Surveillance Series Margaret Keller

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My constant use of a cell phone and laptop shows this seductive

digital technology plays a pervasive role in my life. Embracing the newest iPhone or the latest app, I capture, link and distribute what interests me. Also a constant in my life is the network of surveillance in our country that means virtually everything I do digitally is no longer private. Digital cameras provide an endless loop of doubtful examination and ultimately reveal themselves as threats to freedom, civil liberty and identity privacy. On average, one surveillance camera operates per every eleven citizens, as we are recorded an average of 75 times per day. Among the targets of constant surveillance are email, phone calls, texting, online activities like personal finances, photographs, social media and business communications, and location services that track movement. My art looks back at these cameras—at the vast insertion of surveillance cameras into the natural world, and shows the tangled, complex and hidden aspects of this intrusion. One artwork, my installation Drone Carpet, is a patterned arrangement of unusual objects placed upon a black, floating platform. Alternating rows of 165 tiny drone sculptures are arranged in the pattern of the American flag, but in colors of gray and white, as somber representations of the United States as an instrument of surveillance. Using a wide range of different media such as graphite drawings, oil paintings, frescos, mixed media, 3D printing, video and installation, I focus on this secretive relationship between subject and spectator in twenty new works of art, ranging from giant 15

At left: Darkwoods 1, 2016, digital print, drawing, collage, mixed media, 20� diameter tondo


foot-long drawings of lurking cameras to frescoes of miniature eyes watching back.


The Anatomy of Surveillance


magine yourself walking a

surveillance and privacy intrusion

inch silk screen prints elucidated

wooded path on a still winter

has far-reaching implications as

with vivid pigments, and winding

night. No moon looms overhead,

brought front-and-center by Edward

ephemeral forms [1-5]. Upon first

the stars are the only illumination.

Snowden in 2013. On the other

glance, the viewer is struck by the

With each step you become

hand, corporate surveillance of our

curious organic objects contained

increasingly aware of the creature

homes, our digital presence, and

within a circle, which may represent

eyes watching through the vines

our everyday lives is something we

the view of a camera, or perhaps

and branches, waiting for some

at best ignore and at worst eagerly

a microscope. The sentinel is the

clue as to your intentions or

invite. As Keller herself puts it with

watcher that scrutinizes our lives,

fulfilling some primal curiosity.

regard to her Surveillance Series:

mindlessly, through a lens. Through

Pessimistically, you might be

“…[A] constant in my life is

this, our world is flattened out in

devoured or merely observed,

the network of surveillance in

ways that perhaps don’t make

idly, until you make your way

our country that means virtually

sense even to whoever’s gaze is

back to a campsite or cabin.

everything I do digitally is no

magnified or refracted through the

Margaret Keller’s work underlines

longer private. Digital cameras

looking glass. Keller’s Sentinels

a more existential problem in the

provide an endless loop of doubtful

are kaleidoscopic representations

wilderness of culture. When this

examination and ultimately reveal

of what? Organic forms such as

natural manifestation of an animal

themselves as threats to freedom,

these, or our bodies, are judged

inclination, to surveil in secret, is

civil liberty and identity privacy.”

by a disembodied surveillor

codified into technological, political,




Keller’s Sentinels allow us, for

and subsequently obscured and

and coercive form, two problems

a moment, to watch the watcher.

decontextualized. Information,

arise. On the one hand, American

The set includes five fourteen-

metadata and data, rendered

UsofA Drone Carpet, 102 drones, 6.5” long each (3D printed on sintered nylon, 72”x 4

Off the Record

prison design by philosopher and

existential dread. Each inmate

in databases and spreadsheets

social theorist Jeremy Bentham.

carried the disembodied surveillor

across government and corporate

The prison, called the Panopticon,

in his psyche, adding psychological

servers is ostensibly resistant

consists of a tower surrounded

chains to those around his wrists

to uniform scrutiny, to actual

by a ring of prison cells, built out

or ankles. Each action within the

knowing.The point, perhaps, is

like the axle and rim of a wheel

panopticon is governed by this

less the collation of the massive

[6]. From the central tower, the

persistent paranoia. Post Snowden,

amounts of data that governments

prison guard can project a light into

it’s easy to empathize with these

collect on private citizens, through

any of the surrounding cells. The

prisoners, who might have been

omnipresent closed circuit cameras,

inmates themselves are unable to

arrested for something as harmless

and more what Foucault would

judge with any certainty at whom

as an unpaid debt. We presumably

point to as the chilling effect of

the guard is actually looking. The

are innocent in the meantime.

being surveilled.

guard could scrutinize the prisoner,

Foucault conceptualized the

or he could simply take a nap.

panopticon as a metaphor for state

Birth of the Prison, Foucault outlines

The effect, Foucault argues, is the

disciplinary power. Contemporary

the means by which states exercise

same. The inmates are controlled

government surveillance has the

control through disciplinary and

not by actual surveillance, but by

added dimension of a Phillip K. Dick

punitive mechanisms. Among

the internalized threat of being

short story in which we are being

the epistemological excavations

watched. The goal of the panopticon

punished for theoretical crimes we

in which Foucault engages, is

is to impose a built-in surveillor

have not yet even contemplated.

the history of a late 18th century

on the psyche, an efficient and

Keller notes:

In Discipline and Punish: The


meaningless through its abundance


Tangle, 2016, graphite on vellum, 14’x 36”

individually seem almost precious,

to hers, and both artists have

camera operates per every eleven

“On average, one surveillance

and yet in their arranged formation-

explored the topic extensively

citizens, as we are recorded an

they loom larger and more

over the previous decade. In both

average of 75 times per day. Among

menacing. This swarm of lenses

Keller and Poitras’ art, the threat of

the targets of constant surveillance

could potentially be aimed at any

military technologies is paramount,

are email, phone calls, texting,

of us as we are observed. We might

particularly when aimed at civilian

online activities like personal

be watched by one who is subject

targets. Poitras points to the title

finances, photographs, social media

to spare regulation, and limited

of an encrypted file, forwarded

and business communications,

only by money and unknowable

to wikileaks by Snowden, which

and location services that track

personal ethics. Keller’s drones

contained evidence of NSA mass


are modeled on the Black Hornet,

surveillance. Technology, in this

an expensive model presently

case, is merely the physical

mentioned work, and a series of

available to consumer markets.

manifestation of state intent, to

tondos titled Darkwoods 1-3, Link,

According to industry research,

watch, to invade, and to control.

Amplify, and Mesh, (particularly

the global market for commercial

Keller’s work points at the problem

the latter) how perception of these

drones in 2014, immediately after

in a subtler way. Recreational

watchers is dulled and even aes-

Snowden’s revelations, was $552

drones feel outrageous as we go

theticized while our sense of being

million. These technologies threaten

for a hike in a National Park, but

watched is simultaneously amplified

to become ubiquitous and therefore

are we missing a large part of


unremarkable, making them even

the surveillance equation? One

more dangerous.

side of the coin is indeed state

One may read from her afore-



New technologies for surveillance arise comfortably

Drones are only one product

overreach, but another is our willing

from America’s military-industrial

of commercial militarization,

participation and complicity in

complex. USofA Drone Carpet

and surveillance is a frequent

the erosion of our own privacy.

contains a series of alternating gray

touchstone for contemporary art.

Drones are far less charismatic

and white fabricated drones forming

As the artist herself notes, work

than iPhones. Keller’s short video

the lines of an American flag [13].

like Laura Poitras’ Astro Noise

Off the Record presents a series of

Small objects such as these would

may be considered a kindred effort

names of government surveillance

programs juxtaposed in alternating

User agreement. These technologies

ephemeral lines. Their seemingly

colors and fonts [14]. At first glance,

are so common in our lives that we

harmless delineations obfuscate

these conjure the familiar form

gloss over the very real danger they

the sinister intent of the wires and

of a word cloud, a favored tool

pose to our civil liberties, clicking

lenses they depict. The titles of

of bloggers and web designers

‘agree’, and going about the rest of

these works, Tangle, Twist, Surge,

in which words or phrases are

the day.

Propagate, do not merely suggest

organized within the particular

In Keller’s aptly named

the natural bodies of plants and

Proliferate, 12 small tins are

deep ocean creatures, they also

in varying size according to their

presented in the context of the

propose the means by which the

corresponding frequency. The

consumer commodity [15]. Each

signified manifestations of state

invasion of wartime technologies

tin once contained Altoids, but

and corporate control are able to

into the civic realm is imposed, to

now houses a fresco in which the

infiltrate the structures of our social

be sure, through the militarization

artist positions the all-seeing eye

order [16-19]. Like the roots of trees,

of police, and other means, but

of either the state, or effectively

this impetus slowly pushes through

increasingly, we are inviting this

anyone else with the means to

the foundations of our institutions,

stranger into our lives through our

leverage it. Within this slight

both concrete and ideological.

purchases of enabling devices.

object, the intention of the creator

While state surveillance invades

Vizio’s recent kerfuffle with the

is kept hidden, to be revealed or

the structure of our lives, we at

FTC is instructive. As a consumer

not, as the surreptitious project

the same time invite commodified

technology company that produces,

is proliferated through habitual

forms of these technologies directly

among other things, “Smart TVs”,

consumerism. This impetus is not

into our homes. What indeed is

Vizio was fined $2.2 million for

just material. Our online activities

Keller indicating with these forms?

monitoring consumer viewing

are a similarly abundant harvest for

Are we looking at vines or cables,

habits without consent. This action

entities that collect, maintain, and

situated on expansive white paper

by the FTC is arguably a token one,

sell records of our searches, likes,

and vellum? What is she depicting

since Vizio could have avoided

and retweets. Meanwhile, Keller’s

if not the body of the surveillor

the lawsuit completely merely by

graphite works weave and emerge

and the apparatus of surveillance,

burying notice in a draconian End-

with deceptive elegance between

intertwined and obscured as they


document, and then presented


Tangle (detail), 2016, graphite on vellum, 14’x 36”



Tangle (detail), 2016, graphite on vellum, 14’x 36”


Darkwoods 2, 2017, digital print, drawing, collage, mixed media, 20� diameter tondo


Sentinel 4, 2016, silkscreen print with Prismacolor, 14”x 14”

are in the world around us? The gaze



These data are stored, bought

our social interactions. Algorithmic

of the subject, state or corporate,

and sold, and utilized furthermore

considerations involve not what is

objectifies and commodifies our

to control our appetites through

true or what is urgent, necessarily,

bodies, our thoughts, and our social

targeted advertising.

but first and foremost what it

interactions. Keller says: “As we capture, internalize, link

Eli Parser’s notion of the filter

is we want to read. In this way,

bubble (see seminal book The

conservative readers will encounter

and distribute the data that interests

Filter Bubble, 2011, and obligatory

almost exclusively conservative

us, these actions themselves

accompanying TED talk) points to

information, and progressive

catalyze and change the subject/

the means by which our prejudices,

readers will be confined to the other

object relationship. A fluid hybridism

predilections, and interests

end of the spectrum unless either

evolves that blurs the distinction

are leveraged by social media

group makes specific efforts to

between subject and spectator.”

companies and others to organize

reach beyond. This echo chamber

Sentinel 5, 2016, silkscreen print with Prismacolor, 14”x 14”

through which we gradually and

in which ideas are debated,

to be ‘right’ above all else, and is a

willingly construct the environment

challenged, and refined. This coupled

primary cause of our present social,

for unknown forces to watch us.

with creeping erosion of our legal

political, and intellectual alienation

The average person’s complicity in

privacy rights constitutes a new

from one another. One wonders if

this network of surveillance is clear,

paradigm in which we are isolated

indeed corporate surveillance of

willing or otherwise.“If you wish to

by choice, and sorted into groups

this type produces social problems

keep a secret you must,” as George

with similar viewpoints, to be more

at a faster rate than any system

Orwell wrote in his prescient fiction

easily controlled.

of closed-circuit cameras or NSA

1984, “also hide it from yourself.” The

programs. Several analogs to

filter bubble is a comfortable cloister

material, it is digital, it manifests in

Keller’s Proliferate come to mind: The

for our thoughts, and as such, an

paranoia, a feeling of discomfort,

smartphone, or the internet of things

erosion of the intellectual commons

and perhaps as yet obscured

The anatomy of surveillance is


is geared to meet the human need


psychic wounds. If we take as given


in painting and printmaking. She

the presence and necessity of

has been exhibited in galleries,

studied the history of garden design

this anatomy, we are acquiescing

museums and collections in Berlin,

at London University and also did

to the erosion of our identities

Chicago, Atlanta, California, Ohio,

post-graduate studies at Webster

and civil liberties. Keller’s work

Colorado, Missouri, Maryland,

University in electronic media and at

interrogates the nature of our

Wisconsin, Arkansas, New York,

the University of Arizona.

political and social locus within this

Beijing and others. Currently, her art

body of surveillance. Her aesthetic

is at Quadratfuß, NX2, Annex Art,

JOE KOHLBURN is an art-historian,

framework suggests the resilience

Berlin/ Budapest and was recently

arts-organizer, and librarian. He is

and ubiquity of efforts to invade our

at The Arkansas Art Center Museum

co-creator of Critical Conversations,

privacy. She compels us to object

in Little Rock and the RAC gallery

and host of the 5 Questions Podcast,

to the juxtaposition of vines and

in St. Louis. Her art reviews have

both Critical Mass for the Visual Arts

wires, leaves and lenses, as though

appeared in, the St.

programs. Joe is interested in the

it is somehow benign or natural.

Louis Post-Dispatch, Art In America,

means by which art investigates and

Keller asks us to separate in our

the New Art Examiner and Review

challenges the social, political, and

minds what grows wild and what is

magazine .Keller has a degree in

ethical underpinnings of culture,

planted by those with the worst of

drawing from the University of

in artists as complete beings, and


Missouri-Columbia and a M.F.A. from

in the communicative and occult

Washington University in St. Louis

mechanisms of creative practice.

—Joe Kohlburn, August 2017


Commercial Drone Market Analysis By Product (Fixed Wing, Rotary Blade, Nano, Hybrid), By Application (Agriculture, Energy, Government, Media & Entertainment) And Segment Forecasts To 2022. San Francisco: Grand View Research, 2017. (accessed June 21, 2017). Federal Trade Commission. “VIZIO to Pay $2.2 Million to FTC, State of New Jersey to Settle Charges It Collected Viewing Histories on 11 Million Smart Televisions without Users’ Consent, 2017.” ftc-state-new-jersey-settle-charges-it (accessed June 20, 2017). Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan.

New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Keller, Margaret. Email correspondence and artist statement. May 31, 2017. Parser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read and How We Think. London: Penguin Books, 2011.



At right, above: Proliferate (shut), 2015, Altoid boxes, mixed media, fresco, 3.75”x 2.25” ea (12 total) At right, below: Proliferate (open), 2015, Altoid boxes, mixed media, fresco, 3.75”x 2.25” ea (12 total)


On behalf of Gallery 210 I want to thank Margaret Keller for allowing Gallery 210 the opportunity to premier his new work. It has been

This exhibition is supported in part by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Center for the Humanities, and the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

a great pleasure to work with her on this project. I also want to thank Joe Kohlburn for the outstanding essay he wrote for this publication and a special note of appreciation to Cindy LaBreacht for her excellent work in designing the publication for this exhibition. I want to thank the Gallery‘s 210 assistants for their work on this exhibition. As always it is their dedication, creativity, and hard work that makes this exhibition, and all of the gallery’s programs, possible. I want to acknowledge the support of Dr. Ronald Yasbin, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Karen Lucas of the Center for the Humanities, the Gallery 210 Advisory Committee, Dr. Maureen Quigley, Chair for the Department of Art and Art History, and my colleagues in the Department of Art and Art History for their support of the gallery’s programs.

Michael Nguyen, Jasmine Blanks, Eric Eggers, and Abby Gordon

GALLERY ASSISTANTS: Emily Geno, Darionne Hardaway,


Phil Robinson, Isaac Douglas Kirk, Dr. Louis Lankford, Katherine Rodway-Vega, and Roseann Weiss PHOTOGRAPHY: Richard Sprengeler BROCHURE DESIGN: Cindy LaBreacht COPY EDITING: Sarah Weinman PRINTING: University of Missouri-St. Louis Printing Services GALLERY 210 UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI—ST. LOUIS Arnold Grobman Drive, One University Blvd. St. Louis, Missouri 63121 HOURS Tuesday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m.– 5:00 p.m. GALLERY 314.516.5976 OFFICE 314.516.5952 FAX 314.516.4997 EMAIL WEB gallery210.umsl.ed

All artwork couretsy of the artist.

At left: Mesh, 2017, oil on canvas, 10” diameter. On the reverse: Propagrate, 2015, watercolor and graphite on paper, 30”x 22”

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