Regarding Peeping Toms and Security Cameras: SEVEN Ponders ‘Post-Surveillance Art’

Suzanne Treister, "Post-Surveillance Art," 2014, posters.

Suzanne Treister, “Post-Surveillance Art,” 2014, posters.

Art fair previews are all about seeing and being seen. Come for the art, stay for people-watching. How fitting it is that SEVEN, a collaborative seven-gallery show at Williamsburg’s The Boiler, is an anti-fair in the truest sense. Like yesterday’s Frieze New York, this year’s SEVEN, titled “Anonymity, no longer an option,” also makes visitors aware that they’re being watched constantly—this time by surveillance technology instead of leering dealers.

SEVEN got more attention this year than it had in the past because of the surprise inclusion of “The Snowden Statue,” otherwise known as Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument 2.0 (2015), which was yanked by the NYPD after mysteriously appearing in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park in April. (Ron Kuby, a public rights attorney, had to demand the NYPD to release the sculpture.) A larger-than-life hydrocal bust of the NSA information leaker, it is the largest object in the show, and it’s a stunner, resting on top of a tall pedestal like a portrait of a Roman emperor. Wearing a collared shirt and his thin-framed glasses, Snowden looks out above us, toward what I imagine is a brighter future. Somehow, the sculpture’s artists have managed to remain anonymous in the press frenzy that ensued. What a triumph.

Installation view of SEVEN.

Installation view of SEVEN.

Photography by Trevor Paglen, one of the cinematographers for the Academy Award–winning Snowden documentary Citizenfour, is also included in the show. These photographs, like several other works here, tread the very thin line between beauty and repulsion. In Untitled (Gorgon Star Surveillance Blimp) (2012), a surveillance blimp melts into misty off-white sky. It’s so sublime, you almost forget the ugly feeling that you’re being watched.

In Katarzyna Kozyra’s “Women’s Bathhouse” photographs (all 1997/2015), it’s the other way around—they’re so composed, you almost forget you’re a voyeur. This series, taken using a hidden camera that Kozyra placed in a Budapest bathhouse, has an off-putting allure. Kozyra shoots these nude, elderly women in various private moments—lying against walls, chatting in circles, dozing off. With their muted greys and browns, they have the quiet beauty of Vermeer and Rembrandt’s domestic scenes. What’s worse: the male gaze of a 17th-century Dutch painter or a postmodern peeping tom?

Mark Tribe’s Birdsall II and IV (both 2012), two of the most anxiety-inducing works in the show, looks like an American painting from centuries past. These videos, played with layered bird chirps, feature static shots of a forest in autumn. The trees have lost their leaves, some of which lie on the ground. As it goes on, it becomes more obvious why there are bird noises from birds we never see. Tribe makes us into the hunter—the person watching and waiting.

Other works in SEVEN feature a tangle of wires and people. A Mark Lombardi “Narrative Structures” piece traces the flow of money between people and places between 1970 and 1984. Sam van Aken’s Myshkin’s Idiot Light (2015) and Addie Wagenknecht’s Kilohydra 2 (2014) follow up on Lombardi’s work by using a rat’s nest of crisscrossing wires, blinking lights, and support structures.

Addie Wagenknecht, -r-xr-xr-x, 2014, two gold-leafed cameras.

Addie Wagenknecht, -r-xr-xr-x, 2014, two gold-leafed cameras.

I can’t help but feel like Suzanne Treister is on the right track with her “Post-Surveillance Art” posters (all 2014), which use a combination of eye-popping Internet images and propagandistic text to make their point. If post-Internet artists respond to objects coming out of the Internet with their art, Treister reacts to technology by using it to inform the look of her work. At once flashy and hollow, these posters poke fun at surveillance technology. “The sublime object of surveillance,” reads one, encased inside Albers-esque squares. “Shaman surveillant,” reads another. Is this what more contemporary art will look like? It seems likely, and it’s possible that “post-surveillance art” is something to keep an eye on.

The first and last thing visitors see at SEVEN is Wagenknecht’s -r-xr-xr-x (2014), two gold-leafed surveillance cameras that are aimed at viewers. The gold-leafing makes these cameras stick out like a sore thumb. Visitors have to walk past them at some point, and they’ll have to notice these CCTV cameras. They’re watching us, and don’t you ever forget it.

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