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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Western Gallery showcases privacy exhibit

By Sophie Miller

The Western Gallery is exploring timely and important questions surrounding privacy and surveillance through a new exhibit, including a collection called “The Neighbors,” and another collection of pieces curated by Lee Plested called “In the Open.”  

“The Neighbors” collection is a series of photographs taken by Arne Svenson from his apartment in Tribeca, New York. He captured small, everyday scenes neighbors as they went about their daily life.

A photo on display in the exhibit
A photo on display in the exhibit

The collection was eventually published and those photographed realized his photo series featured their private lives. Svenson was sued, but the New York Supreme Court found that his First Amendment rights outweighed his neighbors’ rights to privacy.

The collection addresses timely issues of privacy in an ever-globalizing world. Svenson used modern technology, a camera, to capture scenes many feel should be private. The reaction of those being photographed speaks to how living in a media-centered world causes anxiety, stress and worry.

“It is, to my mind, a fascinating work because it’s so beautiful, so sophisticated, photography so well composed and very problematic work,” said Hafthor Yngvason, director of Western’s Gallery.

The exhibits work together to present a well-rounded examination of privacy issues and surveillance in modern culture.

“Surveillance is one of the most important topics right now. It is a very complicated issue.”

Hafthor Yngvason

One piece featured in the exhibit is Dries Depoorter’s “Jaywalkers.” The piece is a collection of images taken from surveillance cameras at stoplight intersections in Seattle. It shows the overwhelming presence of surveillance in our daily lives.

“Stoppage,” a piece by Antonia Hirsch,  is a physical representation of geographical borders. This piece was the favorite of student Natalie Hall because she found it to be a really good abstract representation of borders.

A photo on display in the exhibit
A photo on display in the exhibit

When Yngvason decided the show needed a second exhibit, he contacted Lee Plested, a Western Gallery curator, to pull together pieces from a variety of artists to create “In the Open.” The second exhibit addresses how people are constantly under surveillance in our modern society.

Surveillance and privacy issues were brought to the forefront during the last presidential election, due to the actions of Edward Snowden and organizations like WikiLeaks and Anonymous.

Chris Casquilho, manager of marketing and special events for Western’s College of Fine and Performing Arts, found the complementary nature of the two exhibits working together to be the most intriguing.

Casquilho noted an important detail about the collections, “This was the first thing that inspired the second thing, but one is not primary and one is not secondary.”

Hall thought the “In the Open” exhibit was less invasive than the others, especially because in some pieces you can’t tell who anyone is, but they’re real people.

Casquilho summed up the theme of the exhibit, “That’s kind of what this whole show is about. We’re talking about what can be seen, and these guys can be seen from the street.” Casquilho said.

The Gallery will be hosting an opening reception and panel discussion on surveillance on Tuesday, Jan. 10. There will be a variety of other events hosted by the Gallery between now and when the exhibits closes on March 10.


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