Surveillance, in its most general sense, refers to the act of close observation, making it a natural theme for artists, long observers of others’ behaviors, to explore. As surveillance in the modern age has narrowed to primarily refer to surveillance by the government, contemporary artists have often approached the subject through critical and politically charged works. Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has created marble replicas of the cameras that Chinese authorities installed outside of his home, while American artist Trevor Paglen visualizes the surveillance state through multimedia projects whose techniques include constructing maps of secret military projects and projecting military code names onto political buildings. Several recent large-scale museum exhibitions have explored the topic of surveillance in art, such as “Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera,” co-organized by London’s Tate Modern and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and “Laura Poitras: Astro Noise,” at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

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