Robert Lawrence


copyright: Robert Lawrence

Tango Intervention continues my 12-year hybrid practice of using the shared commons of public physical space and the Internet simultaneously in different often contradictory ways. I create unexpected site-specific public actions in such places as the Brooklyn Bridge or the Ringstraße in Vienna, and then recontextualize these actions in the everywhere/nowhere public space of the Internet. With this approach, I am trying to bring awareness to the way that we live these double lives between our physical selves and our Internet selves. Anyone who is using the Internet extensively is likely behaving differently online than they would in a room full of their peers. The difference could be extreme or modest, but certainly is a revision of each of our constructions of identity. Remarkably this transformation has happened for each of us in a deceptively ‘natural’ way, and is not a significant part of social discourse, nor is it adequately explored on a theoretical level. A significant agenda of my work is to bring this transformation of contemporary life into a more active and critical discourse.


For the past 2 years my Tango Interventions have been concentrated in a new sub-series, Tango Panopticon. The theoretical and political agenda of this latest series is more specifically focused. The interventions are performed only in public spaces where there is corporate or government video surveillance. These spaces manifest a hidden social agenda and the work is best seen in the context of that agenda. For Tango Panopticon 2.0 on May Day 2010 we had people dancing all at the same time on 4 continents. All of them were streaming to live synchronous video from cell phones. With up to 16 live streams coming in at once and 6 visible at a time in a grid of live images echoing video surveillance monitor grids, we surveilled the surveillors from Victoria, Canada to Johannesburg, South Africa.


I have also been doing smaller scale Tango Panopticon actions in cities around the world, most recently in London where we tango intervened in dozens of locations including the British Secret Intelligence Service Headquarters, MI6.


I am also using video from these ongoing interventions in a highly systematic series of video installations. The video shot is always is a quick pan from a close-up of a surveillance camera to the dancers. The first installation in this series premiered during the DRHA conference at Brunel University, London, and included a projection of a grid of 6 montages of these structural shots from previous locations. I will continue shooting around the world and making these installations, and with each installation I will add more lines of videos to the grids. All the videos become smaller with the addition of new videos in each city. I am going to keep adding more iterations of surveilling surveillance, with the videos becoming increasingly smaller, until the projector resolution cannot handle it. The multiplying of the images in the installation is evocative of the multiplying of the surveillance cameras in public space.  As the images get smaller and smaller relative to the resolution of the screen, the viewer sees less and less usable information. For me this is about the way that the more that we are surveilled the less that we are really seen.