When: Thursday 19 April - Sunday 10 June
Where: MAMA, 546 Dean Street, Albury
The Watched considers the impact of contemporary forms of surveillance on daily life. Curated by Alex Gawronski, The Watched presents new work by Jasmin Guffond, Carla Cescon, Scott Donovan, Ronnie van Hout and Alex Gawronski.
Today, surveillance technologies are pervasive, whether we live in the city or country. Contemporary surveillance is often digital and therefore invisible taking the form of online computer tracking. Yet digital surveillance actually extends what Michel Foucault earlier noted in the architecture of the Panopticon - the tendency of individuals, under appropriate conditions, to regulate their behaviour as though being watched.
This exhibition approaches the ubiquity of modern surveillance from a variety of angles and moods. It includes predominantly new work as installation, architectonic sculpture, digital sound-art, documentary video and photography.
In 1982 Sophie Calle got a detective to follow her around Paris slowly developing a portrait of herself, getting him to take photos of her in her favourite places in an attempt to show proof of her own existence. She lamented that the photographs were only ever taken from afar or from behind, and that the report that went with the photos was simple. She called her work “The Shadow".
Carla's work ‘The Trail’ was conceived in essence as a re-enactment of Calle’s experiment, but shot in Sydney - different era, different location, different subject.
In the attempt to recreate Calle's work, the artist realised that 30 years on, the internet verifies much of our existence in the form of photos, catalogued events, marked places, and other references. The work became a personal thriller/drama in which the hired detective took surveillance photos, reported her movements and actions, as she moved about her familiar haunts and favourite places.
Ronnie Van HOUT
We live in a period where we willingly contribute to our own surveillance every time we log on, use a phone or a supermarket checkout. Our preferences, interests and locations are logged and analysed by algorithms such that our views are manipulated and marketed back to us in a feedback loop of user and provider. ‘The Follower’ is a figurative sculpture of the ‘artist as a young man’ caught up in the act of self-surveillance, riding a skateboard and toting a machine gun.
For the radical Left in Germany in the 1970s revolution was defined in terms of praxis which prioritised direct action over theoretical argument or due process in the struggle against a political system regarded as inherently corrupt. Any action against such a system could thus be justified as politically and morally valid.
The terrorist group the Baader-Meinhof Gang (of which Jan-Carl Raspe was a member) operated within this nebulous space performing a series of bank robberies, bombings, kidnappings and murders in Germany in the 1970s in a self-declared war against Capitalism and authoritarian government. Their revolution or praxis took the form of random, impulsive and increasingly violent actions with no clear agenda or practical outcome other than winning for the group some keenly-sought notoriety and inspiring a new (and more effective) generation of global terrorists. Their uncompromising stance and flamboyant personal style attracted many admirers, especially amongst the young, and when the group’s leaders died in seemingly suspicious circumstances in prison in 1977 their status as martyrs to the revolutionary cause was secured. Of course for many Germans, particularly the victims of their crimes, the group were little more than ruthless terrorists intent on destroying a system from which they had gained considerable privilege.
This ensemble of works collectively titled ‘Praxis’, combines found and original photographs to suggest a state of isolation and covert observation. The viewer is both participant and object caught in an involuntary cycle of surveillance and interrogation within the gallery walls and the banal urban spaces depicted.
When we think of contemporary surveillance, we often think of its demateralised digital forms, the constant surveillance of our online browsing habits, even the daily but generally unregistered intrusion of common CCTV surveillance. Contemporary surveillance takes other forms as well. Indeed, the self-regulating spaces of work, and the architecture that enables such everyday self-surveillance, represents one of the foremost manifestations of contemporary surveillance. Workplace architecture, particularly in its more contemporary ‘open-plan’ varieties, encourages perpetual surveillance, of the self and of co-workers. Everyone must be equally productive. At all times. Even if someone is not working they must at least appear to be.
The partitioning of work spaces that allows people to be seen, or partially seen from multiple vantage points throughout the day, reflects other architectures. Indeed, this philosophy of the demand for the constant visibility of urban subjects, stems in many respects from the example of Baron Von Haussmann the (in)famous urban renovator of Modern Paris. Haussmann’s revered boulevards are essentially military architecture: long wide streets impossible to barricade by anti-government insurgents. The enemy always in sight. ‘Untitled (Screen)’ is an articulated partition with eyeholes (absurdly) drilled at random heights. It speaks to a current scenario and economic regime that demands constant productivity. No wasted time. Those on either side of the partition, which is equally symbolic, are equally exposed to perpetual scrutiny. Are we doing enough? Does it matter?
This work, ‘Sonic Profiles’sonifies (transforms into sound) the meta-data from the twitter accounts of well-known public entities: Donald Trump, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, YouTube, CNN and the BBC.
By translating twitter meta-data into sound in real time, this sound work questions what it means, via the logic of data extraction, to be reduced to streams of data. How within contemporary surveillance systems, human bodies are abstracted into series of discrete flows of data that are then reassembled to create specific ‘profiles’ of the subjects of such surveillance. These effectively are our ‘data doubles’.
Contemporary surveillance is often digital and therefore invisible, taking the form of online computer tracking. Yet digital surveillance extends what Michel Foucault earlier noted in the architecture of the Panopticon - the tendency of individuals, under appropriate conditions, to regulate their behaviour as though being 'watched' at all times. ‘Sonic Profiles’ reflects on the extent to which we watch each other via social media platforms, and how the Panopticon in a contemporary context, rewards participation through the voluntary disclosure of personal information in exchange for online social and political capital.