Text by Liz Buckley
George Orwell’s enigmatic novel 1984, first published in 1949, got the world thinking; was this a prophecy, or simply science fiction? First written not so much as a prediction for the future, but as a topical fiction story, Orwell’s prophetic tale has turned out to be chillingly relevant to every generation since its publication. The current exhibition1984 Looks Like This at Salford Museum & Art Gallery centres on the story of 1984, as well as the photography of David Dunnico, who as an artist has occupied himself with issues surrounding surveillance, as well as the unnerving relevance of Orwell’s novel to today’s society. This exhibition offers a collection of work by Dunnico, as well as his impressive collection of copies of 1984 and related ephemera, showcasing not only the changing covers of the book but also its consistent relevancy to our modern culture.
David Dunnico, a Manchester based artist, uses his documentary photography to highlight just how integrated surveillance cameras are in our modern landscape. Dunnico’s blunt black and white shots include CCTV and its familiar signage around the Manchester and Salford areas, showing the sheer abundance of such surveillance equipment in just two cities. As a society we have grown to largely ignore surveillance, as we become more and more overwhelmed by warnings such as “CCTV may be in operation in this area.” It is easy to forget that in the city you could be caught on camera over 300 times in a day. With reality shows now covering every possible area of life, and billboards on the daily commute telling us how to think, it seems we have welcomed big brother with open arms, and are quite happy to hide from the negative connotations of surveillance. Even the infamous phrase “Big Brother is watching you,” which many only now connect with the popular reality show, is in fact an invention of Orwell’s.
Dunnico’s collection of photographs for this exhibition highlight for the viewer just how many CCTV devices are out there and can be captured hiding amongst the architecture, even in simple pictures of the urban landscape. A camera even watches the gallery space as viewers explore the exhibition, showing their image on a television screen. While surveillance techniques can be useful for criminal investigations and prevention, it is unnerving to know that your every move is monitored, and even the layout of the city has been engineered to deter suspicious behaviour. The “Telescreens” as described by Orwell in 1984 were designed to make society nervous and encourage people to act more warily in public. As it turns out, such “telescreens” have become an integral part of our living environment, and, in turn, 1984 has become an increasingly pertinent story for our generation.
The impressive collection of 1984 copies as collected by Dunnico are all on show in the gallery alongside the artist’s own work. The continuing publication of Orwell’s novel is highlighted here with its many different covers, and is indicative of how this fictional story made significant observations way ahead of its time. Many of the covers for1984 bare the familiar eye symbol which we now associate so closely with Big Brother, and perhaps the most unnerving is the 2008 Penguin Reader version, adorned with 18 eyes watching a solitary black figure. A lot of the older book covers have a lurid and trashy appearance, implying a fashionably cheap science fiction novel, certainly not symptomatic of the significance that was in store for 1984.
1984 Looks Like This is certainly a thought provoking comment on surveillance in our modern society, and shows how CCTV has even picked up connotations of being urban and edgy in popular culture imagery. For those not familiar with the text, this exhibition explores how this novel is increasingly relevant to continuing generations, and how a topical science fiction story rose to fame with its prophetic predictions. David Dunnico’s photography reminds us of the constant evasion of privacy going on all around us and our growing familiarity with even the warning signs for CCTV surveillance. Dunnico’s images alongside a mixture of classic and contemporary copies of 1984, as well as recent Manchester Evening News posters warning us of naked airport scanners and increasing numbers of cameras, makes for a vigilant and evocative exhibition.
David Dunnico: 1984 Looks Like This, 17/03/2012 – 01/07/2012, Salford Museum and Art Gallery, Peel Park, The Crescent, Salford, M5 4WU. www.salford.gov.uk
Cover Story: Artist Talk by David Dunnico
Saturday 2 June: 2 – 4 pm
As part of the exhibition, documentary photographer David Dunnico talks about the cover designs of George Orwell’s book 1984.
Documentary Photo: Artist Talk by David Dunnico
Saturday 16 June: 2 – 4 pm
David Dunnico talks about how to make a start in documentary photography. This talk is aimed at amateur photographers who are interested in making their own documentary projects.
Both talks are free of charge and do not need to be pre-booked.
Courtesy the artist