SIGGRAPH 2008 > For Attendees > New Tech Demos > BirdWatching 2005-2007

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Bird Watching

Theme: Global Responsibility
Hall K Entrance

Bird Watching is an interactive audio and video installation created specifically to comment on the invisible presence of space satellites. Playful cardboard birds challenge the perception of satellites as remote objective "eyes." This low-tech approach makes remote sensing accessible and satellite surveillance palpable. When activated, the innocuous cardboard birds not only "sing, but also spy, suggesting our complicity in creating a culture of surveillance.

Enhanced Life
There are over 800 working satellites in orbit around the earth. Most of us know little about these satellites, but US Homeland Security wants to provide classified satellite images to domestic security agencies. Bird Watching addresses this situation by enabling participants to interact with and monitor satellites.

To emphasize the interdependence between the local and the global, to ask how the tools and processes of globalization affect identity, and to emphasize our complicity, tacit or otherwise, in the use and design of surveillance systems.

As a tribute to the amateur inventor, Bird Watching combines cardboard and IR sensors to replicate remote-sensing techniques. This do-it-yourself approach serves as a critique of the elitism and power in the politics of science. The installation's interactivity provides participants an opportunity to reflect on their roles as global citizens.

In Bird Watching, there are two simultaneous forms of surveillance. One is global and tracks satellites in real time. The other is local and publicly tracks the participants' interaction. These two systems redefine "watching" by encouraging participants to acknowledge their agency.

Kathy Marmor
University of Vermont

Jonathan Decker
University of Maryland Baltimore County