On June 7, artist Ai WeiWei and architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron turned New York City’s Park Avenue Armory into a surveillance park inspired by Hansel and Gretel. The park uses the metaphor of children leaving breadcrumbs to lead them to their homes to spotlight some of the pitfalls of the surveillance that is so rampant in the digital age that we live in – leading to obsessive stalkers and oppressive governments. Although we are 24/7 immersed into a universe of – hidden but known – surveillance, the three award-winning artists take advantage of the spacious hall to introduce the exhibition’s visitors to the world of their own surveillance face-to-face for the first time. The exhibition will run until August 6.
“My experience of working with Jacques and Pierre is that we never think separately. It’s like three soldiers in the war—and that’s a good feeling: we have a constant understanding,” says Ai WeiWei.
The hall is armed with 56 tiny computers connected to infrared cameras and projectors hanging from the rafters. As visitors roam around speculating, not sure exactly what to expect or do, tethered drones fly above them, taking live footage of their invaded privacies, and reflecting it onto a live stream on the ground of the hall, just under the visitors’ feet.
In the end, a grid of red boxes and white lines framing each visitor are projected on the ground to state the obvious: they know where we are.
There are around 9,000 surveillance cameras in New York feeding anti-terror police officers in the command center with live footage all day long. The New York City Police Department has embedded a more advanced technology in their cameras, providing them with real-time facial recognition of potential suspects – something that civil society is fighting against. When they were first introduced in 2011, Shayana Kadidal, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that these images are dumped into these big databases and subject to error. “It would result in a lot more false positives, and a lot more people would become suspects,” he said.
According to Clare Garvie at Georgetown’s Center on Privacy & Technology, this technology is particularly invasive, since it allows authorities to track people’s locations, something the courts have protected. Facial-recognition technology works by matching features like eyes, nose, cheekbones and jaw with images found on photo-based social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. There are 62 million security cameras watching people in the U.S. alone.
Zooming in on both the urgency and efficiency of surveillance cameras, progrss previously spoke with Mohamed-Omer “Mo” Bakheit, urban security veteran at MEASC and consultant to Egyptian security authorities between 2006 and 2016, about the controversial field of urban security. Bakheit noted that surveillance cameras are useless in protecting and detecting dangers unless they can alert security ahead of time so that the attacker is caught or neutralized before they set off the blast or incendiary.