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Surveillance | Society | Culture


Edited By Florian Zappe and Andrew S. Gross

What only a few decades ago would have been considered a totalitarian nightmare seems to have become reality: Surveillance practices and technologies have infiltrated all aspects of our lives, forcing us to reconsider established notions of privacy, subjectivity, and the status of the individual in society. The United States is central to contemporary concerns about surveillance. American companies are at the forefront of developing surveillance technologies; and government agencies, in the name of security and law and order, are monitoring our words and actions more than ever before. This book brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to explore the implications of what many consider to be a far-reaching social, political, and cultural transformation.

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The Art of Surveillance: Surveying the Lives and Works of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei


Abstract: This chapter explores surveillance as conceptual and creative practice in the work of American pop-artist Andy Warhol and Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. Examining their mutual celebration of popular culture, celebrity and social media, the aesthetics of surveillance emerge as defining features of their respective oeuvres. Beginning with a literature review of the changing modes and understandings of surveillance over recent decades, this paper goes on to explore how surveillance manifests in the personal lives and creative practices of both Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei, albeit during different eras and through different cultural lenses. Warhol’s Factory studio where the eccentric and famous paraded before cameras constituted a kind of reality TV set decades before the concept would become mainstream, while Ai’s prolific social media existence that collapses together political activism with selfies-with-the-stars sees his entire life documented online. Both artists also attracted state surveillance. Warhol for his subversions of social conservatism through popular imagery, and Ai Weiwei for his antagonisms of the Chinese communist state. For both artists, surveillance develops to become a paramount and existential concern. In tandem with this survey of the two artists is a broader discussion exploring how public perceptions of surveillance have evolved overtime. Once regarded with terror and abject horror, today, this essay argues, surveillance is no longer a state or corporate imposition, but a popular trend and artistic aesthetic embraced at political, social and cultural levels.

Keywords: Ai Weiwei; Andy Warhol; conceptual art; surveillance; pop-art


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