I’m a little late in noticing, but this past week was George Orwell’s birthday. To commemorate the day, some clever fans of 1984 placed party hats atop surveillance cameras around Utrecht.
This celebration was posted at FRONT404 who, according to the website, is a “Dutch duo of artists consisting of Thomas voor ‘t Hekke and Bas van Oerle.” The team “tries to surprise people, taking them out of their daily reality. Using humour and playful interaction they offer new perspectives and ways of looking at the world.” They explained the Orwellian birthday party as follows:
By putting these happy party hats on the surveillance cameras we don’t just celebrate Orwell’s birthday. By making these inconspicuous cameras that we ignore in our daily lives catch the eye again we also create awareness of how many cameras really watch us nowadays, and that the surveillance state described by Orwell is getting closer and closer to reality.
The bolded phrase (my emphasis added) caught my attention. As I’m trying to rethink my Introduction to Religion and World Religions syllabi for the fall, I’ve been spending considerable time trying to think of new ways to engage students outside of reading and post-reading discussions. Front 404’s creative approach to rendering what is normally invisible visible again leads me to think I need to put a camera in my students’ hands. Fortunately many of them already have cameras on their person 24/7. I wonder what will happen if I ask students to capture “religion” that they encounter in their daily lives. I have no idea what I may get in return, but that sounds like the making of an intriguing and exciting conversation that can begin our semester long examination of what precisely “religion” is, how we’ve come to think that is what it is, and how its presence/absence shapes our lives in ways large and small. How exactly I’m going to do this, I haven’t decided yet, but I welcome any comments or suggestions.