by Dan Mihaltianu
RFT, one of the most known electronic equipment companies from the GDR produced more than TV-sets and tape recorders for the consumers of East Germany and the former eastern block market. Surveillance equipment, »messen - überwachen« [measuring - surveillance], as it was advertised on one of the towers form Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin east, was also a RFT product. Similar equipment was used by the STASI [East German Secret Service] in a big scale surveillance network spread over the crucial points of Berlin east; international hotels, cafes, restaurants, airports and others especially on Alexanderplatz, the meeting point of east and west and a symbol to East Berlin.
RFT is the key image of the poster Windows Bucharest-Berlin designed for a light box situated on Alexanderplatz as part of the project Denkzeichen 4. November 1989. The place being on the very spot of where the demonstrations for a civil society took place more than ten years ago, bringing on the collapse of the GDR regime and along with it the fall of the Berlin Wall. The mosaic of images is based on video stills depicting spaces that were supposedly to be under surveillance before the end of the wall. Images of private interiors, my flats and studios in Bucharest and Berlin, are alternating with images of streets and buildings bearing the advertisement signs from former times. These were still in place until recently. The poster shows similar situations from the two cities that plays a major role in my life, with the intention of blurring time and place of the origin of the images, which once belonged to the most controlled spaces in the Eastern Block.
The esthetic of Windows Bucharest-Berlin is based on a process that I started in the eighties. In the spring of 1984, I was reading George Orwell’s novel 1984. In the beginning I amused myself by finding direct links to Ceausescu's regime - under which I was living. This game became suddenly scary when I got lost between reality and fiction. I lived in a book, which described situations similar to those of my everyday life and I began to identify myself with the main character of the novel. The book was forbidden in Romania and one could get into trouble simply by reading it. I was not really frightened by the possibility of being directly watched by the authorities because I knew that the regime was not as perfect as that one described in the book. At the same time I began to pay more attention to the different surveillance techniques used by the regime: correspondence control, telephone call interceptions, video system surveillance, undercover Securitate [Secret Service] agents and informers. Besides I started to take photographs of public spaces, buildings, state institutions as well as special events: public meetings, exhibition openings, parties and reunions in order to capture the atmosphere of the time. I used an undercover camera or shot from unusual positions so that nobody would notice that I was taking pictures. It was a kind of personal surveillance as a response to the official one. All this documentation culminated with the violent events of December '89. Later I continued using photo and video cameras in the same way in new situations and locations around the world.
Researching the traces that have remained from that period is an attempt to deconstruct the myth of the Big Brother, which until recently was synonymous to the soviet regime and his satellites. This reminds us that in our days the forms of surveillance and repression described by such novels as 1984, Fahrenheit 401 or Brazil seems quite naive and inefficient. Today we are confronted with a couple of new aspects: on one hand there is a very sophisticated system of control present in each developed society that apparently has renounced the more scary methods. On the other hand a persistence of brutal methods of intimidation and annihilation, that doesn’t even need modern surveillance techniques and which is still present in large areas of the world. And, on top of that, the Surveillance Syndrome, a parody of surveillance which combines voyeurism with exhibitionism, obscenities with cynicism, advertisement with entertainment, intelligence with leisure and esthetics with fashion, omnipresent in Press, TV, the www and Art.