Under Surveillance by Christiane Zschommler
After 29 years following the fall of The Berlin Wall, the State Security Service (Stasi) acts still as a global synonym for the modern police state. In 1997, I applied to find out whether there were secret files held on me by the Stasi. A file existed. My file 1214/87 contained meticulous photocopies of letters between myself and my friends, index cards to record all the evidence the Stasi found while searching through my mail, the fronts and the backs of envelopes — and simple picture postcards. We were transparent beings. I could not believe the absurd pettiness and the sheer volume of manpower involved in collecting, checking and vetting our mail. The final report in my file suggested that I should be dismissed from my teaching post for being 'unsuitable', which resulted in my being transferred without notice. I have chosen to avoid a strictly documentary approach to the material. Although this body of work clearly has an autobiographical dimension, I did not want to engage with the subject matter from a purely retrospective point of view. My artistic investigation has been more concerned with the formal and structural aspect of the retrieved data and their development into more abstract, visual formations, creating something simple and beautiful as a counterpoint to the destructive violence of the regime under which we lived. The images have the sense of also having been placed 'under surveillance', but in a way that leaves their detail somewhat unclear. This lack of clarity echoes my own feeling at the time:my uncertainty over the extent to which this information was continually being passed to the Stasi by normal citizens. Being constantly under surveillance is very present in the world today. Across the globe, vast amounts of personal data are being tracked, captured, read and stored by governments, organisations and corporations. Spying on the private lives of citizens and the misuse of their personal information is increasing in scale and sophistication.