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Manu Luksch - Mapping CCTV around Whitehall (2008)

Published onAug 03, 2021
Manu Luksch - Mapping CCTV around Whitehall (2008)

In 2008 Austrian/British artist and filmmaker Manu Luksch undertook a mapping of CCTV in Whitehall, London: Mapping CCTV around Whitehall (2008).

In the first stage of the two day project the artist mapped the locations of hundreds of individual CCTV cameras in the Whitehall area of London which links Trafalgar Square to the Houses of Parliament. At the time this area was a ‘designated area’ covered by the Serious and Organized Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA). In addition to changes to police powers of arrest sections 128-131 of the act also introduced the criminalisation of trespass at a number of ‘protected sites’ in the area, typically government buildings. Controversially sections 132-138 impinged on public space by restricting the right of citizens to demonstrate within a specially ‘designated area’ of up to one kilometre from any point on Parliament Square. Effectively this would stop unauothorised protest on otherwise public land.

Mapping CCTV in Whitehall (2008, 3 min)

On the second day of the project Luksch explored the impact of surveillance on public space in the area by physically tracing the viewshed and range of one of those CCTV cameras. The signal of camera no. 40 from the previous days mapping on Villiers Street was readily intercepted having been transmitted without encryption. The extent of the camera view was marked with tape on the ground. As passers-by entered the marked area they were alerted to the camera’s presence by the artist who handed them a copy of CCTV map of Whitehall made the previous day.

This intervention was a practical development of the themes and concerns outlined in Luksch’s conceptual film of the previous year FACELESS (2007):

In a society under the reformed 'Real-Time' Calendar, without history nor future, everybody is faceless. A woman panics when she wakes up one day with a face. With the help of the Spectral Children she slowly finds out more about the lost power and history of the human face and begins the search for its future.

Narrated by Tilda Swinton the film took the form of a ‘CCTV sci-fi fairy tale’ in which Luksch both directed and played the protagonist.

FACELESS (Trailer)

The was produced under the rules of the artist’s own Manifesto for CCTV Filmmakers (also available as PDF). The manifesto requires that the film be shot entirely using CCTV, typically operated by a large businesses, private security firm and public authorities, and the footage obtained via official CCTV footage requests made in accordance with the relevant Data Protection Act. Amongst other stipulations the filmmaker is not permitted to introduce their own cameras or lighting to the filming locations.

Many activists, artists, civil rights groups and government lobbyists were involved in the campaign to repeal various aspects of SOCPA. Eventually sections 132 to 138 of SOCPA were repealed by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. This newer legislation stipulates a different scheme of ‘prohibited activities’ on Parliament Square, principally setting up tents or using amplified sound equipment, rather than more generally circumscribing access in the manner of the former SOCPA legislation.

The combination of methods displayed in the two projects discussed here demonstrate how situated mapping practices can be used to engage public imagination with more abstract and less direct theoretical and artistic approaches. Luksch’s mapping of CCTV in Whitehall in particular demonstrates how the act of mapping, even on a small scale, can manifest and communicate spatial issues in ways that meaningfully inform debate and engage new publics around complex and otherwise intangible social concerns.

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