Camera-Headed Birds Keep Tabs on the Citizens of Dutch City

Cyborg BirdsNo worries, it’s just an art project in the Dutch city of Utrecht reported on by Cyriaque Lamar on

Has Big Brother begun dabbling in fringe science? No, it’s just a mutant street art project by the artist duo Helden. Here’s how Helden (a.k.a. Thomas voor ‘t Hekke and Bas van Oerle) describe their camerabirds:

‘panoptICONS’ addresses the fact that you are constantly being watched by surveillance cameras in city centres. The surveillance camera seems to have become a real pest that feeds on our privacy. To represent this, camera birds — city birds with cameras instead of heads — were placed throughout the city centre of Utrecht where they feed on our presence. In addition, a camera bird in captivity was displayed to show the feeding process and to make the everyday breach of our privacy more personal and tangible.

6 Comments on "Camera-Headed Birds Keep Tabs on the Citizens of Dutch City"

  1. Vox Penii | Sep 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm |

    The term ‘art bollocks’ was first introduced into serious art writing in the 1999 essay by Brian Ashbee, published in Art Review. A Beginners Guide to Art Bollocks and How to be a Critic was a popular, witty and widely quoted piece of journalism that the casual reader might suppose would have drawn a line under the worst excesses of 1990’s artspeak. In fact, in the past seven years the situation has grown much worse. Art bollocks has become institutionalised, normalised and is now practically the default way of writing about art and culture for seasoned journalists and A-level students alike. Like Orwell’s Newspeak, art bollocks is variously used in a knowing way, as an in-joke, a private language, a posture, or maybe out of fear – to maintain some questionable status among equally questionable peers. This particular critical idiom has also spread from an increasingly politicised world of art theorising to adjacent areas of political and cultural criticism.

    Beyond Parody

    If some readers find it hard to believe that academia has actually been churning out people who can no longer distinguish between coherent argument and vacuous patois, it’s worth casting an eye over some of the more fashionable quarters of art theorising and cultural study. A cursory scan of Mute magazine (issue 27, January 2004) revealed the following nugget, from an essay titled Bacterial Sex written by Luciana Parisi, a teacher of “Cybernetic Culture” at the University of East London: “This practice of intensifying bodily potentials to act and become is an affirmation of desire without lack which signals the nonclimactic, aimless circulation of bodies in a symbiotic assemblage.” If you think you misread that sentence, try reading it again.

    The Trouble with Theories

    Writing in the Guardian, the art critic Jonathan Jones scorned this suffocating use of theory and language. His focus was the book Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism, along with its quartet of statusful authors – Rosalind Krauss, Hal Foster, Yves-Alain Bois and Benjamin HD Buchloh. Jones poked fun at these “mighty wielders of the poststructuralist lexicon” and drew attention to the dubious nature of the theoretical assumptions shared by academics, curators and many artists: “The trouble with the theories that have piled up like a Tower of Babel is that they are never subject to testing; instead facts are filtered through heavy curtains of preconception.” Jones suggested that the preoccupation with labyrinthine theorising is a result of insecurity, of feeling outstripped by the rigours and jargon of scientific disciplines.

    An unspoken sense of intellectual inadequacy has, Jones argued, resulted in “a facsimile of thinking” – one in which evidence and substantive argument are replaced by obfuscation and sheer weight of words. “Art today likes to think of itself as very, very clever,” he wrote. “You can learn all these big words – ‘narrativisation’ is a good one – and feel you know something. Knowledge, however, only comes from a sensory encounter with the world, and knowledge of art from a direct study. Forget the visual theories… There is no good work of art that cannot be described in intelligible English, however long it might take, however much patience is required.” For many artists, tutors and curators, purely aesthetic concerns are apparently inadequate. Theoretical “relevance” is the order of the day, particularly if that theory can be construed as having a certain kind of political implication. In Art Since 1900, Buchloh frets, somewhat tendentiously, that: “The antinomy between artists and intellectuals on the one hand and capitalist production on the other has been annihilated or has disappeared by attrition”.

    The world of new media art is peppered with numerous platforms and discussions, organised and attended by a “community” that appears united in its assumption that art’s primary function is as a vehicle for political transformation. Or rather, as a vehicle for discussions about political transformation. Invited speakers frequently profess to “democratise” art (in ways that can be somewhat unclear) and to “engage with new political constructs.” This preoccupation with political discussion rather than aesthetic absorption supports Ashbee’s observation that, “This is not art to be looked at; this is art to talk about and write about. It doesn’t reward visual attention; it generates text.” The lengthy press release for RISK, an exhibition-cum-discussion at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, claimed to “celebrate the ways in which artists investigate the values of social inclusion – not as a political diversionary tactic, but as a radical art practice.” This couching of art in terms of “raising issues” suggests that artists who wish to be exhibited may find themselves being judged as much for their political sensibilities as for their aesthetic ones.


    Read the remainder of David Thompson’s article here:

    • Gemmarama | Sep 7, 2010 at 6:08 pm |

      for once i agree with you. this is nothing but a visual joke, like banksy’s superficially deep but deeply superficial work.

      you should try reading “high art lite” by julian stallabrass – similar themes.

      • It’s not what I’d call “fine art,” but it is an artful protest of the surveillance state.

  2. Not worried about camera birds more concerned about discount cards given out a grocery stores, gas stations, drug stores and wherever offering discounts. The reality is all they do is keep a profile on you and the things discounted aren’t worth consumption. As far as the cameras are concerned they don’t know who the heck they are looking at unless your in your car and they can see your plates.

  3. I hate those fucking loyalty cards.

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