Surveillance Aesthetics: Nathan Halverson at Antenna
Ashley L. Voss reviews Nathan Halverson’s exhibition at Antenna, which explores the ways landscapes and human activities are recorded.
Originally published on Pelican Bomb.
In the comfort of his home, Nathan Halverson observes it all. From underwater field recordings to scenic landscape footage, his digital viewing queue is further diversified with the occasional 1950s noir flick. Crisp compositions are cut. Dubious dialogue is divorced from its origin. Inaccessible locations are within reach, compliments of a third party. Appropriating found audio-visual material, “Absolute Difference,” Halverson’s current show at Antenna, presents the potential for new personal and cultural associations through digital media.
The featured piece, How Very Much I Have Loved You, 2016, is a murky memorializing of the 2010 BP oil spill. The work combines captured footage of eerie aquascapes beneath the Gulf of Mexico with found audio from single-source recordings made public by the FBI. Overshadowed by static feedback, the muffled voice recordings reference facts related to the damage caused by the spill. Industrial machinery is seen amongst clouds of smoke, their crane-like claws probing the unknown similar to an arcade game. Oil continues to spew into the abyss.
Absolute Difference (Nos. 1 - 3), 2016, is a series of digital micro-landscapes created using video feedback and an audio track of electronic recordings. Saturated colors sluggishly pulse like parasites. Resembling a water-damaged screensaver, the videos have an inherently meditative quality when paired with the sleep-inducing audio. Amongst the white noise, a sound within the work similar to a distant church bell alerts the passing of time.
Voyeuristic in execution, the interactive history behind Border Landscape (Remix), 2015, differs from the other sourced media. Using video footage from hidden surveillance cameras directed on the 2000-mile-long border between the United States and Mexico, Halverson shares stark landscapes familiar to film Westerns. Towering mountains and pixelated prairies are carefully composed. Once accessible as real-time, streaming video, the Texas Virtual Border Watch Program invited civilians to become “virtual deputies” and alert authorities of any unusual activity. At one point, Halverson’s video, which repurposes these recordings, reads, “DURING THE NIGHT WATCH FOR ACTIVITY INVOLVING LIGHTS.” Inverted black and white scenes follow. Nightvision is a catalyst for the curious. A white tractor pierces the frame, following the horizon, exciting like a ghost. “PLEASE REPORT THIS ACTIVITY.”
Halverson, of course, is not the only artist to consider surveillance as an artistic medium. Similarly, Belgian artist Dries Depoorter assembles video stream installations to question the possibilities of using public data to invade personal privacy. Jaywalking, 2015, an installation that automatically catches jaywalkers using live surveillance webcams, gives viewers the choice to report the minor offense to the police. Depoorter leaves the dilemma of crime reporting to viewers, who seem to be holding actual power.
Presenting the varied possibilities of appropriated digital media, “Absolute Difference” does not initiate political movements or demand viewer engagement. Rather, by overlaying found footage with selected audio, Halverson simply reminds us that our interpretations of these materials are all relative—the absolute difference.