This was a time

Film May 28, 2021

We r watching u !

I made a strange little film about surveillance, high school,  techno-utopianism, Bourne, and my borderline-erotic obsession with CCTV  cameras! You can click the gif above to watch it, or find it here:

It’s an interruption for my dear friend Meredith’s project “We r  watching u !” which is a 15-minute short film about surveillance, skies,  land, clouds, place, screens, and so much more. She invited me and nine  other contributors to stage interruptions in an effort to “oppose the dominant gaze of mainstream media […] by creating work with as many gazes as possible.” Check out her theoretical underpinnings if you’re so incined, they’re dope.

You’ll be prompted to watch my film after a minute or two of Meredith’s by floaty, bedazzled CCTV cams and a button that says “This was a time,” and I highly encourage you to watch my film in the full, original context! But it’ll only be available there for 24 hours, so if you want to watch it later (or just want to jump directly to my piece) here ya go. It’s also on my vimeo now.

The music for the piece is a track titled “G,” by my love Ruth J. Allen, from their album “Grademind in Blank Space.”Find them on Spotify, too!

It’s impossible to be thinking about surveillance in this time without acknowledging Palestine and the horrifying settler-colonial project of Israel. I stand in solidarity with Palestine and Palestinians everywhere, and urge you to continue educating  yourself and others on this urgent, ongoing fight for freedom. There are  many ways to support, from boycotting to donating and, if you’re a student at Brown, continuing to put pressure on the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctioncampaign. I’m also thinking about the ways settler-colonial logics infiltrate so many aspects of our lives, including our poetry (linking to an incredible review by Palestinian-American poet Fargo  Tbakhi), without our even realizing. Decolonization is a daily, global,  intimate struggle happening on multiple levels and in a variety of ways.  Resisting the apartheid regime in Palestine is one such front.

Gif excerpt from the video of Nico dancing with cyborg filters over their face

Since the video is mostly text-based, I thought I’d include a  transcript here, as well. Thanks for supporting, watching, reading, interacting!  Mucho amor, siempre.

Watch Me; This was a time

In high school, my nascent political inclinations veered frequently into the digital- and techno-utopian.

This was a time when I attended events after school such as a talk  from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who were visiting from far away  indeed.

This was a time when at such an event I would grab a bunch of GNU/Linux stickers and then not stick them on my old iPad.

This was a time when I obnoxiously, incessantly, used my family’s  computer because I did not have my own. This computer is my own.  Although my grandpa bought it for me, thanks grandpa.

This was a time when I used my family’s computer to read the  cyberpunk manifesto, and then the ribofunk manifesto, and spent hours  researching biohacking and transhumanism. I wasn’t queer yet at this  time. But biohacking.

This was a time when I thought about open-sourcifying the world,  although I didn’t know how to make open-source software myself at all.

This was a time when I lived in Chile, and as high schoolers, it was practically our duty to go protest downtown a lot.

This was a time when I first ran away from cops and cried from tear  gas, but it was kind of fun and exciting. We sucked on lemons.

This was a time when I was in touch with the tiny Pirate Party of  Chile, modeled after the successful Pirate Parties of Sweden or Iceland  or some such techno-utopian semi-socialist Nordic country that hadn’t  been ravaged by colonialism and then U.S. interventionism, but had  benefited, if only indirectly, from the exploitation of the third world.

This was a time before I was so bitter about those things.

For the final project in my design course in high school, I painted a  huge banner to hang around one of the many CCTV cameras in the halls of  my ~progressive Catholic school. It was not my first attempt at making  art that called attention to the watchers of our daily lives. I’d  included recordings of the screen at the school’s reception where all  the cameras showed up in a little grid in some film I made. There were  other ideas like this I didn’t follow through on as much.

But this banner surrounded the camera with a black-and-white painting  of a massive eye. It was half organic, all veiny and tentacled and  animal, and half cyber/steampunk-inspired, with tubes and cables  emerging from the shadows. I’m not sure if it was really trying to  protest the cameras, or if I was kind of enamored with, or turned on by,  their constant surveillance. [insert joke about me being a Leo]

The eye behind the camera was meant, I said though, to make my  classmates look back at the cameras. I assumed they didn’t obsessively  walk under the cameras, or around them, like I did, half trying to avoid  their glare and half inviting it. I assumed they didn’t think about  surveillance and being watched all the time, like I did, but maybe they  did.

I never know, when I notice a camera, whether to look into them  defiantly, directly, or to try to hide my face. Hiding feels pointless,  because they always see you before you can see them, I think that’s the  point. Trying to avoid them is like when children assume they can’t be  seen if they can’t see you? Kind of.

At this point, I think about the first Bourne film, the scene where  he breaks into the embassy. I’m not quite sure why I think about this. I  have a vivid image in that scene of the CCTV cameras being important,  but I can’t remember why. The funny thing about my eye-camera-banner is that I forgot to  photograph it. After all the effort it took to hang, my teacher only  snapped a really shitty, dark photo on her phone, and I never went back  to get a good one. Someone took the banner down after a few days, no  idea where it ended up, so this is all I’ve got:

Once again, my surveillance wasn’t able to match up. It never is, no  matter how many selfies I take or how much I write, I can never observe  as much. In this competition, they can only ever win, of course. I can’t  out-surveille the surveillors, because surveilling only gives them more  surveillance.