Ai Weiwei Uses Drones, Hidden Cameras and iPads to spy on exhibition visitors

From At Ai Weiwei’s Unnerving New Installation, The Art Spies On You

The installation is an enormous, interactive environment of voyeurism. Instead of entering the armory from its grand, ceremonial entrance on Park Avenue, you’re funneled through a back entrance and a long, narrow, dim hallway before reaching the Drill Hall, a 55,000-square-foot space with an eight-story-tall ceiling. The cavernous interior is pitch-black and the floor has a slight slope, making it disorienting to explore at first.

When I first walked inside, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but as I took a few steps toward the center of the space, I began to notice static projections on the floor. Then, I realized that these projections were actually still photographs of my body taken from overhead. As I was looking around trying to make sense of the installation, the installation was quietly doing the same to me. One of the most chilling moments involved a drone buzzing overhead. Periodically, it would make a sweep of the space, then disappear. It caught me off guard when I suddenly heard its propellers buzzing over my head and felt the breeze it was generating.


The “other parts” to which Herzog is referring are hidden cameras installed elsewhere in the armory that silently take your photograph and file them into a database.

In another part of the installation–which visitors are routed to after they’ve meandered in the Drill Hall–you’re invited to take a photograph of yourself on an iPad, and the facial-recognition software then searches the database to find your file photo.

Elsewhere, black-and-white portraits of people who have visited the installation are displayed on large screens. The final element of surveillance is a live stream of people in the Drill Hall, projected on a screen.