'. $site_title .'Rose Butler


Investigatory Power

I exhibited a body of new work at Decad, Berlin, October 2019 - January 2020. This work was the culmunation of research carried out in Berlin over several years. I worked initially in the Houses of Parliament in London and then alongside amazing staff at the Stasi Records Agency, Berlin with the careful support of curator Mareike Spendel who bought the work together and supported me during my visits to the Stasi Records Agency.

Further details of included works and contextual information can be found here.

Investigatory Power is an exhibition by British artist Rose Butler, curated by Mareike Spendel that brings together the artist’s own photographic work captured in the UK Houses of Parliament with video footage and imagery selected from the Stasi Records Agency, Berlin. Butler considers the ethics and politics of ‘looking’ through arts practice as part of her doctoral study that centres on surveillance. The methods, technologies and techniques of the Stasi – to date the only intelligence agency whose activities have been made publically accessible, are held as a mirror to new UK surveillance legislation.

The Investigatory Powers Act (2016), aka ‘The Snoopers Charter’ significantly extended the UK state agencies digital surveillance capabilities. The presentation of her research coincided with the commemorations of the 30 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany which marked the end of the Cold War, and one of the Brexit deadlines for the agreement of the EU withdrawel bill on the 31st October 2019.

Selected video materials from the archive include the artist’s three-hour video edit of a surveillance operation covering a public protest on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz on the 7th of September 1989, held in opposition to the rigged election results (May 1989). Stasi agents had covered the protest with six different cameras, which Butler reverse edited. She re-mapped the time code of the cameras back to real time by replacing sections where the camera had been paused with black gaps. She then synchronised all six cameras so as to reconstruct a panoptical view of the surveillance operation.

Three large photographic prints in the centre of the exhibition are the results of Butler’s experiments with a 1960s Minox miniature camera, once a popular device for espionage used on both sides of the iron curtain. They include images taken covertly inside the Houses of Parliament, where Butler witnessed the debates that preceded the passing of the Investigatory Powers Act over eight months in 2016. This legislation forms the legal basis for digital surveillance in the UK, today the most widely surveilled democratic state in the western world.

The files, images and data amassed as a result of contemporary state surveillance are missing from the exhibition. The access to comparable material of a fallen state power allows the artist to make this gap visible. What Butler’s experimental approach demonstrates is where the fundamental danger posed by surveillance lies. The state-backed security promise through surveillance inevitably leads to a threat to democracy: the impossibility of making the means and methods of surveillance transparent and controlled by civil society perpetuates the existing power structures that it actively hides. Post Brexit, as the UK Government becomes more and more authoritarian in its approach to parliament, the exhibition aims to expose the threat of UK surveillance, hidden under the guise of security, to democratic freedoms.