March 24 – July 16, 2017
No secrets! – Images of Surveillance

Since Edward Snowden’s disclosures, no-one has been in any doubt about the existence of widespread digital surveillance and monitoring. However, it is not intelligence agencies alone that obtain data from our use of media technologies. Automated analysis of electronic processes, events and communications is also employed to interpret people’s behavior in the “Internet of Things” and the mind-blowing world of “Big Data”.

The highly emotive and controversial topic of surveillance is the subject of a two-part exhibition at the Münchner Stadtmuseum and the Munich ERES Foundation.

The Münchner Stadtmuseum exhibition begins with a historical overview of the related phenomena of location surveillance and identity checking by government and private actors. The introduction of public street lighting may well have helped to make our streets safer, but it has also served as an instrument of power. The standardization of criminal photography by Alphonse Bertillon in the 1880s and the use of fingerprinting from 1900 onwards have made it easier for the police to establish the identity of an individual. These techniques are the forerunners of modern-day video surveillance.

When photographers such as Nadar or James Wallace Black started boarding hot-air balloons around the middle of the 19th century, their aerial photographs provided viewers with completely new mind-boggling experiences. Today, however, such images generated by satellites and drones are seen as part of a quintessentially omniscient surveillance aesthetic.

Sebastian Arlt, portrait of the actress Sibylle Canonica, 2015 © Sebastian Arlt
I Want Your Data, poster protesting against the national census, circa 1985 © Münchner Stadtmuseum
Michael Grudziecki, Sea Forts 43, 2016 © Michael Grudziecki
Hidden camera in the shape of a watch, circa 1910 © Münchner Stadtmuseum

The main body of the exhibition features contemporary works including photographs, videos, paintings, posters and installations, with some works also referring back to historical surveillance. Hyojoo Jang’s “Panopticon” video, for example, references Jeremy Bentham’s 18th-century circular penitentiary designed so that inmates would be aware that they could be under observation at any moment, without ever knowing when or whether they were actually being watched. Bentham’s idea is now a metaphor for our current vast array of surveillance cultures and practices.

Counter-surveillance provides the theme for a number of works that seek to uncover the mechanisms of our surveillance culture and its contradictions. Max Eicke reveals US surveillance facilities in Germany, while Paolo Cirio has used social media hacks of the private profiles of high-ranking intelligence officials to display large-scale reproductions of their photos in public places. Philipp Messner looks at the widespread use of automatic facial-recognition technology, making his own face publicly available in the form of a 3D-printed mask. Finally, Jens Klein has put together sequential series of images sourced from Stasi archives. Stripped of their original context, these photos reveal at first glance the comically mundane quality of surveillance. The contemporary artists featured in the exhibition employ a wide range of tactics to attack, reflect upon or at any rate expose modern-day surveillance practices.

In addition to the exhibition at the Münchner Stadtmuseum, the ERES Foundation’s “No secrets! – The allure and dangers of digital self-surveillance” exhibition investigates the now widespread phenomenon whereby most people today effectively consent to their own surveillance in their use of the Internet, smartphones and social media.

Featured artists

Sebastian Arlt, Paolo Cirio, Max Eicke, Florian Freier, Michael Grudziecki, Hyojoo Jang, Gretta Louw, Jens Masmann, Philipp Messner, Thomas Meyer, Jenny Rova, Gregor Sailer, Alexander Steig, Timm Ulrichs, Franz Wanner.

The Munich Film Museum will be showing a series of feature films and documentaries, from March 24 to April 12, 2017, concurrently with the two exhibitions.

Publication

The exhibitions at the Münchner Stadtmuseum and the ERES-Stiftung are accompanied by a collective catalogue with approximately 160 pages, numerous illustrations and contributions by Dietmar Kammerer, Klaus Mainzer, Frank Pasquale, Daniele Stöppel, Diana Tamir and others. It is available for € 18.- at the museum’s ticket desk and its online shop.