The Citizenfour filmmaker collaborates with dissident artists Ai Weiwei and Jason Appelbaum on an art-project in Beijing.

The Citizenfour filmmaker collaborates with dissident artists Ai Weiwei and Jason Appelbaum on an art-project in Beijing.

Jason Appelbaum and Ai Weiwei are products of the surveillance era. Both have spoken out against the way their respective countries’ governments monitor citizens. Both have been politically persecuted as a consequence.

Ai Weiwei has been detained, questioned, and beaten by the police for his outspoken views. He can no longer leave China because they have taken away his passport. Jason Appelbaum has been advised not to return to the United States following several detentions at the airport for his involvement with WikiLeaks. But they refuse to be silenced.

Both familiar with being under constant surveillance, the two artists collaborated on an art project, “Panda to Panda,” where they stuffed toy pandas with shredded NSA documents and an SD card containing a backup of those documents.

The project explores what it means to be watched, and how watching the watcher engenders a shift in the power play of the situation; a zone of counter-surveillance. Appelbaum and Weiwei constantly filmed and photographed each other during the project in Weiwei’s studio in Beijing.

Laura Poitras, perhaps now best known for her Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour on Edward Snowden, documented the encounter — adding her own layer to the hyper surveillance — in an op-doc (opinion documentary) for the New York Times.

The art project was commissioned by Rhizome and the New Museum in New York. Jason Appelbaum explains the story behind the project in the video below.