Surveillance symposium to take place this weekend at Agnes Etherington Art Centre

Years in the making Sorting Daemons: Art, Surveillance Regimes and Social Control goes up this weekend at various galleries on campus

Jill Magid, Evidence Locker: Trust (video still), 2004. Sorting Daemons: Art, Surveillance Regimes and Social Control brings together 16 different artists.
Jill Magid, Evidence Locker: Trust (video still), 2004. Sorting Daemons: Art, Surveillance Regimes and Social Control brings together 16 different artists.

It’s 2010 but the world we live in may sometimes be mistaken for an Orwellian 1984.

More and more we freely give up our privacy. Whether it’s posting photos on Facebook, having a full body scan in an airport or filling out a standard bureaucratic form we’ve got used to giving up personal information. Sorting Daemons: Art, Surveillance Regimes and Social Control is the latest multi-artist, multi-media exhibition to take over the Agnes Etherington and Union Gallery and explore the role surveillance plays in our lives.

“It’s a group exhibition that’s been in the works for the past couple of years,” Agnes Etherington Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art Jan Allen said. “It combines the work of 16 different artists who use a variety of different media—media-including painting, photography, video, installation and responsive electronic art.” Along with co-curator Sarah E.K. Smith, Allen featurts artists Brenda Goldstein, Antonia Hirsch, David Kemp, Tran T. Kim-Trang, Germaine Koh and Ian Verchere, Arnold Koroshegyi, Ruthann Lee, Michael Lewis, Jill Magid, Walid Ra’ad, Kathleen Ritter, David Rokeby, Tom Sherman, Cheryl Sourkes and John Watt. All the works will focus on surveillance and will go on display today along with a three-day event filled with various guest speakers, forums and screenings.

“We’re bringing a lot of artists together,” Allen said. “It’s a kind of tasty topic.” Allen is hoping that Sorting Daemons: Art, Surveillance Regimes and Social Control will be an exhibition that will appeal to students in the Queen’s community—many of whom have become accustomed to putting intimates details of our lives on the Internet. Although the topic has mass appeal, it’s often a polarizing topic.

“It’s shaping our world in a new way,” Allen said. “In my research I found that there are really different generational attitudes towards issues of surveillance. Younger generations are much more comfortable with the idea of it, whereas older generations are much more wary. Society at large seems to be embracing it.”

With many artists working on this project, surely there will be much room for debate and multiple views.

“Take social networking or the web-cam phenomenon—people like staging their life in a certain way,” Allen said. “It’s appealing.”

This element of staging is just one of the many similarities between the modern practices of art-making and surveillance technology. “In the beginning surveillance was visual material. The material lends itself to art—both are inherently visual,” Allen said.

The materials both artists and surveillance technicians use overlap as well.

“Artists are also using computer technology—just as surveillance. That aspect of observation and watching is something that’s built into both practices,” Allen said. What then sets the two apart becomes more and more blurred.

Tonight at 7 p.m. Jordan Crandall, a media artist and theorist from the University of California at San Diego, will give a keynote lecture entitled “Reconsidering Surveillance, from Panopticon to Program,Tracking to Formulating, ‘Closed World’ Control to Open-Sourced Security, Apparatus to Assemblage”. On Saturday two symposiums will be held Sunday night, Defiant Gazes artists’ videos on surveillance by the Bureau of Inverse Technology, Tran T.

Kim-Trang, Walid Ra’ad, Shelly Silver and Ryan Stec will show. The films will be introduced by Sarah E.K. Smith, with a post-screening dialogue with Smith and film professor Susan Lord.

“They’re investigating the darker side of surveillance. We’re questioning it,” said Allen. “Who has the power and who has access to power?”

Good question.

Sorting Daemons: Art, Surveillance Regimes and Social Control runs from Jan. 16th to April 18th. All admission is free. For more information on the events running this weekend visit

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