Can art make us safer?

BY William Brangham  November 10, 2013 at 4:14 PM EST

In this online exclusive, NewsHour Weekend takes a look back at Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s “Voice Tunnel” installation in New York City.

Amid ongoing revelations from documents leaked by Edward Snowden about how the government is monitoring some emails and phone calls, Americans are more attuned than ever about who might be listening in on their conversations.

So we were curious what would happen when an artist took over a tunnel in midtown Manhattan, inviting New Yorkers to come in and not only record their own voices — but to listen in on what others were saying. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Mexican-Canadian artist who often creates large public art installations. As part of New York City’s “Summer Streets” program, Lozano-Hemmer was given several weekends to take over the Park Avenue Tunnel and exhibit his “Voice Tunnel” project.

Amid continued suspicion about government surveillance, Lozano-Hemmer said he wants his work to use similar recording technologies and instead use them to create “environments that are poetic, or connective or critical … that bring us closer together.”

While acknowledging how idealistic his words may sound, Lozano-Hemmer believes art can play a role in binding people together. “Art is helping society create those cohesive bonds that ultimately make us safer,” he said.

“Voice Tunnel” ran for several consecutive weekends earlier this year.