All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: View from the heavens, UK edition (2015)
A view of GCHQ from the heavens.
“The more tremendous the divinity is represented, the more tame and submissive do men become to his ministers; and the more unaccountable the measures of acceptance required by him, the more necessary does it become to abandon our natural reason, and yield to their ghostly guidance and direction.”
– David Hume, “The Natural History of Religion”, 1757
Man invented god to inflict fear, control and power. It was ancient religions that imposed omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent powers watching over us, judging us, protecting us. Those were myths fabricated to control the masses. Today, as our societies lose spiritual sensibilities, we are drowning ourselves in a break-neck race of materialism and technological submission. So The Overseer too is adapting, co-evolving. As its metaphysical traits crumble and become obsolete, the gaps are filled and substituted with new traits — physical, material, digital traits — to match our physical, material, digital lifestyles. We don’t fear the Old Gods anymore, they cannot protect or control us, so we need new ones. We have killed God, as Nietzsche says. But we are rebuilding Him, with Technology, to match our techno-culture. The myth is becoming real. We’re edging closer and closer to an authentic man-made deity. Living up in The Cloud, of all places. Watching over us, listening to our thoughts and dreams in ones and zeros.
A digital god for a digital culture.
A video installation consisting of a 4:30 minute meditative video with a synthesized voice-over. The resemblance of the GCHQ building to a giant robotic eye – such as Kubrick’s HAL in 2001 – is uncanny. The little cars, roads, buildings etc. the electronic circuitry feeding this giant robotic eye. It’s not humans watching over us, logging our emails, our phone records; but it’s algorithms, software designed by humans, housed in machines built by humans.
The script contains (and/or is inspired by) modified quotes by pioneers of quantum mechanics Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, specifically regarding the Observer effect in Quantum mechanics. The quotes are modified as to not sound specifically about quantum mechanics, but more ambiguous, relevant to both the observer effect of quantum mechanics, but also relevant to the surveillance situation we’re in. The results highlighting the similarities between the two: there is no such thing as a passive observer, the act of observation influences the observed and affects how he/she will behave, the observer and the observed end up inextricably linked, the observers observation is not an objective truth but a biased response to the information received based on the mode of observation etc.
Aerial photos from Google Maps.
Title “All watched over by machines of loving grace” from Richard Brautigan’s 1967 Poem and Adam Curtis’s 2011 BBC documentary series.