Thursday, July 4, 2013

Faceless @ MuseumsQuartier, Vienna

The MuseumsQuartier in Vienna hosts an exhibition which deals with the desire to become faceless in a world which demands our visibility. It shows how works in art, fashion, photography, and advertisment have picked up on that desire to be anonymous - in ways that made me smile, too. Looking at the exhibition website, it really seems like a thoughtfully curated collection which approaches the subject from various angles. (Here's also a brochure with more info)

One project also deals explicitely with surveillance work - which, as far as I know, is a fairly new subject in contrast to the experience of the monitored individual (I might be wrong, though!). The project is called the "surveillance documentation", and carried out by a group of artists, Artistic Bokeh. Here's what they say about surveillance work:
Surveillance work can be challenging - according to the U.S. Department of Labor it includes stress, danger, confrontations with angry or upset individuals, physical discomfort, lethal hazards, fieldwork in high crime areas, monotony, constant alertness to threatening situations, irregular hours, and a heavy toll on private life, among other risks. The surveillance worker has to possess "great self-discipline to control unproductive ethical impulses to look away" since the "humanity of the surveillance worker has always been a weakness of surveillance systems" (Maxwell, 2005). Who are those people and employees observing us in all possible situations of our lives? Surveillance workers are "in reality, reflexive and knowledgable social actors, involved in a variety of sense and decision making activities" (Ball, 2005), though they are people with diverse backgrounds and individual biographies that are rarely recorded and often disregarded in history.

I have to admit that I really appreciate the question who "these people" are, because we actually don't know terribly much about this social group. I do know, however, that in Germany, surveillance work is in the low-pay sector, and as of 2012 didn't even have a minimum wage. Nor does surveillance work in the private sector require any kind of qualification. And this is in spite of the massive privatization and growth of the security service sector. What I ask myself is, then, how do they learn to see if no-one teaches them? How do they know what they know? How does someone end up as a surveillance worker? What are their professional trajectories? How do they identify professionally? Funny enough, by asking "who these people are", the surveillance documentation sort of subverts the exhibition's theme, because it starts to give people a face who usually are hidden away.

I think this exhibition promises to gather very interesting questions and tensions, so if you're in the area, it seems like a safe thing to check out. It's in the Museumsquartier in Vienna (which is awesome), and runs from July 4, 2013, til September 1, 2013 (no entrance fees, either!). There's actually a sequel which will open in September, and deal with future strategies and solutions to problems of identity/anonymity.

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