Vital Vagueness

Affiliation:Sheffield Hallam University

Abstract: This paper will present research led, informed and steered by art making and through this emphasise the importance of indecipherability, uncertainty or vagueness. For eight months I followed the Investigatory Powers Bill’s (aka The Snooper’s Charter) passage through the Houses of Parliament to Royal Assent (Nov 2016). One of rationales behind the IP Act, which significantly extended the UK’s digital surveillance capabilities, was to keep up to date with existing technological capabilities to control (amongst other uses), national security threats. During this observation I used analogue devices, a Minox Cold War spy camera and a 1980s Dictaphone, to document Parliament in areas where it is not permitted. As the IP Bill was being debated, at the height of the European refugee crisis, the EU Referendum(Brexit; June 2016) took place and provided a political rationale to extend digital borders to support Theresa May’s hostile environment policy. Alongside this observation I selected historical surveillance material from the Stasi Film and Video Archive, Berlin. This included training material for agents alongside surveillance footage documented on hidden cameras. This transcoded, sometimes sabotaged or anonymised material contains historical layering and witnessing of oppression and resistance. These works begin to raise ethical questions surrounding state surveillance and privacy and teeter on the edges of freedoms. The idiosyncratic, broad and diverse nature of art can offer a range of subjective insights, creating ambiguous spaces to be self-critical and offering to bridge understanding between culture and politics.

Bio: Rose Butler is an artist, researcher and senior lecturer in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University. She uses adapted technology and custom built software alongside early cameras and analogue technique to make interactive installations, multi-screen videos or large-scale photographs. She is writing up a doctoral study that centers on surveillance and considers the ethics and politics of looking through arts practice. By bringing together political commentary, personal account and fiction in her research, she examines the narratives that surround and shape us. Her work traces a long observation in the Houses of Parliament of the Investigatory Powers Bill in 2016, followed by research at the Stasi Records Agency, Berlin into surveillance and training material from and for hidden cameras. Rose exhibited Come & Go, an interactive dance installation, at the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield, June – September 2017 and received an award for this work a part of the inaugural Surveillance Studies Art Prize 2018. She will present her research at NAFAE Living Research: The Urgency of the Arts, Royal College of Art, March 2019, Creative Interruptions: A Festival of Arts and Activism, British Film Institute, June 2019 and Uncertainty, Turbulence and Moving Image Archives, University College London, June 2019.