Observations: A new kind of art school - with classes in surveillance
Arriving at London's Hayward Gallery last week for a workshop on forensic tendencies in art and film run by the artists Jane and Louise Wilson, I had little idea what to expect. It was part of Wide Open School, a month-long initiative where 100 international artists are turning teachers to run sessions on anything from method acting (Gillian Wearing) and making music (Martin Creed). I opted for forensics because I'm always glued to programmes such as Homeland and Silent Witness (what Susan Schuppli, Senior Research Fellow of Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, who also spoke at the session, describes as the "CSI media effect"), so I figured I'd find this interesting too.
For some reason though, I hadn't expected the room to look or feel so much like a classroom, with desks for two lined up neatly in rows and a projector screen and television. Everyone got out their notepads and we started. The Wilson sisters are fascinated with the techniques and politics of surveillance and focused the class on two of their projects. The first was a two-part film installation, , which was inspired by the assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel in Dubai, commissioned by the UAE's Sharjah Art Foundation and first presented at the Sharjah Biennial 10 in 2010. It was gripping. Within a couple of days of the assassination, the Dubai State Police released CCTV footage of the suspected agents and their movements, from checking in to their hotels to an attempt to decode the electric lock on Al-Mabhouh's hotel door.
We also saw the Wilsons' film, which looked at the narrative of events in a different way. They checked into the very same room as Al-Mabhouh (Room 230 at the Al-Bustan Rotana hotel) and filmed there, before moving on to the Radisson Hotel in Sharjah to capture the architectural shots of corridors and the atrium. There were discussions about how we tolerate our every move being caught on camera; why CCTV can only be used as corroborative and not direct evidence in court; and how the Dubai state police footage had been edited down to encourage the viewer to come to a certain conclusion.
Then we moved on to their forthcoming film, The Toxic Camera, which is based on the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and will premiere at the Whitworth Art Gallery in October.
It was intriguing to find out about the research processes behind their work. And the beauty of it was that unlike during my schooldays, everyone paid attention and really wanted to be there.
Wide Open School, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London SE1 (southbankcentre.co.uk) to 11 July
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