Surveillance is a close observation, especially of a suspected spy or criminal. This idea of surveillance came into action with the very birth of religion as the omnipotent eye of God. Catholic church and in fact not just Christianity, but all religions over the world instilled the belief that ‘God is watching you at all times’ in the subconscious of humanity, which would thus act as a constant reminder that there is a en existence of a higher being. Artists such as Hieronymus Bosch depicted this idea of the ‘all seeing eye’ or the Eye or Providence in his paintings such as ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’.
Hieronymus Bosch – The Seven Deadly Sins
From the ‘all seeing eye of God’ surveillance was represented differently in the architectural illustrations of Althansisus Kircher, suggesting that surveillance is not just visual but audial too. His ‘Musurgia Universalis’ showed small tunnels between each room where one can listen into other rooms; were originally a theory of sound amplification whereby one can listen to conversation from the courtyard in another room. Nicolaes Maes also portrayed this interference in privacy in his works with paintings such as ‘The Eavesdropper’.
Althansisus Kricher – Musurgia Universalis
Nicolaes Maes – The Eavesdropper with a Scolding Woman
Nicolaes Mass – The Eavesdropper
Fast forwarding to the 20th century, Anthony Giddens defined modernity in terms of four institutions—Industrialism, Surveillance, Capitalism and Military Power. Industrialism brought with it a destruction of nature for transformation and development of an urban environment and this urban environment then required a control of information and social supervision through surveillance. Capitalism gave control to private owners over the industry, trade and products of a country causing capital accumulation within competitive labour and product markets, with rise of capitalism came rise of military power; thus the industrialisation of war.
Haussmanisation of Paris is an example of how modernism was engulfing countries in the early 19th century. Through creative destruction Baron Haussman, cleared slums to open up the city, expanded local business to help project costs, made zones for cafes on commercial streets, parks, public squares and uniform buildings were introduced and roads were made for ease of military movement to survey and maintain control over public activities and facilitating capitalist endeavours. Haussmann wanted people to explore and make use of the city through social activity and tried to emphasise on Baudelaire’s theory of the ‘flaneur’, a man who wonders aimlessly yet observantly within society. Regardless of all that, Haussmann’s main aim was visibility, as he wanted to establish control over the working class of Paris and place strict rules and regulations on behavior and the way people should behave within society. Haussmann’s Paris aimed to create a model of control for its inhabitants with strict regulations on behaviour and use of public spaces but also through changing Parisian lifestyle. This hoped to create a self-regulating system on a basis of bourgeois respectability (Perrot, 1994), attempting to impose a “uniformity and predictability on public behaviour” (Forgione, 2005). The increased illumination of the city by gas lamps allowed for night-time surveillance of public behaviours, whilst also working to empower the bourgeoisies with a nightlife that could be enjoyed in safety.
With modernism and destruction of nature for urbanism, came the rise in population and henceforth the rise in crime rates. Michel Foucalt in his ‘Discipline and Punish’ says that ‘the birth of the prison traces the development of the western system of prisons, police organisations, administrative and legal hierarchies for social control.’ 18th and 19th centuries adopted discipline as a way of controlling the movement and operations of the body in a constant way. Punishment moved from public torture in medieval times to prisons in contemporary society. Goals of containment, force, physical harm in punishment were still present, but now with a much grater focus on surveillance, documentation, correction. In relation to this Jeremy Benthen designed ‘The Panopticon Prison’, a development from the western system of prisons; dismissing traditional methods of punishment and advanced more towards producing the modern individual i.e. one who knows how to act correctly in society. The Panopticon was a circular building entering around a tower, wherein each cell was filled with light and had a glass front. The guard tower had a complete view of all the cells which made the prisoners conscious about being watched all the time, even if it was practically impossible for the guard tower to keep an eye on all cells at the same time. This initiated control as while the prisoners would be crippled under the power of the prison, they would control their actions under the fear of being observed. Discipline operates through an economy in three ways: exerting the least amount of effort to control populations through maximum invisibility ‘if power is not seen it will not be resisted’, bringing their effects to their “maximum intensity” and extending the effects widely and should be accomplished to the fullest effect in as many places as possible; increasing “the docility and utility of all elements of the system”. The effects of panoptic power are crowd vs. collection of separated individualities i.e. guardians can number, document, and supervise the individuals but inmates are sequestered alone and can’t see each other or bond together, visible and unverifiable whereby the inmate constantly sees the panopticon, the instrument of power but does not know when he is being watched, disindividualised power whereby power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution of bodies, it does not matter who exercises power, and the panoptic power acts directly on the mind/body without the use of physical force.
In modern day terms, we as a nation have been taught to be aware of who we could be being watched by Benthen’s theory of the panopticon. The often cited figures of 4.2 million cameras (and being captured 300 times a day on camera), are based on an academic research paper from the early 2000s. London is the world’s first city with the most cameras everywhere, on the streets, in schools, houses, universities, churches, stores, offices, hospitals, i.e. everywhere. The whole of London is monitored by CCTV, solely based on the concept that if power is not seen, it will be often not be be resisted. Simon, B. in ‘The Return of Panopticism: Supervision, Subjection and the New Surveillance’ has said that ‘the Panopticon is not a vision machine so much as an ordering machine; a kind of socio-material assemblage for sorting and arranging social categories and individual persons so that they can be seen and understood.’ Surveillance and visibility also play a role in social sorting in terms that the idea of surveillance can be used to create and reinforce longterm social differences. Space is divided for ‘desirables’ and ‘undesirables’ and commercial spaces retain their sign value by ensuring a sense of exclusivity.
The idea of surveillance and complete panoptic control also raises questions of the gaze when considering the people who are under this control. Gaze, in terms of art theory and history, is a term used to describe the acts of looking caught up in the dynamics of desire. Theories of the gaze have explored the complex power relations that are a part of the acts of looking and being looked at. The term ‘Male Gaze’ expresses an unequal power relationship between the viewer and the viewed – a man imposing his unwanted gaze upon a woman. Theorists have argued that men who look at women are often sexualising and objectifying them, and there’s an unequal balance of power there. Laurie Anderson a photographer, through a project titled ‘Fully Automated Nikon’, decided to shoot pictures of men who made comments to her on the street. Contemporary theories of the gaze have however, complicated the original model and now discuss a variety of different kinds of gazes distinguished by sex, gender, race, and class, that can be deployed by different kinds of spectators. The gaze may be sexualised, but not always. And it is not always unwanted.
In 1949, George Orwell published a novel titled ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’. The story of takes place in a nightmarish dystopia of a State led by Big Brother, enforcing perfect conformity among citizens through indoctrination, fear, lies and ruthless punishment. This novel at that time was very controversial as it made people think about whether they are under control or being watched all the time and if they actually want to be watched all the time. But living in 21st century London is like living in an invisible version of George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen-Eighty Four’. Google knows more about us than we do, our personal information and data is under dataveillance all the time, especially more with people signing up for everything all the time, and agreeing to terms and conditions without even having read them. There are CCTVs in every corner of London, more than one in fact, so how do we know there is no ‘Big Brother’ watching us?