It has become a truism of urban living that eyes are watching us wherever we go. At ATMs and bus stops, in corner stores and post offices, cameras are recording our movements from all angles.
Once spectral figures on grainy tape, we are becoming ever more clearly identified as technological advancements allow cameras to recognize faces, license plates and other identifying details.
When Maarten Inghels, an artists and resident of Antwerp, read that yet another camera system was to be installed in his city, he determined to find an ‘invisible route’, a path through which one could pass unobserved by any security camera.
Inghels was inspired by French poet Charles Baudelaire’s figure of the flâneur, the observer and connoisseur of urban life, who was both aloof from and part of the anonymous crowd. But the contemporary flâneur is far more observed than observing, as Inghels discovered when his initial attempts to find an invisible route were frustrated.
Hitting the streets on foot with a map of all public cameras provided the police (there are over 300), he found many more jutting from the walls of business and homes. It took months before he eventually found a path unsurveilled by any lens – an erratic red line, sharply digressing and doubling back on itself, snaking from the south east of the city through a park and over a railway line, down back alleys and, nearly 10 kilometres later, arriving on the northeast border of Antwerp.
For Inghels, the map is a wistful glance back at an urban anonymity which is fading by the day. He does not see a return to the unsurveilled life and himself has two CCTV cameras pointed at his own home.
“It’s a naive exercise,” he told Atlas Obscura. “It’s about a time and a world that doesn’t exist anymore… a world where you can be unseen.”
The map is dated June 27 2017, the last time Inghels walked the route. The last time we can be sure there was an invisible route in Antwerp.
LAND RIGHTS CONFERENCE
This week sees the the 3rd international conference on community land and resource rights in Stockholm, where international organisations, governments, indigenous representatives and other groups have gathered to discuss land rights.
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