»Der Wächter als Bandit« (The guard as bandit)
by Peter Weibel, 1978
A monitor and a video camera were installed in the lobby of the main branch of the Savings Bank in Vienna. The video camera was directed at a surveillance camera so that the image of the camera could be seen on the monitor screen.
As a result, the Savings Bank's surveillance camera was itself filmed and supervised by my video camera. The monitor was covered in a mesh stocking, similar to those used by gangsters during bank robberies to hide their identity. My monitor, therefore, showed the Savings Bank camera wearing a mesh stocking, the "guard as bandit", so to speak.
The organ that observes You is itself being observed. You become aware of being constantly supervised, watched.
Monitor is a term borrowed from the English and used to designate a 'television apparatus'; it also means warder, admonisher, overseer with punitive power, or as a verb, to supervise.
The supervisory, controlling function of the video system (several cameras and monitors) in this bank lobby is rendered consciously visible through the control system installed by me (just one camera and one monitor).
What also becomes evident is that this video system, which is supposed to warn against violence, itself has inherent aspects of violence. History provides us with ample terrifying examples of this relationship between guard and violence, control function and violence. By providing the monitor itself with a symbol of violence, namely, the anonymity provided by the mesh stocking, the anonymity of the violence of control is removed. The covert surveillance, the concealed threatening element of surveillance, becomes apparent.
Observing the observer, supervising the supervisor, monitoring the monitor – a basic principle of democracy.
Reprint from: Orwell und die Gegenwart, exhib. cat. Museum moderner Kunst, Vienna, 1984, p. 177.
Translation by Pauline Cumbers
- > Further Texts ::
- > Margit Rosen : »Observing Observation: Uncertainty«
- > Ursula Frohne : »Peter Weibel. The Panoptic Society or Immortally in Love with Death«