A stealth addition to Secret Wars has just landed at Proteus Gowanus. panoptICONS, birds of surveillance with cameras for heads, are now observing visitors from a perch over the gallery.
FRONT404 (also known as the Dutch artists Thomas voor ‘t Hekke and Bas van Oerle) invented the avian robots to draw people’s visual attention up above their heads, where an ever-growing forest of surveillance cameras silently observes the humans gliding through the urban environment. Although they are hardly noticed, security cameras continually record faces in the crowd and can link with facial recognition software to track the identities of strangers. The artists observe that the ubiquitous optical surveillance devices occupy the same ecological niche as scavenging city birds. Perched high in the sky, each consumes the traces we leave behind when we pass by. Hidden cameras harvest our identities as crows swoop down to capture our dropped crumbs and discarded food wrappers. Voor ’t Hekke and van Oerle write that they see panoptICONS as “the logical evolution of these two species,” feeding on privacy and biometric data. The project website includes live video footage of a mother panoptICON feeding the facial profiles of passersby to her hungry chicks.
The winner of a Dutch Big Brother Award, the observing birds were first seen in FRONT404’s home city of Utrecht. Random sightings are now being reported in cities around the world — including Brooklyn. So as you walk around the city, don’t forget to look up at the sky.
You never know who’s watching.
The state security apparatus of the Netherlands casts a looming shadow over Secret Wars at Proteus Gowanus. In another installment of Proteoscope we’ll enter the opaque miasma of Holland’s national police files in Renée Ridgway’s Revelation of the Concealed: Politics (in)form, composed of heavily redacted documents acquired through the Dutch Freedom of Information Act known as the WOB.