Streams

Surveillance Art

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In Madison Square Park, four large screen monitors ring the tables where Shake Shack customers stop to eat their burgers and fries.

The screens are looping high-definition images of people in the park engaged in everyday activities -- sitting down, eating, walking.

It's all a part of filmmaker Ernie Gehr's installation "Surveillance."

“It’s focused on the mundane,” Gehr says. “The everyday pleasures of the world, rather than, “How are things going to be resolved here?” or “Will he or she get away with it or not? The camera doesn’t emphasize anything, it just neutrally keeps its distance.”

Gehr’s monitors aren't showing grainy crime footage, but crisp, high-definition picture-within-picture rectangles. The camera pans slowly over peaceful scenes -- a squirrel scurrying over a garbage can, the green hue of the treetops, the sky reflected in the water of the fountain.

“Here is a play on the idea of surveillance,” said Gehr. “Using it for amusement, rather than trying to scare people.”

Gehr says he doesn’t think the installation would have been successful in another city, because New Yorkers are accustomed to being on camera whether they like it or not. But with so much effort in the field of surveillance dedicated to apprehending criminals and terror suspects, the monitors in the park offer viewers a brand new way to experience the act of watching and being watched.

“It’s just part of making your life richer, and experiencing more rather than less,” Gehr says. “Being more aware of surveillance cameras and why they are there in the first place might make you nervous, but its part of life. Happiness and sadness are part of the same coin.”

“Surveillance” is showing in Madison Square Park until May 14. Gehr says it’s best to view the monitors in the evening.

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