the Surveillance Camera Players go to Graz, Austria

Between 24 and 29 October 2002, two members of the New York Surveillance Camera Players (Sean and Bill) were active in Graz, Austria, a small university town and cultural center in the Austrian Alps. They had been flown to Graz by ESC (Extreme Subversive Culture), a nine-year-old group of local artists and political activists interested in "new media." For the last few years, ESC has used a small building on the Jakoministrasse called labor to host events associated with Steirisher Herbst, an official city-wide festival of "new art" held in Graz every year since the late 1960s. (Steiermark is the Land or "state" in which Graz is located and Herbst means Autumn; and so Steirisher Herbst might be translated as "Autumn in Steiermark.") For Steirisher Herbst 2002, ESC put together "Please Identify," a two-month-long series of performances and gallery installations by Jenny Marketou (Greece and the USA), Jaromil (Italy), Toy Satellite (Austria), Geari Schreilechner (Germany) and the New York Surveillance Camera Players (the USA).

On Thursday 24 October 2002, Sean and Bill were briefly interviewed on "Radio Helsinki" by "Please Identify" curator Reni Hofmueller, who also does a weekly show on this small local radio station. Speaking in English, they talked about the situation in New York after September 11th, the international network of small groups calling themselves Surveillance Camera Players (SCP), and the SCP-New York's contribution to "Please Identify." Sean and Bill also played a few records they'd brought from home, including Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother."

On Friday 25 October 2002 -- and in the company of a wonderful woman named Maja, who used a hand-held digital video camera to record virtually everything "artistic" (ha!) the pair of New Yorkers did in Graz over the next four days -- Bill and Sean made a rough map of Graz's Innere Stadt (inner city) and then used it to record both the locations and the presumed owners of the public surveillance cameras they were able to spot. The map took about four hours to make. The first copies of it were donated to "Please Identify" (of course) and to Infoladen Graz (Graz Infoshop), a small anarchist bookstore that (Sean and Bill discovered) was just a few doors down from labor.

Over the course of the next few days, as they spotted or were told about cameras that they'd previously missed, Bill and Sean kept updating, photocopying and distributing the map. The final version was completed on Tuesday 29 October 2002. Nearly all of the Grazers who saw the map were surprised by the existence of "so many" surveillance cameras -- 50 in all -- in Graz, which is "such a small place." Many people could see that the number of cameras will obviously increase (and will do so rapidly) in the months leading up to, during and after 2003, when Graz "officially" becomes Europe's Kulturhauptstadt (Capital City of Culture). Several people pledged that, now that the map had been created, they would keep it updated and made freely available after the SCP-New York returned to the USA.

To the New Yorkers, it was striking that, as in Barcelona, a relatively large number of the cameras in Graz (approximately 50 percent of them) are operated by the police or the government. In New York, by contrast, only 5 or 10 percent of the cameras are "official"; the rest are privately owned. And so, if the increase in cameras installed in public places in Graz follows the trend recently observed in Times Square; if the increase in cameras is almost completely attributable to the increase in the number of privately owned cameras, as it was in Times Square; and if the ratio of private-to-city cameras in Graz changes from one-to-one to nine-to-one, which is the current ratio in Times Square -- then within the next few years there may well be as many as 225 cameras operating in "little old Graz."

On Saturday 26 October 2002, the SCP-New York performed a total of four different times. At 7 pm, standing directly underneath a globe-shaped surveillance camera installed (by a private company?) in the fulcrum of the small L-shaped space where Bad Gasse meets Admonter Gasse, Bill and Sean displayed a freshly created placard that said die Ueberwachungskamera Spieler prasentieren. . . (the Surveillance Camera Players present. . .), then offered up placard-less and mostly improvized renditions of God's Eyes Here on Earth and The Circle. The few people who saw these performances had little or no reaction to them. One group wouldn't even accept an SCP flyer, even though the connection with Steirisher Herbst was explained to them (and in German yet).

Nearly the same thing happened when, at around 7:15 pm, Bill and Sean presented a brand-new play in front of the pair of (privately owned?) surveillance cameras that watch the Sack Strasse entrance to Admonter Gasse. First presented as a solo performance in front of a Times Square webcam operated by Earthcam between 1:45 and 2:00 pm on Friday 18 October 2002, this as-of-yet untitled play involves holding up placards that say Bleiben Sie Dran ("stay tuned") and Haben Sie Geduld ("have patience"), and doing nothing else for as long as possible. But what got a (favorable) reaction in New York City got almost no reaction at all in Graz. Maja explained that such refusals to "get involved" are common in Austria, especially since the rise of Joerg Haider and the other overtly fascist politicians in the Freiheit Partie Osterreich. (Some of the FPO's slogans include "Homeland, Family, Security," "No pardons for drug dealers," and "No pensions for those granted asylum who are found guilty of committing crimes.") People know the consequences of being caught on the wrong side of an issue, and so prefer to take no side at all.

The response was better (there was actually a response) when Bill and Sean, accompanied as always by Maja and also by one of the volunteers at the Infoshop, moved to an area (the Herren Strasse) through which more people were likely to pass and thus see the strange spectacle of people holding up hand-printed signs in front of and on either side of Oskar. Oskar is the short little ugly guy made out of metal that's been painted white. You can't miss him: he's standing out in the middle of the street, facing towards the shops; and -- get this -- he's got the word "Oskar" on his lapel. Apparently Oskar's person had been forced to endure such unspeakable insults and indignities that, in the name of common decency, the "authorities" felt compelled to give him -- we do mean Oskar -- his own surveillance camera, i.e., the now famous Oskar-Cam ("OC" for short). At around 7:30 pm, the SCP-New York appeared on the OC to present God's Eyes Here on Earth and the "stay tuned - have patience" thing. Some people stopped (but briefly!) to look at the performance. A few smiled; no one took photographs, even when someone slapped a sticker over Oskar's lapel. One or two of the passers-by declared that they were tired of performance art, which they reckoned to be Scheisse.

To conclude the evening, the SCP-New York did something it has never done before: perform in front of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras that have been temporarily installed as part of an "ironic" art exhibit and thus aren't real surveillance cameras watched by dead-serious security guards and/or police officers. At 7:45 pm, the group performed "stay tuned - have patience" and God's Eyes Here on Earth in front of the small but high-quality CCTV camera that had been placed in the hallwall leading to the "Please Identify" exhibit, at which people could watch the performance on one of several small black-and-white monitors that had been installed up there. At the conclusion of this very well received performance, which was videotaped off the system by ESC as well as in person by Maja, the little camera was covered over by one of the SCP's stickers and left that way. At 8 pm, Bill and Sean performed in front of the large CCTV camera that had been installed on the outside of the labor building. Because this second camera produced blurry images, the duo limited their performance to the "stay tuned - have patience" thing and a few simple but internationally recognized gestures of ridicule, contempt and refusal. Bored by irony, especially if it is "artistic," the SCP-New York offered these two performances only because A) there were quite a few people at the "Please Identify" exhibit and B) few people had seen the performances staged in public earlier in the evening.

On Sunday 27 October 2002, Sean and Bill were interviewed by Veronika, a reporter from Radio Wien FM4. The rest of the day was spent hanging around with Guen and Flo from the Grazer Infoshop.

On Monday 28 October 2002, the SCP-New York offered two walking tours of surveillance cameras in Graz's inner city. The first tour took place at 11 am, was attended by approximately 20 people, and lasted almost two hours. Copies of both the Graz map as well as the SCP-New York's map of Times Square were made freely available. Conducted in English, the tour began at a wireless, remote-controlled police camera placed on top of a pole in the Jakominiplatz, stopped at several fixed-position, privately owned cameras along Landhaus Gasse, and ended at the globe-shaped camera at Bad Gasse. Other than the unexpected presence of Anthony Rowland, who engaged Bill in an on-going and lively exchange concerning the position of the "the devil's advocate," the highlight of the walking tour was the unanncounced visit to the watcher's booth at the Joanneum Landesbibliotek (a government-owned "cultural property") on the Rauber Gasse.

The SCP-New York had anticipated that there would be problems if the walking tour tried to get close enough to look inside this booth, which contained a computerized map of camera locations, three computerized TV screens displaying live video feeds from approximately 50 different cameras, a screen displaying the feed from a single and no doubt very important camera, a joystick for remote control, a radio link to other positions, etc etc. In case there was trouble, Sean and Bill had prepared the fiction that the tour was sponsored by Das Institut fur Innere Sicherheit ("The Institute for Inner Security," a name borrowed from activists the SCP-New York met while on tour of Nurenberg).

But the security guard on duty didn't object to 20 strangers peering inside his booth; in fact, he was impressed and even flattered by the "facts" that the group was led by "security experts," and "from New York," too! And this guy was still impressed when, four hours later, a second group of people (about 15 in total) showed up to watch what he was doing! He even turned one surveillance camera that was installed in the building's courtyard so that it directly faced the walking tour; and then he zoomed in tight so that the people attending it could plainly see themselves on the monitors in the booth! To cap it all off, he kept that camera steady and zoomed-in as Bill stood in front of the group and held aloft placards that said Was machst du da? ("What are you doing?") and Alles Klar, Herr Kommissar ("It's OK, Officer"). Later in the tour, Sean did this same bit for a photographer.

On Tuesday 29 October 2002, the SCP-New York participated in a weird two-hour-long show-and-tell called "What do you want to protect?" which was sponsored by ESC and held at labor. It was weird because aloof Geari Schreilechner decided not to attend (again); because Jaromil gave a presentation even though his work hadn't been a part of the exhibition until he arrived, which had been just moments ago; and because Jenny Marketou's website (still) didn't function properly, even though a team of programmers had been working on it round-the-clock for several days. Nevertheless, she insisted on trying to demonstrate how it (would have) worked (if it had worked).

Show-and-tell was also weird because only a dozen people showed up. All of them, save one, had already attended one or both of the SCP's walking tours. Three of them were from the Infoshop. Unfortunately, Bill and Sean didn't realize until it was too late that -- instead of doing what they had originally planned to do, which was to give a 20-minute-long general introduction and then present 15 minutes' of videotape of the SCP-New York's performances and appearances on television -- they should have skipped the formal presentation in its entirety and gone right to taking questions from the audience, which was already familiar with their work. And so Bill and Sean did what they'd planned to do. Afterwards, there was no time for questions, and so a great opportunity to engage in a really good discussion was wasted.

At the very least, the SCP-New York's presentation allowed the group to make a few important clarifications: 1) unlike most of the other artists working in the field of surveillance (Jenny Marketou, for example), the SCP-New York doesn't depend upon computers and could continue to operate and be effective in the absence of computers, networks, and even electricity; 2) once again unlike most of the other artists working in the field (Marketou, Alex Galloway's "Carnivore" Project, Julia Scher, etc etc), the SCP-New York never identifies with or ironically assumes the position/role of "The Detective, "The Officer" or "The Watcher," but instead identifies with the position/role of "The Fleeing Criminal," "The Outlaw" or "The One Watched"; 3) surveillance cameras allow police officers to perpetuate the very crimes that they are supposed to prevent (especially racial profiling and sexual harassment); and 4) that the SCP-New York's opposition to surveillance is focused on capitalist society as a whole, not particular aspects of it.

Press coverage of trip: Orf: Kultur, 30 October 2002; Orf: FM4, 30 October 2002; and Der Standard, 4 November 2002.

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