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The Redaction Zoo

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posted on 06.05.2017, 11:10 by Tim Sherratt
Work displayed as part of the 'Beauties and Beasts' exhibition, Belconnen Art Centre, 6-28 May 2017.

Artist statement

This collection of creatures was discovered amidst thousands of ASIO surveillance files held by the National Archives of Australia. While the practice of redaction is intended to withhold information from public view, an unknown archivist has used redactions to add an artistic flourish to the files. They are reminders that the processes that limit our access to information are human in their operation and design. There is nothing magical about the ‘secrets’ preserved in government archives.

Research statement

Digital tools and technologies enable us to explore cultural heritage collections in new ways – to see them differently. The Redaction Zoo was discovered as part of an ongoing project that uses computer vision to analyse publicly available ASIO files. I wrote a script to identify redactions in digitised documents and, while checking the results, I found art. The redactions provide a data point that I can use to track change in the processes that create and control the files – an opportunity to reverse the gaze of state surveillance. Instead of being dead ends the redactions can be starting points for further discovery.


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