TSA “Contraband” on display: art imitates police state life?

by Deborah Newell Tornello on April 8, 2012

Art imitates police state life?

Or is it actually the other way around–which is to say, Life, in the increasingly watched-over, pried-into, unconstitutionally searched police state formerly known as ‘Land of the Free and Home of the Brave’ . . . is now imitating art?

The Denver Museum of Contemporary Art’s installation Guarded seeks to explore the issues attendant to America’s sprawling surveillance state: the subtle and not-so-subtle effects of relentless fear mongering; the reversal of “innocent-until-proven-guilty”; the risible and random manner in which items are deemed Safe versus Unsafe, Permissible versus Confiscated.

In the gallery space, the pieces sit on individual platforms suspended 12 feet above the ground, hidden from viewers. Each has a camera diligently pointed toward it, as though its mere presence arouses suspicion. Below, seven glowing security monitors pulse steadily, changing every few seconds to display one of the items at random. Any juxtaposition between them is arbitrary, encouraging viewers to draw their own conclusions and connections within the collection, whether funny, frightening, or just odd (e.g., throwing stars and nunchucks, the “martial arts” weapons the TSA specifically bans). The camera feeds are the only proof that viewers have of the objects above their heads. This requires faith that what’s being broadcast is accurate.

And do we have that faith?

(Photo: Flickr/George Kelly allaboutgeorge)

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