- Discipline and Desire: Surveillance Technologies in Performance by Elise Morrison, and: Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness by Simone Browne
From revelations of the documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013 to the recent Cambridge Analytica data breach, the public has become increasingly enlightened about the everyday surveillance of citizens. We use ubiquitous GPS tracking systems through Google Maps and location-specific filters on Instagram. In every corner of our urban spaces, we encounter CCTV cameras. Using social media, perhaps our concern is not as much with being watched as not being seen enough. In this climate, Elise Morrison's Discipline and Desire and Simone Browne's Dark Matters both remind us of important questions specific to theatre and [End Page 181] performance, and the continual stress that we need to place on the analytical categories of race and gender in understanding the intersection of these technologies and ourselves.
Both authors look closely at the productive forces of surveillance in our contemporary and historical models of citizenship, as well as the way that surveillance permeates our lives and, importantly, enables creative responses that generate alternative ways of existing in the world. Both of them also deal with the dark moment of 9/11 and its enduring aftermath. However, although they both point out the transnational or global reach of historical and contemporary surveillance, Morrison's and Browne's examples are remarkably often from the US, Great Britain, Canada, and to some extent the Caribbean.
Morrison focuses on what she calls "surveillance art and performance" and her examples are primarily performances and traditional dramatic theatrical productions. She theorizes surveillance as an altogether theatrical or narrative medium for storytelling, and further argues that the dynamic through which we create our identities is strongly linked to that of surveillance: certain bodies watch other bodies—a logic that determines what is rendered visible and invisible allows for them to exist and perform in whichever ways they desire. This is an idea that greatly permeates Dark Matters as well.
Morrison displays a fundamental knowledge of theories of the theatrical avantgarde that she applies to the examples: antibiometric artworks are simultaneously contextualized as antinaturalist in the fifth chapter, for instance. She also firmly commands second- and third-wave feminisms as a theoretical framework with which to understand surveillance practices—to counter what she calls an undertheorization of gender in surveillance studies. The mission of her volume succeeds in that many of the examples in the book challenge explicitly gendered experiences of surveillance. That said, Morrison still does not lose focus of an intersectional critique of the particularly materialist and psychoanalytic feminist theorists she deploys in her analyses. There is some emphasis on recent developments such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
Morrison has organized her chapters spatially—an interesting choice to escape temporal linearity or a sense of progress between them—as we move from performances taking place on stages, in streets, on screens, in our bodies, on our skins, and in the skies. In her discussion of feminist waves of theorization, Morrison writes that she prefers the metaphor of wavelengths: depending on where we tune in, we can listen to different strands of ongoing feminist theorization and activism. The same metaphor applies to her discussions of artist strategies and tactics. They all communicate across the chapters and should not be considered in isolation.
Among the strategies that Morrison identifies across the case studies is above all remediation. It functions in many of the performances by placing surveillance in a more recognizable form of representation. Morrison's theorizing and contextualization of these performances illustrates how the critical lens of performance helps us learn about "emergent visual technologies of capture and evidence" (34).
Particularly useful in Morrison's survey-like study is the way she shows how some of her examples make our norms feel "productively queasy" through their use...