1984 Looks Like This – An Exhibition by David Dunnico
War is Peace. Ignorance is Strength. Freedom is Slavery. These are the three slogans aimed at the citizens of Oceania in George Orwell’s seminal novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell being one of my favourite authors, I was naturally interested in an exhibition entitled 1984 looks like this. So last weekend I visited this small, but fascinating exhibition by David Dunnico, a documentary photographer based in Manchester. And with incredibly impeccable timing the UK government announced last week that it wanted to try and introduce far-reaching snooping powers. Moving into the 21st century, it wanted to keep tabs on all activity on email, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype, and not just being able to listen in on telephone conversations with a warrant. Fortunately, a public backlash followed immediately and the UK government has sounded a hasty retreat. Nonetheless, Dunnico’s exhibition proved that despite the outcry, the society described in Nineteen Eighty-Four is indeed upon us now.
Dunnico has been interested in the gradual encroachment of a surveillance culture in the UK for quite some time now. The exhibition currently on at the Salford Art Gallery is the fruit of his research. Not in a long time have I seen such an interesting mix of photography and other media to convey the message. In his stark black and white photographs Dunnico captures security cameras against a backdrop of the stunning postindustrial architecture in and around Manchester. He has also photographed other signifiers of the surveillance culture, such as propaganda posters about counterterrorism and signs indicating the presence of CCTV. Dunnico has further managed to get a glimpse of the control rooms where the CCTV images are being relayed to, and the people working there. He has combined these with various editions of Orwell’s book, as well as posters of various stage and film adaptations of Nineteen Eighty-Four, thus providing an interesting insight into the different visual interpretations the original story has been subjected to. He has also added stage props, a mock-up of a surveillance control room, original reviews of the book, T-shirts and record sleeves using imagery of CCTV as an indication of being ubercool. But Dunnico even takes it a step further by showing how concepts from the book such as thoughtcrime and newspeak have become reality.The presentation provides a chilling insight into how accurate Orwell’s vision has become. It is a stunning and well-researched exhibition.