Five Eyes is an installation by James Bridle at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

It is part of All of This Belongs to You, which runs until 19 July 2015.

The installation consists of five showcases containing objects selected from the V&A's collection, together with files from the V&A's archives.

The objects in these five cases have been chosen by a software programme designed to seek out unexpected connections between things - the same programme which runs this website. These connections are made through other objects, represented by the archive files, which record the provenance of everything in the museum. Having analysed 1.4 million digital records in the V&A’s collection, the system has selected these objects to tell five stories about the history of intelligence, and the alliance of English-speaking intelligence agencies known as the Five Eyes.

The way in which we order museums tells us as much about ourselves as the things they contain. Museums, software programmes and intelligence agencies are all models of the world. Who designs and operates them, whose politics they embody, and whose stories they tell, shape the world we all inhabit. If these institutions really belong to us, they must be more than experienced; they must be understood.


The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), established in 1947, is the Australian government intelligence agency responsible for signals intelligence and information security. From its listening posts at Shoal Bay in the Northern Territory and the Cocos Islands it monitors Indonesian and other Asian governments, as well as marine traffic in the Timor Sea.

  • Head Band, 1922, France
    Given by the painter and Art Nouveau expert Martin Battersby in 1967, this diamanté headband is decorated with feathers from the Victoria crowned pigeon. Named after Queen Victoria, the bird is native to New Guinea, where it grows up to 75cm tall. Due to hunting and logging in its natural habitat, the pigeon is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, meaning it faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future. It is also listed in Appendix II of the CITES agreement which controls trade in endangered animals.
  • Boomerangs, Ca. 1850, India
    The boomerang, usually considered an icon of Australia, has its origins in the throwing sticks of Europe and Ancient Egypt. These examples come from India, where they are known as katariya. Made by the Koli people of Gujarat, a historically disadvantaged caste, they were primarily used for hunting birds. Along with a variety of Indian artworks and weaponry, they were originally acquired by the East India Company’s Indian Museum, and then taken on by the V&A in 1879.
  • Nutcrackers, CA. 1950, UK
    These nutcrackers were donated to the museum by their manufacturer, J&J Wiggin of Bloxwich, as examples of stainless steel artefacts. They were designed by Robert Welch for the gift shop of the SS Oriana, the largest ship of the Orient Line. Between 1866 and 1974 the Orient Line carried hundreds of thousands of passengers between Southampton and Australia, many of them in only one direction.

Explore the Australia Stack


The Communications Security Establishment (CSE, French: Centre de la sécurité des télécommunications, CST) was formed in Ottawa in 1946. In October 2013, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff accused the Canadian intelligence agency of industrial espionage, including targeting phone calls and emails to and from the country’s mines and energy ministry. Many Canadian mining companies have interests in Brazil, and the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA) has also been accused of spying on the state-run oil company Petrobras, and Rousseff herself.

  • Statuette, 1700-1750, Mexico
    Purchased by a Captain R. Hollocombe in Mexico in the 1920s, and subsequently bought by the museum for £40 in 1927, the origins of this lion are obscure. Carved of ivory and said to have been excavated in Mexico, it was originally believed to represent the Lion of St Mark of Venice. The small holes on its back were taken as evidence of it having borne wings and it was dated to the thirteenth or fourteenth century. However, later analysis noted a resemblance to lions with semi-human faces exported to Mexico from South America in the eighteenth century and associated with the story of St Jerome.
  • Purificador, 1770-99, Brazil
    This gold censer comes from the eastern Brazilian state of Bahia. Gold was particularly favoured by the Brazilian upper classes following its discovery in the eastern provinces of the country in the first half of the eighteenth century. This item was purchased at auction in New York in 1994 by Sir Arthur Gilbert, a London-born entrepreneur. Gilbert made his fortune developing properties in Los Angeles and amassed one of the world’s largest private art collections before donating it in its entirety to Britain.
  • Hat, 1945-50, UK
    This hat belonged to Monica Maurice, and was given to the museum along with many other items by her family. In 1938 Maurice became the first – and until 1979, only – female member of the Association of Mining Electrical Engineers. She was managing director of the Wolf Safety Lamp Company, which made lighting for many Yorkshire collieries, owned a number of racing cars she drove herself, and was a member of the York Aviation Flying Club.

Explore the Canada Stack

New Zealand

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB, Maori: Te Tira Tiaki) was created in 1977. New Zealand’s remote location and the nature of high-frequency radio propagation mean that it can at times pick up signals from remote parts of the world which are undetectable closer to their source. In the 1980s, the GCSB’s monitoring posts at Tangimoana and Waihopai were used to monitor French nuclear tests in the South pacific, and to track the yacht on which French intelligence agents escaped after bombing and sinking the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior.

  • Atomic Man, 1976, Hong Kong
    Action Man was launched in 1966 by British toy company Palitoy and whose archive the V&A acquired in 1985. Originally based on Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, the first Action Man figures included soldiers, sailors, and pilots dressed in WWII and Korean War uniforms. Unlike G.I. Joe, who turned from soldier to adventurer following the Vietnam War, Action Man kept up his war against the Germans and others into the 1980s. The Atomic Man variant, which arrived in 1977, featured nuclear-powered cyborg body parts inspired by the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man.
  • Doll, 1975, New Zealand
    This doll was purchased by Mr and Mrs Drewitt on a trip to New Zealand in 1975, and donated to the Museum of Childhood with a collection of toys from around the world. The doll’s face is decorated with ta moko, the traditional face and body markings of the Maori which denote social status and rank, as well as beauty. In the nineteenth century, preserved Maori heads decorated with moko became highly prized trade items to exchange with the European colonists in return for firearms and ammunition.
  • Fragments, 1800-1900, Korea
    In Korea in the Choson period precious blue and white ceramics, glazed with dyes imported from China, were used in the households of the upper echelons of society: at court and among the literati. These sherds were collected by Sheila Hoey Middleton from the grounds of the British Embassy in Seoul, where her husband Lawrence served as ambassador. They were discovered when the embassy’s tennis court was resurfaced in the 1980s, and appear to have come from the nearby Deoksugung Palace, home of the last Emperors of Korea.

Explore the New Zealand Stack

United Kingdom

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was established after the First World War and was known as the Government Code and Cypher School until 1946. Together with the National Security Agency (NSA), GCHQ operates a listening post on the atolls of the British Indian Ocean Territory. This overseas territory was created in 1965 following the independence of Mauritius and Seychelles. Its former inhabitants, the Chagos Islanders, were forcibly resettled and the American military occupied the largest island, Diego Garcia. In 2010, the Chagos Marine Reserve was established by the British Government in order to prevent the islanders returning.

  • Bracelets, Before 1868, Ethiopia
    The Abyssinian Expedition of 1867-8 was the first British military action to be accompanied by photographers, in order to produce images for encouraging support at home. At the conclusion of the campaign, objects taken from the fortress of the Emperor Tewodros at Magdala and elsewhere were brought to London and put on display at the South Kensington Museum, the precursor to the V&A. These bracelets belonged to Tewodros’s widow, Queen Woyzaro Terunesh, who died shortly after the British victory.
  • Figurine, ca. 1822, UK
    Bernardin de St. Pierre’s 1788 novel Paul et Virginie describes the French colonial island of Mauritius as a haven of peace and equality. Published just before the French Revolution, the book closely follows the Enlightenment philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who called for man to return to a state of nature in opposition to both royal power and private ownership. This figure depicts the popular actress, singer and theatre manager Madame Vestris playing Paul in the 1822 London stage adaptation of the book.
  • Begging bowl, Before 1876, India
    This carved bowl was originally described in the South Kensington Museum’s registers as a ‘dervish’s wallet’, as receptacles of this type were used to carry alms by Muslim mendicant holy men. It is made from one quarter of a double coconut or coco-de-mer, the largest seed in the world and endemic to only two of the 115 Seychelle islands in the Indian Ocean. These enormous seeds were first known to Europeans only from specimens found floating in the sea and were given the designation ‘maldivica’ under the belief that they originated in the Maldives.

Explore the UK Stack

United States of America

The National Security Agency (NSA) was officially formed by President Harry S. Truman in 1952, succeeding the Black Chamber of the 1920s, and the WWII-era Signal Security Agency. The NSA operates outposts across the world, including many on British territory. As well as eavesdropping and online surveillance, the NSA is responsible for developing and implementing the cryptographic products which underpin US military and diplomatic activities.

  • Bottle, 1750-1600 BC, Cyprus
    This terracotta bottle was acquired by the Museum from the collection of Luigi Palma di Cesnola, United States consul at Larnaca in Cyprus (1865-1877) and later the first director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Cesnola acquired many objects from the tombs and temples of Kourion, one of Cyprus’s most important archeological sites. Despite the protests of the Ottoman Government, many of these were sold on the international market. Today, Kourion lies within the Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area, part of the British Overseas Territory of Akrotiri and Dhekelia.
  • Sword, 1903-1939, UK
    Given to the Theatre Museum by Mrs Evelyn Disher, whose husband was a critic, this prop sword or ‘gladio’ was made for the Gaiety Theatre in London. The Gaiety opened on the Strand in 1864 and in the 1890s pioneered the Edwardian musical comedies which were to have a lasting influence on the London stage. A Gaiety Girl (1893) was the first of a series of musicals which revolved around poor girls attempting to marry upwards in society. The theatre’s celebrated chorus line, known as the Gaiety Girls, became renowned for doing just that. The theatre’s fictions both precipitated and reproduced changing social mores.
  • Badge, ca. 1880, UK
    This badge was made for a member of the Ancient and Accepted Rite of Freemasonry, in the event of them attaining the eighteenth degree of the society, called the Rose Croix of Heredom. As with much Masonic insignia, the design incorporates many references and allusions. These include the pelican which pierces its own breast to feed its young and the legend of the mystic Scottish mountain Heredom where the builders of the Temple at Jerusalem took refuge. The Rosy Cross itself has its symbolic origin in the anti-Catholic secret societies of seventeenth-century Europe.

Explore the USA Stack

The installation is located in the Tapestry Gallery, Room 94. The V&A is free to visit, open 10.00 to 17.00. More visitor information.