Threads of Surveillance


Varvara Shavrova. Threads of Surveillance. Soft Drones Series.


My practice is focused on excavating the layers of history through the process of remembering, recalling, retracing and re-enacting stories.  In engaging memory, nostalgia and reflection, I create installations that make connections between historic and current narratives, between the archival and the present.

In my current work, I examine the symbols of power and authority whilst investigating their relationship to the individual. The process of empathy is the means of materializing the past into the present. The materiality of my installations is a comment on women’s labour, and include objects made of paper, thread, yarn and fabric, with methodologies of drawing, weaving, embroidery and knitting often combined with digital technologies and the moving image. Thematically, my work often investigates ‘borders’ in physical, geo-political and gendered terms.

In my new and ongoing Threads of Surveillance. Soft Drones Series (2020-2021),  I  examine the tools of surveillance, question the notion of privacy and address the meaning of civil liberties in the context of a pandemic. By the end of March 2020, nearly 3 billion people, or every 5th person on this planet, found themselves under total or partial lockdown. Quarantine enforcement, contact tracing, flow modelling and social graph-making are some of the data tools that are being used to tackle the covid-19 pandemic. In the various states of emergency that different countries around the world are experiencing today, mass surveillance is becoming normalised. As citizens, we are asked to sacrifice our right to privacy and to give up civil liberties in order to defeat the pandemic. What happens once the state of emergency is over?


Hovering on the intersection of historic appropriation and contemporary reflection, I develop ideas around tangible and intangible flying objects that conjure up various elements of surveillance mechanisms. The hand embroidered drawings of drones are sewn directly onto soft fabric used as interlining for drapery and curtains, thus evoking the sense of domesticity and comfort. That comforting sense of security and domesticity is in stark contrast with the objects that I am depicting, thus reflecting on the notion of surveillance that interferes with the very basics of our daily existence.


The process of making a drawing using thread refers to surveillance methodologies set up as domestic traps. The associations that I am developing are those of insects being trapped in webs, like a fly trapped in a spider’s web, or images of airplanes following flight charts, or surveillance and spy maps used by pilots. The threaded and embroidered drawings will be further developed into sculptural objects that will eventually inhabit the space around them, creating spiders web-like traps, with objects suspended, pulled and stretched within their physical environments, that will trick and lure the viewer inside them.

Artistic Resume


Varvara Shavrova is a visual artist born in the USSR who lives and works in Dublin and Berlin. Shavrova studied at the Moscow State University of Printing Arts, and received her Masters in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths, University of London. Shavrova’s project Inna’s Dream reinterprets the first Soviet amphibious aeroplane designed by her great uncle in 1930s as a site-specific installation at Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, London 2019, and at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford 2021. Mapping Fates, multi-media installation reflects on Shavrova’s family migration, and includes tapestries and sound, shown in V.I. Lenin’s apartment-museum in St. Petersburg 2017. The Opera portrays the gender fluidity in traditional Peking opera, shown at Temple Beijing and MOMENTUM Berlin 2016, Gallery of Photography Ireland 2014, Venice Biennale of Architecture 2014, Espacio Cultural El Tanque, Tenerife 2011. Shavrova received awards from Arts Council England, Arts Council Ireland, Culture Ireland, British Council, The Prince’s Trust. Shavrova curated multiple international exhibitions and projects, including The Sea is the Limit at York Art Gallery in 2018 and at Virginia Commonwealth University, Doha Qatar in 2019, and Map Games: Dynamics of Change at Today Art Museum, Beijing, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, UK and at CAOS Centre for Contemporary Arts, Terni, Italy in 2008-2010. Shavrova’s works are in public collections of the Office for Public Works and at the Department of Foreign Affairs Ireland, MOMENTUM Collection and IKONO-TV Berlin, Ballinglen Museum of Contemporary Art Ireland, Minsheng Art Museum Beijing, Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Museum of the History of St. Petersburg. Shavrova is represented by Patrick Heide Contemporary Art London. She is currently Artist in Residence at MOMENTUM Berlin.