ed. by Svea Bräunert and Meredith Malone. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, dist. by University of California Press, August 2016. 96 p. ill. ISBN 9780936316413 (pbk.), $25.00.
Reviewed November 2016
To See Without Being Seen accompanies the exhibition held at the Mildred Lane Kemper Museum comprising works by ten artists and two collectives presented in a variety of formats, most involving photography or digital imagery, that deal with pressing issues surrounding the use of drones. The works are divided into three sections: “Bringing the War Home,” “Tracking and Targeting,” and “Countersurveillance.”
The catalog is comprised of full-color reproductions of nearly all of the exhibited artworks, an introduction by Meredith Malone, a rewarding essay by Svea Bräunert that touches on each piece, and essays by exhibited artists Trevor Paglen and Hito Steyerl that address concepts of production, geography, verticality, perspective, and more. The book itself is compact and attractive; its only flaw is a lack of page cross-reference between reproduction images and their discussion in Bräunert’s essay.
The artworks themselves are thrilling, a mixture of aesthetic and political concepts that often succeed in jarring the viewer into reflection and reconsideration. For example, Tomas van Houtryve’s Blue Sky Days uses the bird’s-eye view perspective of the drone camera in familiar American settings; in one photo, a group of kneeling figures could be a scene of communal prayer but upon closer inspection is more likely a yoga exercise. Adam Harvey’s CV Dazzle uses the conventions of chic fashion photography to create images that confound facial recognition software while Harun Farocki’s Eye / Machine III offers insight into the inhuman sphere of “operational images,” visuals created by machines for machines.
While there are a number of recent exhibitions that tackle the vital subject of drones and surveillance, To See Without Being Seen should prove versatile for art libraries and researchers. The artworks and texts offer a broad overview and several avenues for cultural and aesthetic investigation. While both artist essays, reproduced here from other sources, are hard-pressed to fully accomplish their paradigm-shifting goals in this small space, they provide a wealth of thought-provoking information and numerous citations for further study. For aspiring artists, the catalog also offers inspiration through innovative use of photography and unconventional forms of art-making such as street and public art, social media interaction, audience involvement, and game design all present in the exhibition. Finally, it offers introduction to a selection of exciting, active, international artists who are mostly likely underrepresented in library collections.