‘Investigatory Power’ – Exhibition by Rose Butler opens next month at Decad Berlin
Investigatory Power is an exhibition by British artist Rose Butler bringing together the artist’s own photographic work captured in the UK Houses of Parliament with video footage and imagery selected from the Stasi Records Agency, Film and Video Archive. As part of her doctoral study which centres on surveillance, Butler considers the ethics and politics of ‘looking’ through arts practice. The methods, technologies and techniques of the Stasi – to date the only intelligence agency whose activities have been made publicly accessible, are held as a mirror to new UK surveillance legislation. The Investigatory Powers Act (2016), aka “The Snoopers’ Charter” significantly extends the UK state agencies’ digital surveillance capabilities. The presentation of her research coincides this autumn with the commemorations of the 30 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany which marked the end of the Cold War, and the (latest) Brexit deadline (the withdrawal of the UK from the EU).
Selected video materials from the archive include the artist’s three-hour video edit of a surveillance operation covering a public protest on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz on 07 September 1989, held in opposition to the rigged election results (May 1989). Stasi agents had covered the protest with six different cameras, which Butler ‘reverse edited’. She re-mapped the time code of the cameras back to real time by replacing sections where the camera had been paused with black gaps. She then synchronised all six cameras so as to reconstruct a panoptical view of the order of events that afternoon.
Three large serial photographic prints in the centre of the exhibition are the results of Butler’s experiments with a 1960s Minox miniature camera, once a popular device for espionage used on both sides of the iron curtain. The pictures appear in chronological order, as they were taken and developed from the film. They include images taken – covertly – inside the Houses of Parliament, where Butler witnessed the debates that preceded the passing of the Investigatory Powers Act over eight months in 2016. This act of law forms the legal basis for digital surveillance in the UK, today the most widely surveilled democratic state in the western world.
The files, images and data amassed as a result of contemporary state surveillance are missing from the exhibition. The access to comparable material of a fallen state power allows the artist to make this gap visible. What Butler’s experimental approach demonstrates is where the fundamental danger posed by surveillance lies. The state-backed security promise through surveillance inevitably leads to a threat to democracy: the impossibility of making the means and methods of surveillance transparent and controlled by civil society perpetuates the existing power structures that it actively hides. Post Brexit, as the UK Government becomes more and more authoritarian in its approach to parliament, the exhibition aims to expose the threat of UK surveillance to democratic freedoms hidden under the guise of security.
Decad, 10961 Berlin
Saturday 02 November 2019 – Saturday 04 January 2020
Opening event on Friday 01 November 2019, 6PM
With presentation and artist talk on Saturday 02 November 2019, 5PM
Rose Butler is an artist, researcher and senior lecturer of Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. She uses adapted technology and custom built software alongside early cameras and analogue technique to make interactive installations, single and multi-screen videos or large-scale photographs. By bringing together photographic and filmic documentation, archival material, political commentary and fiction in her research, she examines the narratives that surround and shape us.
Research was presented at the Surveillance Beyond Borders and Boundaries Conference, Aarhus, June 2018, NAFAE Living Research: The Urgency of the Arts, Royal College of Art, March 2019, Free and Open Source Technologies, Arts and Commoning Practices, University of Nicosia Research Foundation, Cyprus, May 2019, Uncertainty, Turbulence and Moving Image Archives, University College London, June 2019 and Creative Interruptions: A Festival of Arts and Activism, British Film Institute, June 2019.
Work will be exhibited at Decad, Berlin (the exhibition is curated by Mareike Spendel). in October 2019 followed by NeMe, Cyprus in October 2020. Come & Go was exhibited at Museums of Sheffield 2017 and received an award as part of the Surveillance Studies Art Prize 2018.