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Laura Poitras' First Solo Show Makes the Surveillance State Visible

"Astro Noise," which opens today at the Whitney Museum of American Art, marks the "CITIZENFOUR" filmmaker's first ever solo museum exhibition.
Laura Poitras (b. 1964), Laura Poitras filming the NSA Utah Data Repository construction in 2011. Photograph by Conor Provenzano.

The first solo museum exhibition by Laura Poitras, the filmmaker behind Academy Award-winning film on CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden CITIZENFOUR, opens today at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Astro Noise is an immersive show which goes behind-the-scenes of Poitras’s award-winning efforts to document the state of the post-9/11 world. Through a series of complementary installations, visitors are encouraged to interact with documentary footage, architectural interventions, primary documents and more in “strikingly intimate and direct ways.” ”I very much like the idea of creating a space that challenges the viewer and asks them to make decisions,” says Poitras in the press release. "I'm interested in making things hard to see, just like the deep state is hard to see."


Over the past several years, Poitras’s films have been attempting the opposite: to peel back the bureaucratic seams in order to glimpse at the inner workings of "the deep state." After 9/11, the journalist, artist, and filmmaker first completed MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY, her documentary on the US Occupation of Iraq, then followed with a sequel on Guantánamo Bay and the war on terror, THE OATH, and finally closed out her investigative trilogy with CITIZENFOUR.

Poitras's new show is a continuation of this work, concerning itself with issues of surveillance, war, occupation, drones, and torture and taking its very name from Snowden himself, who deemed his archive of leaked NSA files, Astro Noise.

Still. Laura Poitras, O’Say Can You See, 2001/2016. Two-channel digital video, color, sound. Courtesy of the artist. 

The translation of the artist's work from film to gallery walls is “reconsidering the moving image towards other ways of addressing and engaging an audience, presenting the culture and mechanism of surveillance and the war on terror in a very different way, through structured visual experiences that provide much more than information and compel an audience to enter into a visceral experience,” says curator Jay Sanders.

In her Bed Down Location installation, for example, Poitras invites visitors to lie down, look up, and “enter an empathetic space to imagine drone warfare." She says, "There is both the seduction of shafts of light to look into, but also the choreography of bodies in the space, bodies facing walls and the things you associate with that, like firing squads.”


Poitras and Sanders have also teamed up to co-edit a collection original work entitled Astro Noise: A Survival Guide to Living Under Total Surveillance. The book will include criticism and commentary from a wide range of contributors such as Ai Weiwei, Dave Eggers, Trevor Paglen, and Edward Snowden.

Below, a sneak peak of Laura Poitras's Astro Noise:

Laura Poitras, ANARCHIST: Israeli Drone Feed (Intercepted February 24, 2009), 2016. Pigmented inkjet print on aluminum, 45” x 64-3/4” (114.3 x 164.5 cm). Courtesy of the artist.  

Laura Poitras (b. 1964), ANARCHIST: Data Feed with Doppler Tracks from a Satellite (Intercepted May 27, 2009), 2016. Pigmented inkjet print mounted on aluminum, 45 x 64 3/4 in. (114.3 x 164.5 cm). Courtesy the artist

Astro Noise runs from February 5 to May 1 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Learn more about the show here and find more from Laura Poitras on her website.


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