Examine the Intersection of Surveillance and Art in This New Museum Program

Surveillance is part of life and it’s a hot topic—so the Honolulu Museum of Art has created a series of workshops, films and a talk all about it.

Editors Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lesa Griffith, the museum’s communications director and a talented Hawai‘i writer on arts, culture and food.


Surveillance program
The program kicks off Jan. 5 with 1984, Michael Radford’s adaptation of George Orwell’s novel. 
Photos: Courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art


As Honolulu’s last art house theater, the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Doris Duke Theatre is known as the city’s go-to venue for foreign, local and indie films, as well as performances and lectures. For the past four years it has had a structured annual schedule, with monthly culturally oriented festivals highlighting African-American, East Asian, Hawai‘i—and surf—cinema, among others.


But, like a shark, theater director Taylour Chang needs to keep swimming to thrive, and she has started focusing her program on current issues as they relate to art, in keeping with the museum’s mission. For this year’s African American Film Festival, she opened the film series with youth poets Ariel Pruyser and Malia Derde performing works in the exhibition, Karen Hampton: The Journey North, responding to the powerful visual art with their powerful words. She also organized the talk, Art & Racial Justice: Conversation with Patrisse Cullors & Alicia Garza, co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. The opening had attendees buzzing, and the talk quickly sold out.


SEE ALSO: Q+A: Patrisse Cullors, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter


Now Chang presents CLASSIFIED, a one-week program consisting of a talk, workshops and films that examine the intersection of art and surveillance. It’s an issue that’s always been there—think J. Edgar Hoover’s sometimes illegal midcentury COINTELPRO—and the public is becoming more aware of it through the news and TV programs such as Person of Interest and Mr. Robot.


Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden


It’s also a topic that has inspired artists and scholars. For the public talk on Jan. 6, Chang has rounded up a heady panel that includes NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (via video chat) and Ben Wizner, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. They’ll discuss surveillance with artists such as Trevor Panglen, who imagines alternative futures, and artificial intelligence expert Kate Crawford.


Trevor Panglen
Trevor Panglen


Following the talk will be a reception, where guests can have tours developed for them through software that uses surveillance technologies such as face-detection, and an object-detecting neural network created by design-and-technology duo Pas de Chocolat.


The program kicks off Jan. 5 with the mother of all surveillance stories—1984, Michael Radford’s adaptation of George Orwell’s seminal novel that brought us the term “Big Brother.” Other films include Harun Farocki’s Eye/Machine, a probe into the creation of electronic warfare using Gulf War images taken from projectiles homing in on targets, and Risk, the latest documentary from boundary-pushing Laura Poitras (Citizenfour).


Risk film
Still from Risk, the latest documentary from Laura Poitras.
Photo: Courtesy of Praxis Films


Artists Kyle McDonald and Lauren McCarthy, who work with code, lead the hands-on Social Hacking Workshop on Jan. 7, while artist Hasan Elahi leads Watching the Watchers, a Jan.  7 workshop aimed at high school and college students and limited to just 10 spaces.


It’s a fascinating program that offers the Honolulu community access to visiting artists and scholars to address the concept of surveillance and its as-yet-to-be-fully-seen consequences on society.


See the full schedule and purchase tickets online.



Lesa GriffithLesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.