ORGANIC SURVEILLANCE: Security, Myth & the Rural 

Organic Surveillance is a creative research (research-creation) project that reveals surveillance practices in rural townships and forested hinterland areas in Northern  Ontario, specifically the town of Markstay (Municipality of Markstay/Warren). The analysis of surveillance in rural areas in under represented in surveillance studies. In fact, this project is one of the first scholarly interventions that not only includes creative methodologies, but also explores surveillance as a mechanism that permeates spaces outside of urban centres. This project illustrates a shift from traditional deterrence and surveillance practices, to technological surveillance practices that I anticipate are influenced by CCTV cameras and contemporary surveillance technologies. Additionally, this project interrogates the ways forested and rural areas stimulate a larger conversation about surveillance and preemption in Canada. By looking at surveillance instigated by property owners and rural towns, this project explores surveillance as a preemptive strategy in a broader context. 

This creative research project has found that rural land owners use hunting cameras, marked trees, electric fences, and gates (amongst other forms of deterrence and surveillance technologies) as methods of protecting their property (including livestock) from human and non-human animal trespassers. Risks outlined by participants of this study include (not limited to) trespassers injuring themselves in trails, motor vehicles  (four wheelers, snow machines) using trails, theft, fire, and hunting accidents/injuries. 


 Ultimately, Organic Surveillance explores the ways that cultural objects and art critically engage with political, municipal and social conversation. Throughout this site you will find site-specific installations, video, and mixed media projects, as methods of revealing surveillance in rural areas. Here, the artistic practice and process is research in itself (Erin Manning, 2016). This project also considers how surveillance technology is used artistically to critique its original use. I call this a form of creative function-creep.  These productions act as a visual translation of knowledge that encourages viewer interaction, critique and intervention. The larger research context of this project intersects with my interests in precarious privacy, surveillance culture,security, privacy and property.


I have created this website to visually represent the installations and images I’ve produced on private property. Viewers would not have the opportunity to see these installations in person without trespassing, therefore this website acts as a method of looking into these landscapes without vulnerability. This website also allows community members who participated in this project to engage with the findings whenever needed. 



Stéphanie McKnight (Stéfy) is white-settler artist-scholar based in Katarokwi/Kingston Ontario. Her creative practice and research focus in on policy, activism, governance, and surveillance trends in Canada and North America. Within her research, she explores creative research as methodology, and the ways that events and objects produce knowledge and activate their audience. Recent exhibitions include “…does it make a sound” at Gallery Stratford; “Park Life” at MalloryTown Landing and Thousand Islands for LandMarks 2017/Repères 2017, “Traces” at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, “ORGANIC SURVEILLANCE: Security & Myth in the Rural” at the Centre for Indigenous Research-Creation and “Hawk Eye View” at the Tett Centre for Creativity and Learning.  In 2018, her work Hunting for Prey received an honorable mention for the inaugural Surveillance and Society Art FundPrize.

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

I acknowledge that the preliminary creative research in this paper was conducted on Robinson-Huron Treaty territory and the traditional territory of the Atikameksheng Anishnaabeg (Markstay/Warren Ontario). Further research and writing of this paper was produced on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties (Katarokwi/Kingston Ontario).

© 2019 by STÉFY mcknight

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