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GALLERY 2010/2011




Description of campaign/project

The goal in making our panoptICONS project was to create more awareness about the presence of surveillance cameras in public space. We feel people accept camerasurveillance too easily, because while they may 'know' in an abstract way that there are cameras, they don't actually 'feel' the fact that they are constantly being watched. We feel that there would be a lot more resistance to surveillance cameras if people would be actively aware of their presence and their gaze. We tried to accomplish this with the panoptICONS.

The main reasons that people don't notice surveillance cameras are that they blend in very well with their surroundings and so are ignored like all other streetfurniture, and that they are situated above streetlevel. To solve this visibility issue we needed to get people to look up more in their daily lives. By making weird-looking birdcameras with things like blinking leds, moving heads and sound we hoped we could draw people's attention and get them to look up. Once they've seen one of the camerabirds our hope was that people would look above street level for the rest of the day to see if they can spot more camerabirds, causing them to see the enormous amount of real surveillance cameras in the city. Our goal was not to specifically tell people that surveillance cameras are bad, but we feel that people should be really aware of their presence before being able to form a worthwhile opinion about this issue.

By making people aware of their surroundings again, they can make informed decisions when it's time too vote or when the placement of new surveillance cameras is announced in their city or neighbourhood. By making them aware of the problem and how it affects them personally in their daily lives they can try to resist this trend of increasing surveillance.

We learned that it can be quite hard to reach people in public space, because they are so entrenched in their routine of walking to work or the shops that they don't look around with interest or curiosity anymore. It was also interesting to see that some people, after noticing the camerabirds, were very concerned about their privacy and then realised that there is very little difference in that aspect between our camerabirds and real surveillancecameras.

Curators comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

This year's Memefest Beyond! category had quite a few submissions addressing issues of surveillance and CCTV. I believe this project stands out among them because it requires very little engagement from the audience/participants (in comparison to some of the more complex game/mapping projects) and achieves its effect/communicates its message, on a very visceral level.

The birds are aesthetically very striking as creatures/objects, and the notion of the "gaze" was a very well-observed starting point. They not only address the question of pervasive surveillance in our cities, but really "(birdo)anthropomorphize" the technology—evidenced even more with your ideas of feeding on privacy.

I don't have much criticism to add, but perhaps some questions can be raised. Did these birds actually record? and what was done with that footage? Could that be incorporated somehow in to the project?

View other works commented by Kevin Yuen-Kit Lo  ››

I like your proposed work, “the panoptICONS”, ‘cose I like your idea and especially how you presented, materialise your subject. There are many levels and points your work is provoking us to think and to reflect, to see. Yours surveillance cameras as birds (are watching us), camera as bird so we be able to recognise and see it. Also cameras are not just camouflaged, masquerading into birds; they are so, because with ‘the mask’ we can see, recognising them. People are often wearing the masks to let somebody see ‘behind’, deep inside their desires and truth. We can also recognise this idea ‘everything to see’ is the idea of controlled society. Like we – people -see the birds, they can see everything, its “birds view”, “absolute view”. Birds can see the “whole thing”/ all world. “Absolute Eye and the No Limit World” is short essay by Gérard Wajcman where he demonstrate how today’s we live in controlled and guarded society where, as they are saying to us, we can sleep peaceful, because everything is under control. Everything is under the view, control, so the world, circulation and the living, existence is safely managed and directed. All for the reason no error, accident, catastrophe wont’ happened – so exchange, transmition will continue - , what we experienced very frequently that it is not true. Though every day catastrophes is also repairing continuously. Before The News we are watching stunning high polished car, on The News we are seeing it burned and destroyed, after news the same cars is driving safe and beautiful again. Before The News they are offering us to fly comfortable and joyfully travel by airplane, during the news this airplane crashed down, after The News we can fly high safely again, like in the fairytale. It’s magic! We are living in surrealistic world where nothing is true any more. So the cameras are really the birds that are watched over us and at the same time they are protected our lives. So the birds are our friends and so far they are with as the world is whole and safe. Catching the birds into cage is also how we catch and take the wild nature to posses to observe and examine to understand it. So we can face up to it and study how we ourselves are examine and studying by cameras and catching us into files and records. Also to grab, to take is from ‘nature site’ for us is to protect, safe it from losing or from disappearing. Evidence and records of ours lives are testimony, also saving us from vanishing. So the “camerabirds” are also protecting and saving our lives, it is new belief. Of course the message of your work it’s critical and essential to the people to see it. To see how blind we are. Your goal, as you write in the explanation “is to create more awareness about the presence of surveillance cameras in public space”. Because you “feel people accept camera surveillance too easily” this is absolutely true. “While the people may 'know' in an abstract way that there are cameras, they don't actually 'feel' the fact that they are constantly being watched. We feel that there would be a lot more resistance to surveillance cameras if people would be actively aware of their presence and their gaze”. I entirely agree with this.

View other works commented by Alen Ožbolt  ››

Within the multiple reflections about surveillance cameras PanoptICONS, is highlighted by its overflow towards limits defiant of the use of technological and its impressive aesthetic dimension.
Interestingly, the idea of reviewing and reflecting in networks the concept of monitoring and its philosophical implications, it comes to mind "Vigilance and Punishment" by Foucault and the transformations of punitive mechanisms.

I consider this work beyond being a "mise en scene" can be an impressive tool to think in those devices of subtle and somehow "transparent" power which is part of our everyday.

The camerabirds become not only simple monitors, they are objects (automatons as in the 17th century), a sort of clean and at the same time grotesque robots that makes me think of a twisted and humorous version of a "cyborg"… many expectations remain open on the possibilities and new interpretations of this object that manifests itself in a flock.

I must say that i am amazed with the device, but I believe that as good as it may be as a solution (camerabirds), it can be distracting from a deeper judgement on the conceptual line which the project is based on.

View other works commented by Sandra Rengifo  ››

Again what strikes me in this project is the humour. Weird-looking birdcameras to draw people's attention is a great approach - and could really work. A great aspect is also this "insecurity of the initiator". People who see the work will think: Is this art? Is this real or fun? Or is this perhaps a camouflage technique (wanted by the city authorities) that did not really work out? When I first saw "panoptICONS" it reminded me of the camouflage mobile phone masts photography from Robert Voit (http://www.robertvoit.com/bilder/serie1_new_trees/text.en.php?id=text). I like that the work is really placed in the streets, done for it and also really subverting public space. And I really think that you cannot reach an audience with "preachy" art/activism, but only with intelligent comments and fun and making people laugh - because then the message gets much more emotional!

View other works commented by Alain Bieber  ››

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Curators comments

This work has been commented by 4 curator(s):
Kevin Yuen-Kit Lo Alen Ožbolt Sandra Rengifo Alain Bieber go to comments ›

Entry details




Urban Evolution

Concept author(s)

Bas van Oerle; Thomas voor 't Hekke

Concept author year(s) of birth

1985; 1983

Concept author(s) contribution

Bas: Concept, software, electronics; Thomas: Concept, electronics, design;



Competition category


Competition field


Competition subfield


Subfield description

panoptICONS addresses the fact that we are constantly being watched by surveillance cameras in city centres. The surveillance camera seems to have become a real pest that feeds on our privacy. To represent this, camera birds - city birds with cameras instead of heads - were placed throughout the city centre of Utrecht where they feed on the presence of people. In addition, a camera bird in captivity was displayed to show the feeding process and to make the everyday breach of our privacy more personal and tangible.