|SOURCE:||Artweek 31 no9 13-19 S 2000|
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I woke up to the fact that technology is ever increasingly threatening our notions of privacy when a friend from high school whom I hadn't seen in over a decade contacted me out of the blue. It was a joyful surprise to hear from her, but puzzling nonetheless. "How did you locate me? I'm not listed in the phone book," I asked. "I just looked you up on Yahoo! People Search," she countered. "It gave me your phone number and e-mail." It was downright sobering to realize that the Internet holds a great deal of information about ourselves that we might not necessarily wish to share with the public at large. Go ahead and conduct a search on yourself on Google. Surprised at what it brings up? Don't be. These search engines only list information about you that has voluntarily been registered by your work, school or other organization with which you are affiliated. The fact of the matter is, there are other, more insidious forces at play within our information infrastructure that are perpetually collecting data from unsuspecting consumers without our even being aware of their existence. And what is being done with this information? How can we be certain that it won't fall into the wrong hands? These are some of the unsettling questions that are often raised by the participants of a surveillance society.
There is no escaping the fact that surveillance cameras are omnipresent in our lives, that our most basic, daily activities, from withdrawing money from a cash machine, to making a phone call or using a credit card, are recorded somewhere, by some institution or another, and stored in some corporation's database. From a social standpoint, what does it imply for us to be living in a state of surveillance, where our every move is tracked, from our use of ATM machines, to our navigations on the Internet? Are we seized by a sense of paranoia or are we reassured by the security systems that monitor our daily activities? Do we shy away from the presence of cameras or are we becoming increasingly exhibitionistic as a society? Furthermore, is it possible to counter the presence of such invasive technologies through subversive, yet creative means?
The artists highlighted in this special section address issues of surveillance in their work, often turning a critical eye upon its prevalence within contemporary society. Owen O'Toole's article examines the rise of surveillance video in the commercial world, chronicling its gradual appropriation by video artists who have been able to subvert it as a creative tool. In her examination of Laurie Long's Dating Surveillance Project, Alicia Miller addresses the powerful dynamic of voyeurism and exhibitionism in our society, investigating the construction of personal identity under the unforgiving gaze of the camera. The photographer Lewis Baltz chooses to portray chilling landscapes controlled by surveillance technology. In my discussion of his work, I refer to Foucault's theories of totalitarian surveillance techniques, demonstrating how the institutional state holds control over its citizenry under rubric of maintaining safety and security. Lastly, David Goldberg's article addresses the impact of electronic surveillance, highlighting the work of several artists who challenge e-commerce "consumer profiling" practices and introduce subversive perspectives and anti-marketing messages into the communication and presentation technologies of our networked culture.
It's a given that surveillance is here to stay, and that our sense of privacy will continually be breached by its existence. But the artists profiled here appeal to the voyeur within every one of us, demonstrating that it can be somewhat empowering, not to mention extremely entertaining to be on the side of the camera, where we can be privy to the gaze of surveillance's electronic eye.
THE ARTIST IS WATCHING BACK
By Owen O'Toole
Since Sony's introduction of the video Portapak in 1968, artists have been exploring ways in which video, so often aesthetically linked to the commercial complex of television production, can actually express the personal, the poetic, the sculptural and the political. Video is unique from film in its immediacy; the tape can be rewound and viewed instantly after recording, then recorded over again, unlike film which preserves a one-time record of events and must be chemically developed. Video recording is particularly well-suited to the long watch of documentary coverage, while film has been used more often to record and add cinematic flourish to premeditated drama or to rigorous plastic montage.
A fascinating use of the video apparatus, something noted right off by artists and business interests, is what is called "closed-circuit television." The camera serves almost as an intercom, connected by wire to a distant television or monitor for viewing. No recording unit is necessary, just a camera and a monitor. This was seized by the business world as a marvelous security device and the era of surveillance video was born. Artists have used television's closed-circuit potential since that beginning. An amazing aspect of our market-culture is that these mass-produced tele-envisioning machines have gotten out into the hands of so many creative people. While the security-state minded world of business and finance viewed their surveillance apparatus as protection from external, or internal employee threats (and installed it everywhere), artists have elegantly used video's reflexive properties for self-portraiture; it has proven a medium with a capacity to be every bit as beautiful as painting (Mary Lucier, Bill Viola). The artist finds wonderful use for a machine which otherwise is used to blend, chop and grind.
Ray Beldner, primarily a sculptor and installation artist, has done a number of works commenting on corporate uniformity. Surveillance appears as one aspect of the new urban landscape in which we have come to accept a man-made or mirror image of the world as the totality of our relations with nature. Beldner cleverly clusters channels of closed-circuit video beside monitors playing back prerecorded material to multiply and confuse the sense of live action. He also curated On The Money, a show in which artists altered legal tender, raising issues of "who is watching or reporting," since defacing money is illegal. Beldner's sewing of dollar bills into a sack to carry horse dung is a clear editorial statement, hopefully supported by the First Amendment. Other Beldner installations find racks of business suits standing for populations of office-commuting, white-collar workers. One popular piece, Converse/Confer/Conceit, has pigeon cages built above suit racks, allowing pigeon guano to paint the shoulders of the drab uniforms, revitalizing them. The effects of a society of surveillance are bound tightly to the technology.
Of course, video cameras have become expert witnesses in cases against overly violent security forces (Rodney King). Even more so than film, the video camera gives anyone the power of being the "roving reporter," stirring up dirt or just being in the right place at the right time. Some strange contradictions are at hand, in which utopian possibilities of unfettered creativity and self-awareness meet seemingly opposed notions of "big brother watching," the dystopian present of a market-driven planet as viewed through TV-Darwinism, and the artist is watching back.
Kim Trang's videotape Ocularis: Eye Surrogates serves as a miniature history of surveillance in a mere twenty-one minutes. Trang set up a 1-800 number and invited the public to call in episodes of surveillance from their lives, then wove those voices together with a variety of mundane video material, everyday camcorder shots slowed down or shot from above to simulate surveillance-mode, including footage of driving and waving at friends in another car (who also have a camcorder handy!). "Surveillance is kind of funny because it creates anxiety and boredom simultaneously. The searching gaze is anxious because surveillance is a form where one watches for something to go wrong. But it's also stultifying watching monotonous footage of real-time video," state the voice-overs. The tape is an argument for the basic joys of the video camera while also carrying several warnings on the box: Always have camcorder ready in case of imminent disaster!
I think that a definition of art could be 'paying attention.'
Since 1984, Orwell's prophetic year, surveillance has increasingly been the subject-content of video artists' work. In 1987, Branda Miller and Deborah Irmas curated an extensive exhibit at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions titled SURVEILLANCE. The show was a major survey of such work and presented videotapes, photographs and installations. Miller expressed the purpose of the show as "stimulating the viewer to look beyond the fetishistic examination of the technology itself in favor of the multifaceted information gathering process' greater implications." The show was international in scope and featured many artists, including John Baldessari, Louis Hock, Martha Rosler and Michael Klier. The catalog even included a Freedom of Information Act kit, with a form and instructions on how to obtain FBI files.
With the advent and growth of cable television, Americans--those who watch the tube--have been fed a diet of image-content which demands more and more of the same, feeding a voyeuristic syndrome which has peaked in the confrontation and exhibition of daytime talk shows like "Sally Jesse Raphael" and "Jerry Springer." MTV's "The Real World" plugged into the fever for so-called "reality TV" which now harvests cash crop with "Survivor" and "Big Brother" (though locking a group of strangers in a house, or island, and observing them like rats, or watching them eating rats seems a rather forced hand of reality). The blossoming Internet has also absorbed its weight of this surveillance-exhibition culture drift. Eyeball cameras and CU-See-Me software have turned college kids in dorm rooms into cyberspace celebrities available for viewing 24-hours-a-day. Charge it to your VISA and help pay my college tuition. Thank you!
Video art has finally been entering the museum canon with big shows such as Seeing Time (selections from the Kramlich collection) at SFMOMA, and of course, Nam June Paik's Guggenheim show in New York, which may have been the art event of the year. In 1999, the M. H. de Young Museum invited curator Glen Helfand and artists to examine the museum from the inside out in an exhibition titled Museum Pieces. "The artists and I were, outside of practical restrictions, given an impressive amount of free reign. We scrambled through the attic, poked into files, gained access to security cameras, and navigated the internal bureaucracies," states Helfand in his voice-over narrative for the Museum Pieces video produced by artists Sergio De La Torre and Julio Morales. An installation by De La Torre and Morales that was included in the exhibition, mixed active surveillance video on an elegant rear-screen sculpture, making fun of the surveillance pre-occupation of institutions while offering up its aestheticised future.
San Francisco and its southern Silicon Valley are at ground zero for the testing and questioning of this new media. Micro-technology develops and is used to support moving-image art in museums and galleries at just the time when we begin to move away from image in general. Steve Seid, curator of video at UC Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, spoke of "a surveillance that doesn't necessarily involve moving images." For instance, Seid talked about a recent computer surveillance program called Spector: "Spector is more along the lines of where things are going. A lot of surveillance is displaced out of the image-world that we tend to think of. It's going towards the informational rather than the image, collating more and more data about everyone. It's more about consumption than policing." We've become trained through media saturation to police ourselves. "The kind of thing Safeway does when you belong to their club. They not only know what you buy, but when you do. Analysis gets into finer and finer detail, data becomes a (virtual) image of you. They no longer need an image or picture."
The Bureau of Inverse Technology is a collective of artists working in close critique with science and technology. The videotape bitPlane is a remarkable work, an austere piece of surveillance video which manages to nose-in on the current state of technology from a new angle. Using a remote-controlled model plane equipped with a low-res video cam and transmitter, the Bureau invaded industrial airspace over the hi-tech campuses of Silicon Valley's major corporations, giving us a chaotic aerial mapping of the source-landscape of so much of our current technical necessities; a beautiful piece of pirate-radio surveillance. In her discussion of the Bureau's projects, theorist Natalie Jeremienko asks, "What is the political fabric of the information age? And what interventions can be made in a place where economics gets equated with politics, where diversity is rendered in homogeneous database fields, and where consumption forms identity?"
Seid counters with a sobering glimpse into the future of consumer profiling: "You can go to a boutique on the Web, punch in your dimensions here, and they customize a mannequin with your dimensions. They put the blouse on you!"
Owen O'Toole is a filmmaker and sound artist living in Northern California.
SCREEN TEST: LAURIE LONG'S DATING RITUALS
By Alicia Miller
Having just finished watching "Sex and the City," I pop in one of the videos from Laurie Long's Dating Surveillance Project. This one is a series of brief snippets from Long's videotaped dates. It works pretty well as a low-tech, up close and personal version of HBO's hit show. Instead of hearing Sarah Jessica Parker recount the painful dates of all her friends, we get to sit-in on some of Long's. The tape is filled with the kind of inane conversations, over-excited giggling and false bravado that make first dates, and dates in general, such a universally excruciating experience. When installed, this video, along with another of Long talking to herself in the mirror about how the date is going, accompany the still images culled from the tapes. The project examines the painfully vulnerable area of dating through the novel approach of surveillance, and the results are funny, disconcerting, and at times, poignantly sad.
The Dating Surveillance Project came about out of Long's genuine, if naive, belief that, as a busy, ambitious working artist, the only way she might meet someone was if she made dating the subject of her next art project. Surveillance seemed an obvious choice, as the aims of both dating and surveillance, Long argues, are curiously similar. Dating "is really a spy mission," Long says. "You're doing reconnaissance on this person, trying to find out if someone ... is an appropriate mate...." Long kept thinking about Jim Phelps in "Mission Impossible," and the surveillance photographs that always came in the packet at the beginning of each episode. She decided to sew a tiny surveillance camera into a black vinyl jacket that would become known as the "spy coat." She would use this to videotape her dates. The approach was in keeping with Long's desire to be a spy in her own life, a persona she had tried on in her earlier series Becoming Nancy Drew.
In this body of work, Long re-created scenes from Nancy Drew mysteries, playing the title role herself which required her to literally transform her physical self to fit the description of the girl detective. Long's assumption of the Nancy Drew character, "facilitated my search for self within the framework of a constructed identity." Within the confines of this character, Long attempted to mark out the territory of her own identity, arguing for the integrity of the self in the face of convention and cultural stereotypes, while at the same time, learning the strength of the feminine roles that the perky, independent girl detective represented. Though the work is photographic, it involves a strong element of performance as does Long's present Dating Surveillance Project. This performative element in both pieces points to an important aspect of Long's work--the investigation and deconstruction of persona, that culturally defined exterior self which stands as cover and facade for our inner psyche. It both hides and protects us as we make our way in the world. But it is also that which separates us from others and sometimes from our real selves, creating alienation. The DSP provides an intimate look in on the machinations of our personas at a most heightened moment--when we are trying to impress and attract someone else.
Dating creates a heightened and in many ways artificial environment for interaction, one ideal for examining who we like to think we are. We try to be a better version of ourselves--prettier, wittier, more certain and self-assured. Long has said that, "The persona that is presented to dates is often what we think will be met with approval, liking and attraction ... I ... respond to him in ways that I think will pique his interest, creating an identity that will enhance his desire for me ... You sometimes don't know for sure if your date wants you, you only know if you do or don't want him, and have to act accordingly, risking humiliation, rejection and ill feelings on both sides." It is indeed a dangerous mission. Long says that, "Dating is a great leveler; it reduces everyone to the same level of idiocy." This can be hard to face, (as Long says, "over and over, [and] also in slow motion,") since we never live up to our expectations of how suave we'd really like to be. What comes across most forcefully in the DSP tapes is a rising sense of alienation which pervades the project as a whole. The personas we see in this surveillance are barriers rather than doors to the inner self, and the more the viewer sees, the more separate these people seem. The stills increase this sense of alienation even further, isolated as they are from the "real-time" context of the videos.
There is a scene in one of the surveillance tapes in which Long first embarks on the interior monologue that is an essential component of the project--a break in the date, when Long goes to the women's room and discusses her date with herself looking into the mirror. The first time that she does this, she enters the bathroom and finds it full of other women to whom she details her project by way of explaining why she is talking to herself. The scene is hysterical as the women hoot and holler in disbelief, distinctly proud of the subversive approach of Long's project. It brings to the fore the power relations that inevitably arise around who gets to look at whom. Long has been confronted with some very contentious audiences who take issue with the assumed liberties she has taken in videotaping these men (her dates). But very shortly into the project, Long began to tell her dates about what she would be doing, and entail their complicity to deflect such criticism. The DSP is far less about the power relations of looking than about what is revealed when one looks at oneself. Long is, ultimately, always at the center of her project--both surveillant and surveilled--and the DSP is richly self-referential, looping back always on its maker.
The use of surveillance as a means of identity construction has been explored by other artists, most notably Sophie Calle. Calle has also played out the spy persona in her work. In L'Homme Au Carnet (1983), Calle constructs the identity of a man whose address book she apparently found in the street by conducting interviews with everyone listed in it. Her resulting texts were published very publicly in the newspaper, and even though a pseudonym is used, the described man recognizes himself and denounces her, publishing a nude picture of her which he claims to have found in the same street that Calle found his address book. How else to strike back? L'Hotel (1981) has Calle working as a chambermaid, investigating the private accoutrements of the people whose rooms she cleans. And in another project, Calle turns her spying on herself, having her mother hire a private detective to report on her actions. All of Calle's work circulates around the question of what we can determine about someone by watching them--without knowing them. Who are we from the outside? What does our public persona say about us? And what does privacy mean in this context?
Video artist Paul Pfeiffer has written that, "The mechanics of perception and the formation of identity have always been intimate bedfellows." ("Quod Nomen Mihi Est?: Excerpts From a Conversation With Satan," Felix: A Journal of Media Arts and Communication, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1999.) Who doesn't glance at their reflection in a window or mirror when they pass, trying to catch that momentary glimpse of how other people see them? Identity is not simply what's inside, but rather the sum total of inside and out. Our persona is a window into our psyche in many ways and it is through this window that Long tries to look in the DSP. She watches herself as much as we watch her, and it is important that the project is punctuated by interludes of Long talking to herself in private. Always opening with a moment of Long looking in the mirror at herself, checking her hair or lipstick, these monologues are reflective moments. The stills which Long has made from these sequences are iconic images of vulnerability and alienation. It is notable that the viewer sees Long only as a mirror image in this project, a reflection of the real flesh and blood person that she is. That the monologues, ultimately, reveal very little--"He's nice," "I'm having a really good time"--subverts the viewer's voyeuristic satisfaction. We want more revealed. This is the promise of surveillance: revelation, epiphany, knowledge. What we are left with is a growing sense of separation from what we watch, an inability to really enter and mine the reality of these scenes. The technology mediating Long's interactions provide a record for review, but in the end, what we find on tape is not person but persona, and in this sense, we never really see Long or her dates but rather only the ritual of dating.
Long took some time off in the middle of the project because she was feeling the need to get some distance. She went in believing that she would get a body of work out of the project and a boyfriend. But all that watching took its toll. In choosing to do the DSP, Long forced this usually hidden private realm of one's life into very public viewing. The force of such a choice was something Long hadn't quite considered. "The whole question of challenging my sense of personal privacy and my boundaries, I didn't think would even be a question. It ended up being very critical to me ... I knew it was all about me, but I didn't realize it was all about me in my most awkward, uncomfortable and vulnerable moments." The view from the outside that Long pursues in the DSP can be a shattering one. Surveillance offers us a chance to see what others see, but as Julia Meltzer and Lesley Wahl have pointed out, the "Technological imagination extends the fascism of the body. As retinal reflexes destroy archaic ego mechanisms, what is received is surface after surface after surface ... insufficient for self-projection." ("Stethoscopophilia," Felix: A Journal of Media Arts and Communication, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1999.) This surface separates us from our self, and the image we become is difficult to reconcile with what we want to be, fracturing person and persona. The rupture reflects the broader struggle for connection that we all encounter as we look for love and hope for some unity of self with another.
Alicia Miller is the Associate Director of SF Camerawork and a freelance writer based in San Francisco.
LANDSCAPES OF SOCIAL CONTROL
By Berin Golonu
An article published in Wired magazine a few years ago on the topic of surveillance profiled downtown Baltimore as a crime-ridden area that had installed surveillance cameras on its street corners to foster a more secure environment. Baltimore was trying to boost its credibility and turn itself into a city where its workers wouldn't desert the streets after dark for fear of getting mugged. It was hoping to develop a nightlife. The flipside to reducing crime in downtown Baltimore was the fact that its residents would be under the constant watchful eye of these ever-present video cameras. Would this induce a sense of security or a sense of paranoia in the average, law-abiding citizen? David Lyon raises such a question in his book The Electronic Eye: The Rise of Surveillance Society (University of Minnesota Press, 1994), coming to the conclusion that we are fooled into accepting the fact that surveillance devices are utilized for our own good. The lack of resistance to public surveillance, he states, is due to the fact that many of its achievements are viewed as social benefits.
Could our acceptance and increasing use of surveillance devices also be caused by apathy? By the fact that it is impossible for us to avoid the presence of these invasive surveillance devices in our lives, whether it be at the bank, at the corner store, in the lobby of our office building or the entranceway of our condominium? Is the surveillance camera a weapon for the neighborhood crime watch or the watchful eye of our collective conscience? The philosopher Michel Foucault observed the darker forces at play behind the gaze of the "electronic eye" that Lyon describes. In his essay "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison," Foucault described the modern use of surveillance, adopted in place of brutal public punishment, as being a tool to enforce social control. The panopticon prison plan can be viewed as a prototype of electronic surveillance. Developed by Jeremy Bentham, the panopticon's architecture called for a central tower in which an observer scrutinized the system's occupants both singly and collectively. "Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable," observed Foucault, so that the members of the panopticon "will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon." However, "the inmate [would] never know whether he is being looked on at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so."
The panopticon architectural plan has been successfully implemented in the design of the Twin Towers correctional facility in Los Angeles, and it is gaining popularity in prisons nation-wide. The design of the circular prison plan, in which inmates are viewed by a single, centrally placed guard, is incredibly efficient, keeping the guard-to-inmate ratios low. Foucault considered the panoptican plan to be a model for totalitarian surveillance techniques, not only in the prison system, but within society at large. While it is impossible for police to keep an entire population under continuous surveillance, observed Foucault, it may be possible to foster enough paranoia within the individual mind raising fears that he might be under surveillance at any given moment, thus causing such an individual to police themselves, and encouraging them to submit to the ruling order.
It is curious to note that the panoptican plan implemented within the prison system bears a close resemblance to the surveillance environment put into effect in downtown Baltimore. Here, disciplinary practices have been employed by the city government to ensure that life in the city after dark continues in a regularized, patterned way. Any behavior that might deviate from what the police state defines as being "acceptable" runs the threat of coming under their scrutiny. The omnipresence of cameras in Baltimore would surely monitor the actions of a small-time pickpocket or crook, but how would it affect your average citizen? Would our actions be altered or regulated by the knowledge that we were being recorded? Would we, for example, be more hesitant to engage in mildly aberrant behavior--smoking pot, tagging a billboard, having a rendezvous with a mistress, or going over the speed limit--if we thought our actions might be under surveillance? Mostly probably. Are we thus conditioned to regulate our actions in order to operate within the boundaries of what has been defined by schools, government institutions, or the broader social order as "normal" or "acceptable" behavior? Yes, most likely. And incidentally, would we be likely to hang out in downtown Baltimore after dark, knowing that it is now deemed to be a safe and secure environment, even if we're creeped out by the presence of all those video cameras? Why not?
Lewis Baltz demonstrates why not. In his series of "Generic Night Cities," the photographer depicts a dystopic view of modern landscapes of surveillance--urban environments showing brightly lit streets, office towers and the luminous ebb and flow of auto traffic captured in time-lapse film. These streets are eerily devoid of human presence. People seem to have been shuffled out of their work environments back into their homes, and the technological maze that remains behind is left empty, offering itself to the watchful gaze of the security system that patrols the area at night. This is not someplace where human activity would be welcome at night, unless we had to stay at the office late to meet a deadline, of course. In Baltz's own words, these night cities belong to a category of controlled areas that represent a centralized power in whose game the participant become a pawn.
In the early 1990s when Baltz was living in France, he executed a series of photography installations specifically dealing with the topic of institutional surveillance. Ronde de Nuit, a polyptych named after Rembrandt's famous painting translated as Night Watch, shows fragmentary scenes from the security control panel of a provincial police office in Roubaix, France. Roubaix is a depressed, industrial suburb of Lille, where the incidence of crime tends to be high. Many of the photographic images on this panel are stills from video footage appropriated from the security cameras in the police office. The eerie blue glow of these photographs, sporting the grainy, pixilated look of video stills, has come to characterize the surveillance aesthetic in photography as well as in film. Think of American Beauty, where the obvious aesthetic differentiation between video and film footage is successfully interwoven into the plot of the film. One of the characters, Ricky Fitts (a peeping Tom), surveils the world around him through his video camera. Some of the scenes in the movie are pictured through the grainy, washed-out footage of Ricky's video camera and interspersed into the lush, colorful film footage of the rest of the movie. One pivotal scene, which is later recorded on Ricky's camera during the course of the movie, is previewed at the very start of the film. Our knowledge of the existence of this video footage on tape foreshadows the eventual outcome of the plot.
The photographic panels in Ronde de Nuit are placed next to one another to show the totality of vision offered by a surveillance system. We see varying views and camera angles, exteriors as well as the interiors of buildings. Altogether, these collaged views attempt to paint a complete picture. It becomes clear that the video camera is only an inadequate surrogate to our process of seeing, however, and our experience of the real, three-dimentional world becomes flattened, reduced to manufactured snippets of visual information provided by the gaze of the camera. Human activity is either absent or limited to what is seen on the surveillance monitors in Ronde de Nuit. The somewhat indistinct, pixilated view of a man captured on camera is placed next to an extreme close-up of the cables and wires that bring juice to this surveillance technology. The wires appear to loom over the individual like restraining devices, threatening to subdue and overpower him. An accompanying audio track to the panel reads a list of associations to sites of institutionalized repression.
Here, Baltz has offered a menacing view of surveillance technology. Cities and buildings become sites that are politicized around the flow of information, and the individual is rendered powerless within these landscapes of corporate power and social control. In regards to Ronde de Nuit, Baltz has written, "With the increased technical possibilities of surveillance and, most important, the use of electronic information processing technologies to collate and distribute information, the modern, liberal/democratic/quasi-socialist state enjoys a control over its citizens unprecedented--control so thoroughgoing that the citizens/consumers could come to believe that it was they, and not the state, who held the power." ("Technologies Project 1989-Present," unpublished text.)
This brings us to the issue of electronic surveillance, the process by which computer databases are used to store and process personal information on different kinds of populations. The widespread use of electronic surveillance also configures prominently into Baltz's work, and in a series of photographs documenting high technology centers all around the world, he addresses the evasive nature of its existence. From the Telecom center in France to the Toshiba factories in Kawasaki, Japan, Baltz has collaged together interiors of offices, telecommunication wires and video surveillance footage that represent the sites in which technology is manufactured. So in essence, Baltz is surveiling that which surveils him in return. Sure enough, these photographs provide very little information about the powers at work behind their secure walls. They are like fortresses, firewalls that hold information in and keep the snoops out. In their generic countenance, they reveal close to nothing about themselves. And as Baltz has stated, we don't know what is going on inside, "if they manufacture pantyhose or megadeath."
In his portrayal of a society ruled by our information infrastructure, Baltz accurately expresses the individual's loss of control to the larger institutions that run and maintain the databases in which our communications data and personal information is stored. How can we be certain that this information is accurate, that it won't be used against our own interests? We can't, we simply have to place faith in the powers that be.
Other instances of electronic surveillance include the recent emergence CARNIVORE, a program enabling the FBI to install computers on the servers of Internet Service Providers, that would instantly access and read all e-mail and communication flow through this ISP. Wired News points out that this device would be connected directly to police headquarters and could be activated at the discretion of the FBI without a court order. Thus, we have the invention of a cyberpanopticon, giving the government the means to conduct real-time, on-line surveillance of all Internet traffic. How about a software program which, once programmed onto your computer at work, allows your employer to monitor your keystroke activity to gauge your level of productivity during an eight-hour workday?
Insidious? You bet it is. It might sound paranoid to suggest that new technologies are contributing to the emergence of a more authoritarian, prison-like society, yet, on the other hand, we cannot help but accept the fact that such surveillance mechanisms dominate us by attempting to "keep tabs" on us. So what can the individual do in the face of such totalitarian devices to help protect our privacy and ensure our civil liberties? Using data encryption tools to guarantee that our e-mails don't get tampered with is one example. But the main challenge in our surveillance society lies in trying to instigate strategies of social change--including how to utilize and change the direction of new technologies--in ways that transform the power inequities between the individual and the interests of corporations or state institutions.
Berin Golonu is editor-in-chief of Artweek.
MAPPING THE TERRAIN OF CYBERSURVEILLANCE
By David Goldberg
Maybe all we can do is to: invite, be invited and infiltrate.
--Lisa Jevbratt, C5 Panel, San Jose State University, April 20, 1999
Live births on the Internet. Cops. Mate-finding pagers. Data mining. Personalized myown.com pages. Customized porn-on-demand. Smart credit cards. Genetic profiles. These are a few of the flavors of surveillance that inform a modern life driven by professions that attend to market forces, technological development and entertainment. But what about artists' relationships with this life, specifically those whose work investigates this machine-powered life of looking, watching, and being seen? In particular, what can be said about artists who choose to work with communication and presentation technologies that are already dominated by mainstream capitalism and established network cultures? How do these "Net" artists contend in an era where television and computing technologies are recombining and constantly rearranging people's conception of what it means to interact with either platform? On the whole, by exploiting the fact that digital technologies have shattered the monolithic television/radio broadcast model into dozens of fragments now breeding in malls, galleries, video games, transportation systems, human palms, public space and academic institutions. The best of their work tracks and guides the hyperlinked trajectories of our broken media, taking people's eyes and ears with it.
Among our era's ancestral media, television has made significant and historical contributions to a cultural landscape that is saturated by surveillance and voyeurism culminating in so-called reality television. These shows combine the functionality and the aesthetics of news, sitcom, documentary and drama, blurring the boundaries between production and performance. This relatively recent change in the nature of television already existed in assorted global folk networks built using technologies such as ham radio, frequency scanners, distributed server architectures and webcams. Before MTV's "Real World" set the American standard for peepcoms, people were congregating in the shortwave bands, monitoring cellular frequencies, and living remotely via that rooms and the choppy impressionism of Internet-delivered video. The rich accumulation of narratives, histories, techniques and tools found in folk network cultures is often far more compelling than reality TV and more sophisticated than most "Net.art."
In folk networks, the relationships between participants and media are informed by do-it-yourself ethics, pioneer attitudes, and utopian ideals--the stuff usually laid claim to by artists. Many artists who were not technicians beforehand are in a new environment, collaborating with the indigenous population of cryptofreaks, hackers, hams, scanners, programmers, sysadmins and pirates. Artists who explore these territories have found them already mapped by network natives who, for the most part, split into two camps: One group takes what is culturally compelling about the Net entirely for granted; the second is so deeply concerned with network-based, sometimes-clandestine physical and theoretical tracking, observation, documentation and prediction technology that they have built the first ivory towers in cyberspace. Fortunately, the job of the artist is to make new maps through this rugged, shifting territory. Many are emerging to investigate and challenge the almost-standardized aesthetic of Macromedia's Flash, the rigid framework of the graphical user interface, the proliferation of communications channels, the almost volunteer surrender of consumer privacy, and a mediated present already ten times more weird than The Truman Show's slice of future nostalgia.
With technologists pursuing pure innovation, e-commerce seeking pure growth, government seeking pure control and the entertainment industry seeking pure spectacle, Net artists are left with little room to maneuver in peoples' imaginations. Artists are working in the gaps between what people expect to experience with the Net and what institutions and the state of technology dictate can be experienced with the Net. Because they have always, generally speaking, engaged human perception with questions rather than tasks, artists that use the Net as their medium (as opposed to simply using it to present or distribute other media) can address cultural issues that entertainment, commercial and geek Net content never will.
Hitting Tina LaPorta's Net-based project at http://users.rcn.com/laporta.interport/futurebody.html presents you with an 800 × 600 pixel wireframe female nude, in mid-stride across the typical Cartesian grid that has come to characterize cyberspace. The illusion of a solid surface is created via hidden-line algorithms, by adding color to some of the wires, accenting anatomical curves, shadows and shape. This could be a prototype for a synthetic actor or a sports technician's kinesthetic analysis model. Future_body ........ Touch Me ..... the title bar says. The next loaded view is uncomfortably close. There is more detail in the eye than normally allotted to a wireframe and it possesses an unexpected gaze. The model is staring off-screen, "her" iris, pupil and lids broken up into computation-friendly polygonal patches. Clicking anywhere on the head loads a choppy 320 × 240 Shockwave animation of the figure in motion accompanied by a short audio loop of digital grit. The movie is bracketed by the actual image map HTML code that makes the entire experience possible. Here, there are links to "torso.html," "ear.html," "derriere.html," "thigh.html...." It is a cold, robotic space that simultaneously challenges the word "model" itself, the mainstream popularity of live girlcams, and an emerging genre of poseable virtual girls as found in Primal Image, a Japanese PlayStation2 title. But can Futurebody.html actually compete with everything that it deconstructs? Any woman who has spent a good amount of time on CU-See-Me reflectors would probably be initially unimpressed. (CU-See-Me is a video conferencing program which allows people to gather and chat at reflector sites that bounce incoming video streams to all current users that are logged on. CUers have developed an extensive culture around what they do.) This hypothetical female CUer, "She-CU," is digitized and packet-scattered for male and female gazes as a part of daily life. Perhaps She-CU hangs out on the adult reflectors and is comfortable with this, or maybe she is annoyed by being asked by some stranger, yet again, to "lower the camera a little bit." Ladyxeen, a CU-See-Me veteran, has this to say about interacting in virtuality:
"While few people take advantage of the camera's full potential (why do so many want to be a director and not an actor?), seeing a person (from a male point of view: a woman or identifiable female body part) is enough to attempt to start a conversation. How do you tell when a ref is full of guys? There's little or no chatting going on." (http://www.geocities.com/ladyxeen/clnow.html)
With Ladyxeen's invitation to understand some of the dynamics of day-to-day Net life--obviously rooted in real-world sexism--how is LaPorta's clickable wireframe nude any different than flying the camera around a Primal Image animé model? Here lie the distinctions between compelling Net art, the ethnographic value of folk network culture, and what makes Futurebody.html ultimately successful on many levels. Though its architecture is simple, the site constantly re-presents itself aesthetically and conceptually through interface loops that grow richer as they are retraced. Also, by laying bare the HTML behind the work: image maps dividing up the female figure into navigable coordinate spaces, LaPorta creates an allegory for the types of representational struggles that have been ported to the Internet. LaPorta's Futurebody.html is a concise interactive poem that, playing on voyeurism, cybernetic fantasy, and the semantics of HTML, turns the careful observation of a skinless female figure into a careful meditation on technology.
If LaPorta's manipulation of the gaze is a matter of recursive shifts in perspective, the tricks of looking in the work of Hung-Chih Peng are the product of placing eyeballs where one least expects them and leaving them there. For an installation called Siao, most recently shown in the Introductions 2000 exhibition at San Francisco's Gallery Paule Anglim, Peng enlisted his aunt's dog to wear a small rig containing a color surveillance camera whose wireless signal is sent to a nearby VCR. The dog roams the streets, sniffing at the ground, meeting other dogs and going about its business, the views punctuated by bursts of interference. Along the way, the viewer struggles to map the dog's actions into human-centered, visually meaningful ones. There is no human agency here, undermining the whole tradition of nature film and remote viewing fantasies where someone is in control over what is being seen. The cyclops gaze emanating from above the dog's head is a parasitic one that has little to do with its sense of vision or far more sensitive sense of smell. The travel cage on the floor that contains the video projector becomes a little time machine that sends the viewer back to this dog's day, riding shotgun in a completely foreign frame of reference where even the recorded sound loses some of its meaning. The piece is almost maddeningly straightforward and supplemented by the cartoon dog-signal-VCR schematics drawn on the walls.
The fact that the dog was a host for the human viewer is not lost on Peng, so he allows visitors to try on the "snoutcam." The snoutcam is a black plastic helmet that looks like an artifact from an alternate year 1979 where access to virtual reality was a fad. It is styled roughly after a dog's head, with a six-foot tube dangling from the front like an elephant's trunk. At the ground end of the tube is a video camera and at the other, an LCD monitor. With the prehensile snoutcam one can peek around corners or simply inspect one's shoes without looking down, but the rewards come from shuffling around the installation with this thing on. Unattended, the snout begins to swing back and forth with the rhythm of one's gait and suddenly the black and white visual field works like one big hyperlink to the virtual experience of the dog projecting from the cage. Now, with the POV down there where a dog's nose would be, and the projection piece fresh in the mind, the installation taken as a whole begins to toggle like a Necker cube as two species' modes of perception are translated into human vision and swapped back and forth.
Peng's work is TCP/IP-free but it points in a direction of powerful and deceptive simplicity that Net art would be wise to explore. He enjoys making people see differently, and though he has not done an Internet-based project yet, the rapid development and popularity of streaming media (including the CU-See-Me community) provides him with a potentially huge folk network audience that already speaks his visual language. Sometimes it is better to send a dog to do a human's job. After all, animals were pressed into the service of our species as our first non-human surveillance systems. As police assistants, shepherds, hunters, guards and guides, dogs have served as a reliable and adaptive means to amplify human perception. We have since developed software and hardware that guards our homes, manages the events in our lives and explores our frontiers. The network-enabled personal digital assistants, two-way pagers and smart appliances are all trying to develop a level of integrated intelligence that isn't threatening and provides the semi-autonomous, organic loyalty and service that only a pet can provide. Peng's work at Gallery Paule Anglim is like an X-ray view of this emerging frontier of human desire. This is a culture of surveillance, deployed well beyond smoked glass hemispheres in the ceiling of your supermarket, a popular vehicle that displaces the eye, the ear, and ultimately, the identity.
David Goldberg is a writer, teacher, artist and programmer based in Northern California.
Ray Beldner, (above) Surveillance, 1993, site installation with audio, suits, video, receptionist, 9' × 20' × 30'; (below) still from Supervision or Somebody to Watch Over Me, 1998, video.
Left: Sergio De La Torre and Julio Morales, stills from The Grand Museum Series No. 3, video, in Museum Pieces, at the M. H. de Young Museum, San Francisco.
Laurie Long, (above) Wig, 1998, gelatin silver print, 20" × 24", from the Dating Surveillance Project, (below) Shoulder Grab, 1996, C-prints, 30" × 40", from Becoming Nancy Drew.
Facing page: Lewis Baltz, Ronde de Nuit, 1992; above: detail of Docile Bodies, 1996, installation; below: detail of Docile Bodies, 1996, Cibachrome print.
Tina LaPorta, from Futurebody.html, Net-based project.
Tina LaPorta, detail of Futurebody.html.