Project Espionage: Designed to Deceive
For most ordinary people their only interaction with the secret universe will be through its architectures and spaces. Secret agencies have to work from somewhere and there is no such thing as an invisible office block. I accessed these places in order to learn more about operational agents and their secretive world. That was how I found myself on a cold January morning, face to face with members of the world’s most notorious espionage agency. I wasn’t in a government office or the back of a blacked-out vehicle but in a Pret a Manger in Vauxhall wondering what to order for lunch.
I have spent the last few months on an unofficial residency in Vauxhall. The focus of my investigation has been the two miles between the headquarters for MI5 and the headquarters for MI6. I was driven by my curiosity to get to know espionage agents as ordinary people rather than a political desire to condemn their unchecked invisible power. However, this project is inherently political because these spaces are the only physical manifestations of espionage agencies. These buildings are their representatives.
In order to dismantle dominant misconceptions about espionage agents and their agencies, I intercepted and recorded them doing mundane things. This project shows how agents really operate in public and is an antidote to Bond’s fictional theatrics. After the pandemic, I continued to survey my area of investigation using CCTV cameras. I collected various data and narratives in the hope of intercepting secret communications. This information was then represented in collages.
Graphic Design, the curating of visual signs and symbols in order to convey messages, seemed like the most appropriate medium to represent my collected narratives. I experimented with different ways of presenting information by using different graphic design processes to encode the data I collected from the webcams. Many of them are subtle such as the use of a certain number of words. Espionage symbols cannot be blatant.
Everybody needs a better understanding of this secretive world, its actions, its actors and its spaces in order to challenge the concentration of invisible power. Therefore, I disseminated a series of instructions about how to produce collages using webcam data. For most ordinary people who are trapped in the unclassified universe, much will never be known. However, for a designer infiltrating this world, there is a lot to investigate. Aren’t you just a little bit curious?
1. Map of site of investigation and letters sent to this site.
2. Illustrations and scans from instructional zine.
3. Photocopier collages. These examples include a spy’s receipts.
4. Paper and textile (sublimation printing) process collages. The textile examples depict Agent Oleg Gordievsky.
5. Various analog and digital redaction experiments.
6. Collage making process (from left: webcam screenshots, webcam data in sketchbook and data represented using scanned objects)
7. 3 posters with analog elements (from left: scanned objects, a weaving and linocut symbols)
8. 3 digital collages.
9. All of the 78 ransom notes I have made.
10. All of the 100+ digital collages I have made during lockdown.