Panopticon, meaning to observe (-opticon) all (pan-), is a metaphor encapsulating the numerous forms of surveillance used to watch and normalize social behavior. This exhibition investigates systems of observation utilized to record our daily lives through the deployment of both physical and invisible panoptic structures. Through artist projects and newly commissioned works, Panopticon explores notions of the gaze in our technological era of image and data collection.
Originally conceived as a system of supervision for laborers by Samuel Bentham and later re-envisioned as a structure for confinement by his better-known brother, Jeremy Bentham, the Panopticon is imbued with ideas of control and obedience. French philosopher Michel Foucault further traces the implications of this disciplinary mechanism not only as a penitentiary, but also as an effective structure for schools, hospitals, factories, malls, and so on, providing a diagram of power relationships that influence how societies establish law and order through concepts of vision.
Looking to the plurality of the Panopticon—as structure, theory, and icon—the works in this exhibition reveal the shifting relationships between discipline and governance, security and exposure.
Leoplod Kessler, Flying Police Capsule (2011), documents Kessler’s intervention in Singapore where one pod of the largest Ferris wheel in the world is marked with the word POLICE. The political and social implications of the sign seem credible at first, yet the slowness of the turning wheel presents an absurdity as the rotating capsule is converted into a mechanism of transgression. This and works by Willie Doherty, and Paolo Cirio further examine and scrutinize municipal authorities that have adopted and exploited systems of civic monitoring often at the expense of cultural identity.
Adam Harvey, Kate McQuillen and Trevor Paglen reflect on the precarious line between privacy and invasion. In his work They Watch the Moon (2010), Trevor Paglen engages with themes of surveillance through the depiction of a secret NSA listening station in the forest of West Virginia. Paglen’s documentation of this military operation reveals a contentious form of surveillance created through the capture of telemetry signals from around the globe. Similar to the controversial NSA data storage facility located in Bluffdale, Utah, Paglen’s work presents an image of governmental secrecy that strides the line between security and invasion.
For his series Untitled Security, Constant Dullaart uses a common window glass to slightly deform reality as a metaphor for the distortion of information caused by electronic modes of communication. Holding a humorous yet critical mirror to dominate systems of evaluation, Swedish artist Jonas Lund creates work that incorporates data and analysis of art world trends and behaviors, while artist Addie Wagenknecht examines cultural connections between technology and social interaction to express tensions between power and beauty. Each artist’s project speaks to this shifting paradigm of surveillance in the digital age, wherein governments and citizens alike are able to embody the all-seeing eye.
Such reciprocal systems of data collecting and analysis outline the current form of participatory supervision resulting from the culture of the monitoring gaze. Panopticon draws on new media observational methods to critically reinterpret how Bentham’s 18th-century design translates to concepts and representations of surveillance in the 21st century.
Curator: Rebecca Maksym
Participating artists: Shin Seung Back and Kim Yong Hun, Erik Brunvand, Mahwish Chishty, Paolo Cirio, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Willie Doherty, Constant Dullaart, Pablo Garcia, Adam Harvey, Leopold Kessler, Jonas Lund, Kate McQuillen, Trevor Paglen, Evan Roth, Addie Wagenknecht