The Surveillance Project
5900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, California
November 13, 2011 - November 23, 2011
While the Cold War in Eastern Europe is in a geographic and even historic sense a long way from here, its legacy is global and relevant. Then, as now, entrenched social, cultural, and political systems were subverted from below and within.
The unblinking eye over today’s conflict zones has its origins in the surveillance technology that emerged in the Cold War-era as a dutiful aid to intelligence operatives, those individuals who assimilated themselves into the culture of their enemy and passed along secrets. Western agencies were watching the east as under the watchful eye of the KGB, the USSR created a particularly sinister climate of fear and political oppression. Yet the KGB, which employed one agent per 583 Soviet citizens, was dwarfed in its efforts by the East German model in which one Stasi agent observed 166 individuals.
The exhibition presented here features an assortment of communications and surveillance equipment from the Soviet Union, and East and West Germany. It carries the aesthetic and design and function of another time.
However, surveillance did not stop with the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of the Cold War. Its ubiquity and pervasiveness continue, albeit in new and often hidden forms through new technologies which allow governments and corporations to keep tabs on their citizens and consumer subjects. A recent CIA report estimates that American intelligence agencies monitor as many as five million words a day from foreign radio broadcasts alone. Conservatively, London has an unprecedented 4.2 million closed-circuit television cameras (CCTVs), approximately one for every fourteen residents.
All this indicates that the lines have blurred between the observer and the observed, security and liberty, transparency and privacy, citizen and the state, convenience and offensiveness, necessity and intrusion. Surveillance, in all forms, is now part of our everyday life. We are watched as much as we watch others. Social media, photography, and technological advancement break down the old paradigm of government versus the people. In contemporary society these new types of covert observation have become routine and normal. They have broad implications for our lives in a democracy or at least our perceptions of it, something that this installation aims to explore.