It would be foolish to deny that our public space is increasingly regulated. With Community Police and increased TV surveillance, we not only feel that we’re being watched more, we are being watched more. But in what way exactly? Derm’s series of beautiful prints of CCTV cameras highlights an ambiguity however. The artist has caught these cameras in isolation or abstracted them to form a floral pattern. In doing so he’s not just highlighting their existence but turning them into a beautiful shape. He no doubt hates what they represent but he’s separated them from their intent and, blimey celebrated them as part of our urban environment. Stunning. The series called, Focal Range is in a variety of media including photography, spraypaint and screenprinting.
Read the Manifesto Club’s briefing document on the Hyper-regulation of Public Space if you haven’t already. It is an important document because it highlights the fact that we are losing our autonomy and that this freedom to act is being taken from us by stealth. The opening of the document bears repeating:
Over the past few years, there has been a massive growth in restrictions on drinking in public, including: the ban on boozing on London Tubes and buses, brought through by new Mayor Boris Johnson on 1 June 2008; 613 designated areas of the country where drinking is restricted by local authorities; Scottish bylaws banning drinking from many town centres, beaches and beauty spots; and a ban on bring-your-own (BYO) alcohol at summer music festivals. Similar regulations have been brought through on beaches and town centres in New Zealand and Australia, on San Diego beach in the USA, and in city centres in the Czech Republic.
But what the document also suggests is that we have a responsibility to ensure that we resist the attempts to prevent us from using our public space as we see fit. It asks us to concentrate not on the CCTV’s but the frequently confused application of dubious by-laws. I’m not a believer in a conspiracy of observation. If you want to know how I think we’re being watched, I think it’s part of a clumsy attempt by the authorities to reassure themselves and us, not a big brother style era of government. By watching the watchmen, we’re slowly beginning to understand the psychology of surveillance.
David Aaronovtich has questioned the statistic that we are viewed by 300 cameras on average on the way to work and shot this film with people from Liberty. As he points out at the end, it’s a bit pointless trying to count cameras when you don’t even know if they’re pointed at you. However his comment that cameras reflect our fear of crime rather than our morality gets to the heart of the matter.
If we accept that there is no conspiracy of surveillance, that the array of agencies who own CCTV are as incapable of co-ordinated action on an individual or group then why do we fear them? Why not make pretty of them? We have nothing to fear but some cameras which often aren’t on or even attached to anything. And a slow mission creep by security guards and quasi-policemen.
Catch Focal Range at the Pageant Store in Edinburgh. But hurry, the exhibition runs until Sunday 24th May.