China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
In 2017, the renowned Chinese artist Xu Bing created a 81-minute film entitled Dragonfly Eyes (2017) that was entirely pieced together from some 10,000 hours of surveillance footage, live-streamed or uploaded onto the Internet from thousands of CCTV cameras installed throughout the People’s Republic of China. The film was a topical artistic response to the increasingly pervasive and intricate architecture of surveillance in China; drawing attention to the impact of scopic technologies on the urban spatial imaginary.
This paper explores the semiotics of surveilled urban space in Xu Bing’s Dragonfly Eyes by focusing on the typologies of space in the film -- the factories, parking lots, beauty parlours, reception desks and roads that make up the quotidian backdrop of its deliberately melodramatic plotline; read through the lens of Hille Koskela’s idea of surveillance as ‘an emotional event’. The second part of the paper looks at the aesthetics of surveillance and sousveillance more broadly by focusing on the work of artists like Song Dong, Ai Weiwei, Cui Xiuwen and particularly Cao Fei – artists who draw attention to both the amplification of control wrought by both online and offline forms of surveillance in contemporary Chinese urban life as well as potential tactics of resistance.