army Major and, at the show's opening, a live performance of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" on tuba (referencing the use of that same song in Guantanamo interrogations). Elsewhere in the exhibit, Kent Lambert's masterful remixed-video series-- consisting of Security Anthem (2003), Hymn of Reckoning (2006), and the recent Sunset Coda (2006)-- provides a pitch-perfect nightmare fugue on our age of terrors (complete with a vocal solo by John Ashcroft), while Brendan Threadgill's Partially Reconstructed Fragment (SKU# 3059778) (2007) drags into the gallery a refinished but otherwise unrepaired fragment of an automobile-- allegedly detritus from a car bomb, but under the glowering menace of what the curators call the "conspiratorial imagination and sci-fi feedback" of our uncertain era, who can really know for sure? - Ed Halter

Image: Brendan Threadgill, Partially Reconstructed Fragment (SKU# 3059778), 2007

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Ways of Seeing

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Similar to photography, the 19th century invention of photogammetry was used to discern empirical truths (measurements, altitudes, etc) about objects. Given his interest in the elusive relationship between observation and knowledge, it is no surprise that prolific German artist Harun Farocki would take photogammetry as an entry point for one of his most well-known films Images of the World and The Inscription of War (1989), which explores the military's use of imaging technologies during World War II. One particularly compelling narrative in the film points to how Allied analysts, while studying aerial photographs of Nazi Germany for munitions and factories locations, failed to locate the concentration camp in Auschwitz. Farocki's most recent work, the 12-channel video installation Deep Play (2007) calls upon a range of media forms to dismantle the elaborate spectacle of televised sport- specifically the 2006 World Cup Finals between France and Italy. The piece plays with our anticipation of the "big event" of the game which was, of course, not matchpoint but rather Zinedine Zidane's infamous head butt of Guiseppe Materazzi. The installation juxtaposes numerous views of this memorable game including live feed footage of the game, 3D models of the players, statistical analysis of players' speed and positions, surveillance feeds from inside and outside Berlin's Olympic Stadium and images of the editors and analysts responsible for collating the multiple streams into a single broadcast. Deep Play asks how these multiple points of view offer a nuanced entry into the event and how our expectations can blind us to all other elements of the game. Like Farocki's other works, Deep Play elegantly leads us to a deeper understanding of the mechanisms and assumptions that underlie the way we see and how this leads to our understanding of the world. The show is ...

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