Bonnie Fan (2021)

This collaboration between critical technology collective coveillance with artists Wesleigh Gates and Maggie Oates unspools the story of intelligent city gentrification in Pittsburgh through participatory performance-based navigation of Northside’s tech hub, Nova Place.

In selecting Nova Place, coveillance members and artists drew upon practices of collaborative play, resistance to carceral technologies, and community-based art making to craft a walking tour experience of Nova Place as a representative site of Pittsburgh’s story of tech infrastructure and surveillance.

Community members, artists, and activists were invited to a convene in a [inaugural] walking tour of Nova Place. Through communal knowledge sharing, field guide artifacts, movement exchanges, and immersive roleplay, the tour traced the relationships between space, technology, and community – reclaiming the legibility of these infrastructures for communities to experience collectivity. 

Resistance to smart city gentrification in Pittsburgh has been enacted through campaigns such as PPT’s campaign against the autonomous Mon-Oakland shuttle corridor, calls to end surveillance by Black activists, and calls for accountability on university complicity in creating surveillance infrastructure. However, the full extent of entanglement in Pittsburgh and other urban spaces as an urban testing bed and branding of a “smart city” does not lend itself well to narrative work, which is particularly important for mobilizing and motivating collective community action.

Hear the selected reflections from participants about how walking through Nova Space can be different from being at their camps:

“I noticed a lot more things than camp, cause camp I gotta go there and…I wasn’t looking for anything. I’m there (I don’t wanna be there) [at camp]. But it was a different kind of feeling for the tour.” -Damar

“I thought it was really cool to stand in our first spot and see so many overlapping types of surveillance…I don’t normally pause to think about the ways my personal information is gathered” -Noah

“As a kid, I remember walking here and there was a little apple tree.” Did you eat them? “No! You threw them at the mall!” – Damon

“Those little street signs [utility markings]. They everywhere….” -Damar

“I think for this particular place (but it could be true anywhere), I’m thinking about how easy it is to move through it. I’ve patronized some of these businesses without thinking about the history…I haven’t thought about all the lives this space has had. So now I’ll never experience this place in the same way again. Both the history part and the surveillance part. It gave me more a sense of place and also unsettled the sense of place I might have had.” – Noah

“It wasn’t like a lecture. The information that yall had was- I wouldn’t say vital, but- I never knew that. Like all those sewers and telephone lines. I have seen it in movies, but…It was a good time.” – Damon