Shotgun Reviews

Moving Walls 22 / Watching You, Watching Me at Open Society Foundations-New York

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Mary Coyne reviews Watching You, Watching Me at Open Society Foundations in New York City.

Mishka Henner. Dutch Landscapes, 2011; Archival pigment print.

Mishka Henner. Dutch Landscapes, 2011; archival pigment print.

Edward Snowden’s revelatory findings of pervasive surveillance by the NSA fundamentally changed the way we view the assumed privacy of our communications. Even in the face of widespread threats to our freedom, photography as a surveillance technique continues to be lauded as a military defense tactic as well as actively used by individuals for personal and commercial benefit. The artists whose works compose Watching You, Watching Me appropriate these very same techniques of technological surveillance to critique this complex society of cameras.

This exhibition is the 22nd edition of the Moving Walls series at Open Society Foundations. It seeks to highlight documentary photography, and feels exceptionally timely given the climate. Curator Yukiko Yamagata excellently brings to the fore different approaches to the material that articulate the complexities of what surveillance techniques mean and the contexts in which they can be used.

Tomas van Houtryve’s hauntingly beautiful black-and-white photographs are shot from a camera mounted on an unmanned predator drone that flies at close range over the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved drone flying zones. These zones include the U.S./Mexico border, oil fields, and typical urban areas such as parks and beaches that poetically parallel the civilian villages that are attacked in drone warfare. Similarly, Mishka Henner appropriates aerial imagery from Google Earth. His Dutch Landscapes show pixelated areas of Holland—locations deemed too secret to be revealed for public viewing—as they appear from the Google satellite. Made conspicuous by their disguise, the pixelated regions seem to spotlight otherwise unbroken countryside.

Some of the artists draw attention to less geographically spectacular aspects of surveillance. Mari Bastashevski’s It’s Nothing Personal depicts part of the hacking facility at “CyberGym,” an Israeli defense organization that trains the government in cyberintelligence. The images, and the complex government documents that also compose the project, underscore the nefarious actions that emerge from the dorm-like hideaway and heighten the pervasive climate of a society potentially always under surveillance.

The work does suffer from the corporate feel of the space at the OSF and could benefit from consolidation in a more traditional gallery space. The empty conference rooms and seating areas that interrupt the installation are largely distracting, and given the widespread use of photography, vinyl, and didactic installations, the exhibition at times feels less professional than the work deserves.

Moving Walls 22 / Watching You, Watching Me is on view at Open Society Foundations–New York through May 8, 2015.

Mary Coyne is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn, New York. She founded Pseudo Empire, a not-for-profit art space in Bushwick, and is currently a research fellow at the Walker Art Center.