It may well be impossible to escape surveillance these days. From cameras out in the streets to blanket sweeps of metadata by the government, there's an eye just about everywhere — even where there's nothing to watch.
That sentiment may be more evident than ever on a narrow block in Madrid, where street artist SpY has installed 150 CCTV cameras on the side wall of a building, all pointing exactly the same way. For artists working in urban environments like SpY, who got his start with graffiti in the mid-80s, the CCTV camera is an obvious symbol of the government's watchful eye. But it's clearly come to take on a lot more than that.
"The piece invites reflection about our present and daily interaction with technology and who is behind [it]," SpY writes in an email to The Verge. "The cameras are a symbol that represents it, however it is clear that we are surrounded by devices that act as tools of surveillance."
In this case, the cameras are truly just symbolic: they're all empty replications, recording nothing. But there's nothing telling this to passersby who might uncomfortably come upon the wall, and SpY says that he's seen a variety of reactions; some people wonder whether the cameras are on, while others assume that they are and interact with them as though they're being recorded.
"I like to generate some type of reaction with my work," SpY says. "I try to awake and create a more lucid conscience with my interventions. Irony and humor are a way to make the receiver an accomplice, create a dialog, and make one think that the work communicates something with which one identifies."
In that sense, there's no one way to see the installation. So long as you see it and take something out of it, SpY's piece has done its job. It may be wrong then to say that it definitely views mass surveillance as a pointless endeavor, but the suggestion is certainly there. "As a side note regarding its location, all the cameras point to the house of a well-known drug dealer," SpY says. "Well know even by local police."