Surveillance is not only a current topic, but also a historic phenomenon. While the show Watching You, Watching Me takes contemporary surveillance as its theme, the exhibition The Field Has Eyes. Images of the Surveillant Gaze turns to history and addresses the particular sense of unease that surveillance has always caused, whether it was religiously or politically motivated.
The exhibition brings together 75 prints, books, photographs and examples of optical apparatus to present a visual and cultural history of the controlling gaze from the 16th to the 20th century.
Before the now-ubiquitous cameras, people were once controlled by other looks. In the age of the Enlightenment the all-seeing eye, which stood for the clear gaze of reason, symbolised the state and the law. This secular iconography drew on the religious symbol of the eye of God. This eye, a mystical, invisible entity with the power to observe a Christian’s every thought and deed, had a powerful psychological effect on believers. Be it God, the state, or technology, in this genealogy the oppressive psychological power exercised by an entity that is itself not open to scrutiny remained constant.
The title of the exhibition is based on an anonymous woodcut from 1546. This image sends a warning message from the distant past, ‘Beware, you are seen and heard!’.