Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Contemporary Art

First Advisor

Matthew Nichols

Second Advisor

Fanny Lakoubay


Artists have long been called observers, voyeurs, and watchers, and with a
particular interest in human behavior and society, they frequently use unknowing
passersby as their subjects for works. Curators and scholars explored how artists put citizens under surveillance with photography and videography, which dates back to the early 1900s, years before governments deployed surveillance systems. Since the 1980s, artists have explicitly explored surveillance technology and theory to alert viewers to the rise of surveillance. Today, this genre is called artveillance, a term coined by Andrea Mubi Brighenti in 2010 to categorize art that explicitly deals with surveillance. This genre developed parallel to the rise of mass surveillance which created the current-day surveillance state. Since artveillance dominates the contemporary art scene, I was interested in the history of surveillance technology and themes in art. Although that history is brief, there is a wealth of artworks and studies on the topic. This thesis explores artists who use surveillance technology, specifically close-circuit video, in their practice and how this work has changed over time compared to the rise of government surveillance systems. To properly examine the artwork, each artwork’s technological history and broader cultural context is considered, with careful attention to the artists’ intentions. The thesis starts in the 1970s with Bruce Nauman and Peter Campus’s closed-circuit video installations. The artists did not aim to create a surveillance area but wanted to explore the viewer’s identity with their moving image. In Chapter 2, Julia Scher and Lynn Hershman Leeson’s work from the 1980s and early 1990s is discussed. Created when state surveillance was on the rise, the artists’ work used surveillance technology to critique the systems. The third chapter explores surveillance in a post-9/11 state through Jill Magid and Laura Poitras’s work. The artists exploited and exposed government systems to show how the public’s privacy is invaded. Finally, the paper concludes with an investigation into the public’s relationship with video surveillance, which resembles an apathetic acceptance.