By George

April 2 - 8, 2010
Alliance Francaise de Delhi, 72 Lodhi Road,
New Delhi - 110003

Ever walked into a bathroom at a mall and wondered just before you hit the pot, “Am I under surveillance?”.

Immediately after, you’ve probably shaken your head and muttered, “No one would do that… or would they?”.

Malls are considered newfangled in certain parts of the world, including ours. But surveillance is hardly a phenomenon born out of yesterday.

From the proposal of the Panopticon by Jeremy Bentham in 18th century England to the ubiquitous CCTV camera becoming an upgraded metaphor for 360-degree Panopticon-style surveillance and/or dataveillance. It has been a gradual process of inundation.

Thus far, surveillance has been operative in the public domain and has become critical in places of commerce, but lawmakers across the globe are keen on paving insidious inroads into the domestic. And this development could mark a turning point in the history of our lives.

‘By George’ is a euphemistic expression of wonderment. It really just means ‘by god’. Oh, and yes, it helps if you intone it in a propah British accent. By George, the title of our humble show, is a play on the author George Orwell’s name and subsequently the notion of surveillance as some sort of perverted omniscient narrator, à la god.

Although Orwell and his prescient dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) resonate the underlying themes of the show, artists were not obliged to respond to either. They have responded to the bigger picture and to crises that go footloose on us post-haste. Furthermore, it would be erroneous to presume that surveillance is merely about CCTV set-ups. The specious thrill of knowing and intruding is hugely intoxicating for the multitude, and can be carried out via reality television, external pressures that alter the bandwidths of subjectivity and online stalking by means of networking platforms. This, and more, falls within the ambit of the subject at hand.

Surveillance is sharply double-edged. As is always the case, there are no (easy) resolutions. A section of the population in the European Union will no doubt feel safer in the knowledge that every car that hits the road in the Union may soon be fitted with a tracking device. This doodah will enable the powers that be, to know the exact location of every vehicle. But for the vast majority this move will read as another incursion into the private.

India’s relations with surveillance have been thorny. Although it appears as though cheap surveillance technology has swarmed us since the inauguration of the current millennium, CCTV setups failed to so much as stanch the 26/11 attacks on Bombay.

Take a camera out on the road, and before long an inquisitive crowd will have congressed around you. The average Indian’s love of the camera is unquestionable. In the recent past, it has gained new traction among large swatches of the population, which monitors the downright lamo dramas of reality television.

For now it seems that the number of eyes is inversely proportional to the number of people who can see. But the constantly dilating apertures of cameras, peepholes and other such will not go unchecked for very long. Already Dibakar Banerjee’s just-released crackling LSD aka Love Sex aur Dhoka (2010) has brought the dilemmas home for dinner.

If films, art and the like don’t succeed in stirring the nest, starting March 2011, prepare to be stalked by India’s national intelligence grid. The NATGRID – as it more affectionately known – will shadow citizens in real time by employing everything from internet records to iris scans.

Are you dazzled yet?

Gitanjali Dang

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