Now You See Me: Visualising the Surveillance State

Photo Access, Canberra, Australia 

7 November – 14 December

Jane Brown, Lewis Bush, Aaron Claringbold, Marcus DeSieno, Eliza Hutchison, Noelle Mason, Trevor Paglen, Taryn Simon, David Spriggs

Now You See Me: Visualising the Surveillance State presents the work of nine international artists, whose practice aids to expose the usually obscured mechanisms of state control through a mix of photographic, textual, sculptural and filmic approaches. Exploring the inextricability of public and private spheres, the works embody the inherent tension of a system of surveillance whose purpose is the restriction of personal freedoms to maintain a specific status quo. Meanwhile, the inescapable presence of surveillance in our daily lives was recently confirmed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, with our personal data manipulated for socio-political control.

Artists Jane Brown and Lewis Bush investigate state programmes of public surveillance, from the origins of CCTV in the UK to locating Cold War numbers stations. Bush’s work mirrors the era’s sense of paranoia and sinister conspiracy with her HD satellite images, while Trevor Paglen’s impressive video projection – a list of over four thousand code names whittled down from fifteen thousand – hints at the vast scope of covert observation. Contraband, a collection of photographs by Taryn Simon, illustrates the plethora of items the US Customs and Postal Service detain daily – from the exotic and aphrodisiac (Deer’s tongues) to the seemingly ordinary – while Eliza Hutchinson’s work emphasises psychological forms of control; her warped re-presentations of media images conveying latent perceptive distortions. Meanwhile, Michael Cook’s monochrome compositions of dispossession are beautifully haunting, balancing personal relevance against the historic context of the Stolen Generations: the legislated removal of children of Aboriginal descent during the first half of the 20thcentury.

Conveying the contemporary prevalence of surveillance technologies, Marcus DeSieno’s impressionistic photographs illustrate the increasing difficulty of evading observation, with his images taken from CCTV cameras placed on unpopulated mountains or in barren deserts. Noelle Mason explores this omnipresence further in her video piece ​I Like America and America Likes Me.​ Cutting between footage of undocumented migrants at the US/Mexico border, with that of coyote hunters firing at the animals from afar, the comparison viscerally depicts the dehumanisation that surveillance aesthetics implicitly encourage. David Spriggs animated video work, The Visible Spectrum, presents a fictional semi-truck where humans inside the truck are presented through technologies similar to thermal imaging, reminding us of debates on borders, immigration, and civil liberties.