Quoting, and paraphrasing Fred Richtin’s introduction of “After Photography”, we could say that “we’ve entered the surveillance era. And surveillance era came into us. We are not the same person of yore anymore. For better and for worse.” We live in a very complex age, endlessly on the line between exposure and invisibility, between the desire of watching (and to be watched) and the right to privacy.
The exhibition Seen, shown until the 1stof July at Wei- Ling Contemporary gallery of Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, presents an interesting reflection about these urgent issues. Surveillance is about the need of visibility as an ordering element of a chaotic space-time, that needs to be decoded, or shaped (aren’t they the same things, deep down?) to be kept an eye on.
The ubiquitous and all-knowing closed-circuit cameras, as those photographed by James Bridle around the London Congestion Charging Zone in Every CCTV camera (London), are the modern expression of an ancient wish: that of control the world. A challenge that sees men and images work together side by side, almost on the verge of the merger.
On the one hand, there are real-life watchers, as those shown by Victoria Binschtok in Suspicious Mind. In a kind of gaze lapse, the artist focuses on the security guards of important people in public spaces, filmed in their turn by the surveillance systems or the lens of the journalists.
This is a reference to the material dimensions of control, as shown in other two artworks. In H.H. Lim’s Target, the human being is reduced to a target, whereas in Portrait of Julia and in Winston and Julia Say Goodbye, Anurendra Jegadeva tries to represent the social inequalities and the power imbalances of our epoch with reference to Orwell’s“1984”.
On the other hand, there are real-time images from the various surveillance technology, desired and feared at the same time, as those of Ken Feinstein’s It’s not a vicious cycle, it’s a downward spiral. In this artwork, the author exposes the difficult status of this representations, and also their common belonging to the same socio-political context.
It becomes crucial and urgent to start asking the right questions. Who watches the watchers?is the title of Ivan Lam’s artwork, and a call for revolution and reciprocity of the vision as critical practices. A monition also present in Heater Dewey-Hagborg’s Stranger Visions, where she has generated 3D portraits of perfect strangers with an A.I., starting from genetic traces as burned cigarettes or chewed up gum.
A fascinating and controversial operation, that recalls the phantom of biological determinism hidden in a non-conventional use of these new technologies. Contemporary surveillance takes shape as a grey zone, a blurry and cryptic field of several and undetectable visual trajectories, like those hidden in Roger Ballen’s photos from the series Asylum of the birds.
How to elaborate resistance strategies in a similar context? The Missing T by Ahmet Ögüt is a little encoded opposition tale: a group of dismissed police officers of Tulum narrates their protests against the corruption of the government and the following job loss. The story, in fact, is code for their safety.
Paolo Cirio’s Obscurity is a media sabotage, in which the artist has cloned some popular American mugshot sites and then blurred the faces in the pictures; he also developed a draft legislation called Right to Remove, which claims the individual right to remove personal information from search engines on the web.
Maybe, not as much as today, art is responsible to participate in the contemporary debate and to be awake: who can understand the value of an image and of the image better than artists? Just returning the gaze we can nowadays be able to understand reality.