Captured On Tape

'We're constantly under surveillance.' Click Play Video for an online exhibition with artist David McSwiggan

Captured On Tape tackles an oft explored subject in art – the nature of surveillance in urban environments – but it does so with a difference, focusing on the pack rather than the individual, and examining how we behave when we move en mass.

What Tyrone-born artist David McSwiggan describes as an installation piece covers a whole wall in the Black Box café and exhibition space. 

Formed entirely of slivers of black and red electrical insulating tape - ‘It’s a very cheap way of getting colour onto a wall and it’s quite accurate,’ McSwiggan reveals - this intriguing, 1-dimensional work is based upon a series of photographs that McSwiggan took in downtown Prague, where he lived for a number of years.

Before the eye recognises the blocks of colour as representations of the human form - with the odd dog thrown in for good measure - at first the piece looks like an abstract map of the world, and in a way it is.

McSwiggan admits that his work is often influenced by the nature of perception – how human beings view themselves, view their neighbours, view the world around them. 

Captured On Tape imagines how beings from another world might perceive us if they arrived in downtown Westropolis on an average Saturday morning - a microcosm of the wider world with all ethnicities and nationalities indulging in the usual urban pursuits.

'We’re looking at people in an urban context, looking at them doing things that they do in the city - walking around with shopping bags, pushing trolleys, walking dogs. We’re constantly under surveillance,' continues McSwiggan. 'We’re always being looked at by someone else, so in a way this is an attempt to put ourselves in that position and at least be aware that we’re being watched.'

Having studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, McSwiggan relocated to Prague and then to Seville in Spain, where he developed an interest in the subject of CCTV surveillance. 

Two other photograph pieces in the Black Box show human figures whited out, faceless and vulnerable to the prying eye. 'It's the same in every modern city,' McSwiggan adds. 'It's the Big Brother nightmare. Unfortunately, it seems, we're living it. It's how we deal with it that counts.'

In Belfast, where McSwiggan now lives, the proliferation of little black mirrors is dizzying - everywhere you look, it seems, Big Brother is watching. When it comes to his art, however, McSwiggan is only to happy to open himself up to whoever may want to look inside. Belfast, he says, is the perfect place to do so.

'I recently came back to Belfast because there’s a scene here at the moment. There seems to be a lot more going on culturally, and it’s great to be contributing to that scene.

'I don’t agree with the notion that artists should hide how they work, making it inaccessible. The Black Box is a functional café and art space, so other people are always going to be there. [Captured On Tape] was put together using a projector. It took 26 hours to install, with people coming and going all the time. For me it’s about working in public and demystifying the process.'

That process will continue when McSwiggan travels to Dublin for a group show in the Crow Gallery in Temple Bar, which runs from March 31 to April 14. Captured On Tape will remain in the Black Box until March 28.

Lee Henry