The whole is [not necessarily] greater than the sum of its parts.
Single-channel 4K high digital video
2:50 minutes (looped), 1.9:1, colour, silent
I wasn’t going to create anything political while in Beijing for two reasons: first, there is a thin line between empathy-as-activism and fly-in fly-out socially engaged practice, and I didn’t want to be a perpetrator of the latter, and secondly, because, like with all (travel) experiences, I treasured the interactions I had with the individuals I met. I was captivated by the proud culture of one of the longest continuous civilisations on earth, so I didn’t want to question China’s right to exist, or the right to self-determination. Nonetheless, I am interested in examining the politics of the image and the construction of truth, and while visiting Tiananmen—the historical entrance to the Imperial City—and Tiananmen Square, with its awe-inspiring Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, I was distracted by the abundant lamp posts fitted with security cameras and speakers. The posts, for me, felt equally as overwhelming as the monumental icons of architecture I was excited to see. I started to think about my need for a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to (freely) use the Internet; Google’s (censored) planned foray back into China; and China’s Social Credit System—a form of mass surveillance that uses (buzzword alert) big data, artificial intelligence, and a network of over 200-million CCTV cameras with facial recognition, body scanning, and geo-tracking technology to track and monitor the country’s 1.4 billion citizens. To explore this techno-dystopian world, I used Google image search (and a VPN) to collect hundreds of photos of Tiananmen Square, which I digitally manipulated into a video resembling omniscient eyes and omnipresent speakers—always watching and ready to sonically blast away any sign of dissent. The work explores the phenomena and experience of mass surveillance, whether by the Chinese government or by big American technology companies, and how it has become increasingly abstract and impossible to comprehend. Thus, the project forms part of an ongoing exploration into (surveillance) photography and how it has never been a tool to document and record reality—it is a means to manipulate it.
Sample of source imagery from Google image search for Tiananmen Square:
Sample of post-processed source imagery:
Surveillance lamps (photo
stolen appropriated from Google image search):