C Magazine


Issue 120

Editorial: Surveillance
by Amish Morrell

This issue marks the 30th anniversary of C Magazine. We’re deeply indebted to the many people who have been behind C since our first issue was published in the winter of 1984. They include C’s founding Editor, Richard Rhodes, and its subsequent Editors, Joyce Mason, Eileen Sommerman, Si Si Penaloza and Rosemary Heather, who all shaped the vision and direction of C Magazine over more than 100 issues. We’re also grateful for the many staff and interns who have worked at C, and the numerous volunteers and board members who have donated their time over the years. And most importantly, we’re thankful to the writers and artists whose work appears in the magazine, all of whom continue to provide us with critical and enriching new ways of understanding and experiencing the world in which we live, and who make it a better place. We’re proud to be able to share their important work with our readers.

In preparing for this occasion, we have been reflecting on how C Magazine might continue to evolve as a platform for critical writing about contemporary art and culture. We spoke with many of our readers and contributors about what they most like about the magazine, and what new directions they would like us to take. In response to what they had to say, we are making changes to the physical appearance of the magazine and are introducing a number of new sections. These additions include On Writing, which will present experimental models for art writing and reflective or polemical essays about contemporary criticism. We’ve also changed the title of Noteworthy to Inventory, so that this section functions as a list of useful ideas on the issue’s theme. Finally, we added two image-based sections: Primer, a single image that serves as a visual introduction to the issue theme; and Artefact, a short essay about an image or object that provides a point of aesthetic reference outside of contemporary art. We’ll have different writers for these sections in each issue. Our new design also includes additional pages and a more substantial binding, as well as a looser and more experimental style. We hope that these changes will invite more irreverence and humour from our contributors and provide readers with additional points of entry into the challenging ideas for which C is known.

Our current theme of “Surveillance” has turned out to be a timely one both in the context of C’s history and in light of world events. When we started work on this issue, the Edward Snowden crisis was just unfolding. While the former US National Security Agency contractor, who leaked classified documents showing the surveillance capabilities of the US government, was in temporary asylum in Moscow, revelations continued to emerge about the capabilities of the NSA to intercept and analyze telephone and Internet communications from around the globe. Especially disturbing for many people was the complicity of major telecommunications and Internet service providers in allowing government security agencies access to their servers and networks. At the same time, reports of the use of military drones to carry out surveillance and drone attacks in countries like Yemen and Pakistan, and over Gaza, which often killed innocent bystanders, continued to surface. In response to these conditions, we present in this issue a number of artists and writers who deal with the use of surveillance technologies in geopolitical conflict as well as in everyday life.

It is also temporally significant that we’re addressing surveillance while reflecting upon C’s thirty-year history. 1984, the year of our first issue, was the year that Michel Foucault died. Foucault arguably did more than any other 20th-century theorist to help us understand the complex social and institutional operations of surveillance. Also in 1984, George Orwell’s eponymous dystopian novel about state surveillance and mind control was a major topic of cultural debate. This book, whose sales through Amazon.com increased by 337% this past summer when stories about Snowden and the NSA dominated the news, anticipated many of the technologies of power that are being deployed and intensified in our post-9/11 security state.1 Finally, in the realm of art, the early 1980s signaled the beginning of the contemporary as an aesthetic and temporal category, marked by the de-escalation of the Cold War and the rise of new expressions of global capitalism, as well as new forms of criticism, informed by theories of postcolonialism and poststructuralism. It is from this context that publications like C Magazine emerged, along with a flourishing of art practices that critically engage the same conditions. Fittingly this issue’s contributors attest to the need for correspondingly trenchant forms of art criticism – a project that is as urgent and vital today as it was in 1984. We hope that you agree.