Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Laura Poitras: Astro Noise, at the Whitney Museum

The exihibition, Laura Poitras: Astro Noise, is composed of the immersive installations relate to the theme of mass surveillance, the war on terror. The show involves its audience in the subject matter through offering viewers an opportunity to glimpse at realities of it. 

The installation “Bed Down Location” features time-lapse video projections of night skies in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Jake Naughton for The New York Times
In “Bed Down Location”, the audience can lay down and look up at the night sky ceiling, which is the projection of countries such as Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, where the United States military control as “targeted killings”. Without being aware of the subject matter, I relaxed and enjoyed the ambience, staring at the sky for a while.

Viewer looking at a document in Laura Poitras’s Disposition Matrix, 2016. COURTESY THE WHITNEY

The main attraction, “Disposition Matrix”, allows visitors to peek into rectangular holes on gallery walls. As glimpsing of the little slots, which provides NSA documents and interviews, I played a role of a surveillant who observes the encrypted information through slits like prison door windows within the sense of secrecy.

 Laura Poitras, Last Seen (2016).

At the end of the exhibition, I realized I have been observed through an infrared camera in the ceiling of “Bed Down Location”, and by a monitor showing streams of the WiFi activities of mobile phones. At this moment, I found myself on the borderline between the observer and the subject of observation. The political content of her work itself does not intrigue me. However, through the interactive ways that Poitras presents the material as a documentation, the show enables me not only to engage more in the subject matter, but also to consider my position in the world of everyday spying.

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