Eyes Wide Open:  Surveillance Series

by Margaret Keller

Nov. 20, 2020 – Jan. 2, 2021
The Gallery at The Kranzberg*

*Gallery visits by appointment only with COVID-19 mitigation policies in place.

Frequent use of digital technology like cell phones and computers plays such a seductive, pervasive role in my life (and nearly everyone’s), especially during this pandemic.  Embracing the latest news, message, app, or software, I capture, link and distribute what interests me.  Also constant, but less obvious in our lives, are networks of digital surveillance that invade our privacy with virtually every online activity.  In tandem, surveillance by digital cameras has proliferated, providing an endless loop of doubtful examination and ultimately revealing critical threats to freedom, civil liberty and identity privacy.  On average, one surveillance camera operates per every eleven citizens, as we are recorded an average of 75 times per day.  Among the targets of relentless surveillance are our email, phone calls, texting, online activities like personal finances, photographs, social media and business communications, political preferences, and location/movement tracking services.

My art looks back at these government, corporate, and personal cameras –especially at the vast insertion of surveillance cameras into the natural world –and focuses on the secretive relationship between subject and spectator. Using a diverse range of media such as 14-foot-long graphite drawings, watercolor, frescos, mixed media, 3D printing, video and installation, I examine the tangled, complex and hidden aspects of this intrusion.  Proliferate consists of 12 recycled Altoid peppermint boxes, each housing a miniature fresco painting of a different eye watching back.  Are these eyes of the victims, of the all-seeing state, or of anyone with the means to watch?  For the floor installation USofA Drone Carpet, I learned 3-D design software in order to print 105 tiny drone sculptures (based on the Black Hornet military surveillance drone) using selective laser sintering on nylon powder.  Arranged in the pattern of the American flag, but in grayscale color on camouflage, the drones offer a somber critique the United States.

Our current administration overturned the FCC regulation that banned internet service providers from selling our private information without our permission.* And here in St. Louis, government/police surveillance with no oversight is an ongoing issue, threatening the civil liberties of all, but especially those of people of color, immigrant and refugee communities, and local activists.  In July, an alderman made a resolution for St. Louis to contract for limitless aerial ‘spy plane’ surveillance. The Missouri ACLU websites states that when mass surveillance systems are deployed by local police, they are frequently used to target communities of color.  “While the nation is discussing the demilitarization of police, St. Louis is considering turning wartime specific technology on its own citizens. This is a threat to liberty. This summer, Americans have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and demand change. During the protest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, officials in Baltimore quietly and secretly turned to the very surveillance technology now before the (St. Louis) Board of Aldermen to track protestors.”**

The word surveillance comes from sur (French, -over) veiller (French, -watch; Latin, vigilare – to keep watch): literally, to watch over.  My hope is to increase awareness of government/corporate intrusion into our personal and civic lives.

* NPR, March 28, 2017

**The River Front Times, Luz María Henríquez, 7/13/2020

ARTIST BIO: My art addresses surveillance, our experience of nature in this digital age, speculative possibilities for planetary and species survival under climate change, and natural disasters.  I seek to unground our sense of entitlement, security, knowledge, and futurity on earth with diverse media such as installation, sculpture, painting, drawing, laser-cutting, 3-D printing, video, and mixed-media.  My work investigates relationships between nature, contemporary culture, and technology, recognizing these relationships as now negatively symbiotic.  At this precise moment, we are at the tipping point of a world gone wrong.  With Eyes Wide Open:  Surveillance Series, I hope to increase public awareness of government/corporate intrusion into our personal and civic lives.

Over fifty galleries, museums and collections in Chicago, Atlanta, California, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, Maryland, Wisconsin, Arkansas, New York, Berlin, and Beijing, among others, have exhibited my work. Recently, Botanica absentia – a memorial to lost species set in a fictive, but likely, future- was at The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; The Mitchell Museum just featured my solo exhibition Leaning on Nature.  I also focus on the curatorial and critical aspects of contemporary art, with reviews published in Art in America, delicious line, All the Art, the New Art Examiner, and temporaryartreview among others, and more than fifty exhibitions curated at The Meramec Contemporary Art Gallery.

In 2019, I received the Regional Arts Commission’s $20,000 Fellowship Award for Excellence in Visual Art, while in 2018 my public art commission Riverbend, a 133-foot-long aluminum installation representing the Missouri River, was selected by Critical Mass for the Visual Arts Public Works Project at the Gateway Arch National Park.  As the Nicholas Aaron Aitken Artist-in-Residence at The Forsyth School, my project culminated in a permanent campus installation, The Rainbow River of Life, in August. Currently, my work in Ransom ll is at Wayfarers Gallery, Brooklyn.

I taught full-time as Professor of Art at Meramec College in St. Louis and have also been a Visiting Associate Professor at Washington University in St. Louis and in Florence, Italy.  My other work has been as Historic Preservation Consultant for The  NEMO Regional Planning Commission, Fiscal Analyst for the Missouri State Legislature, self-employed cake decorator, box factory worker, writer, wife, and mother of three.  Studies include Post-Graduate work in Experimental Electronic Media (video game design, animation, digital drawing and video) at Webster University, a Master of Fine Arts from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from University of Missouri-Columbia.