Vision and surveillance

Several works in this exhibition reflect on the artist’s role as ‘seer’, as well as more generally on the nature of sight: seeing, looking and observing. Two major new machine paintings depict images of men in hot air balloons taken from 19th century French and German engravings. These images may suggest man’s desire to take to the skies and to look down, God-like, on the world below. The ability to see is equated with power and control.

But Polke gives this fantasy of omniscience a sinister twist in two other Machine Paintings which depict American satellite surveillance. The tiny images of three Afghan horsemen are beamed down from a satellite to a computer in mission control and then sent all over the world. Polke contrasts the sophisticated technology of satellite surveillance and the mass media with the almost medieval figures of the horsemen who appear vulnerable and exposed. These works offer a complex reflection on the analogy between a camera and a gun: here ‘shooting pictures’ poses the real threat of instant annihilation.