EXHIBIT OBSERVITUDE is an exploration of the safety,  security and evidentiary promises of surveillance and the related  effects of voluntary servitude. Through the use of public CCTV footage  and installed surveillance cameras within an immersive projection  installation space, Modopoulos challenges the indexical qualities  associated with surveillance. A compilation of manipulated, public CCTV  footage forms the first large-scale projection. Simultaneously, live  video from an installed surveillance network of cameras is projected on  the facing wall of the installation space. Images from the surveillance  cameras are continually uploaded to a website to construct an altered  real-time and retrospective narrative. This  becomes evidentiary in the  same way that CCTV crime footage is often used to solve crime – a legal  ‘exhibit’ of sorts. However, the evidentiary and indexical quality of  all the footage comes into question as timelines and images are  manipulated. The viewer becomes implicated within the physical and  online spaces and the desire to watch and to be watched also serve this  complicit relationship.


McQuail (1994: 107) defines technological determinism as ‘the links  between the dominant communication technology of an age and the key  features of society’. In this respect, this installation deals with  Apple’s Macintosh as a dominant technology that has helped form today’s  culture.  

This installation displays four Macintosh computers on  column-like plinths of varying heights: a Macintosh SE (1987), a  Macintosh IIcx (1989), a Powerbook 540C (1994), and an iMac G3 (1998).  Each computer screen  displays the last available model of that series  before the model was retired. The iMac being the only computer of the  four, which has not been completely retired, therefore the image  displayed on this screen was the most current iMac available (released  December 2012). Computers are displayed from the oldest on the highest  plinth to the newest on the lowest plinth, therefore placing the highest  emphasis on the oldest technology. 

A few writers and thinkers can be grouped as technological  determinists and have offered some insights into the study of new  technologies. Lewis Mumford in particular held a rather dystopian view,  advocating for more human-focused technology, however, he also believed  that “what separated us from the rest of the animal kingdom was the  imagination that conceptualized the tool.” Few other companies have  taken tool conceptualization as far as Apple Computer. Since 1983, Apple  has released over 300 versions of the Macintosh computer, originally  starting at 5 MHz to now 2.7 GHz in some of the latest models. In the  process, they have retired more models than they have maintained and ‘we the people’  have been more than eager to buy that latest newest model. There is a  resignation about the nature of change in a culture because of the power  of the dominant technology to determine how people interact. From a  technological determinist perspective, we as a society often are  reacting to this technological change. 

Macintosh computers on column-like plinths

Macintosh computers on column-like plinths


What makes us who we are? Are our own perceptions of self our real  identity or do other people’s impressions construct us? Is the truth  somewhere in between or is identity an elusive concept that is forever  changing? Michel Foucault said, “Do not ask who I am and do not ask me  to remain the same.”  It is in this spirit that Modopoulos has  experimented with the perceptions of others on her own identity. 

Through audio interviews, people who know Modopoulos were asked to  characterize her in their own words or recall their most vivid memory of  her. These audio interviews can be heard on two sets of headphones. The  first set of headphones plays random 8 second clips from interviews by  those close to Modopoulos. The second set of headphones plays random 8  second clips of computerized voices from comments made by acquaintances  or people who recall their first impressions of her. A third set of  headphones  plays Modopoulos's voice with looped quotations from Michel  Foucalt "Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same. The  purpose in life is to become that which we were not in the beginning". 

This installation  also contains video projection – a close up of  Modopoulos's face (moving, blinking, smiling) is projected onto a  Styrofoam mannequin head within a constructed box, which can be viewed  from three different angles through security peepholes. The mannequin  head signifies a neutral entity until Modopoulos's image is projected  upon it. The three carefully positioned peepholes allow the viewer  access, making the constructed video image the subject of a controlled  gaze.

Viewers/listeners are able to form their own impression of  Modopoulos's identity by listening through one or more of the headphones  and viewing from one or more angles. The more engaged the  viewer/listener is, the more information they will have to form their  perception of her identity. Despite all the information shared, can they  ever really know the "real" her?

THE REAL ME - video and audio installation

THE REAL ME - video and audio installation


3 peepholes to view video


3 audio tracks


inside view


For this project, Modopoulos focused on the concept of the Panopticon  and the aspect of disciplinary power through the use of the  surveillance camera. Based on the design of the panopticon prison in  which prisoners self-police when they know that the guard in the tower  could be watching, we live in a panoptical society proliferated with  security cameras that watch our every move. We are both aware and  unaware of their presence and accept the invasion of privacy and  institutional inspecting gaze. 

This type of surveillance has been described by Michel Foucault in  his famous analysis of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, an optical and  architectural device in which Foucault identified the birth of the  “disciplinary” society. The power of spectatorship and how we are  socially constructed is a powerful concept, which is of interest to  Modopoulos. Through the gaze of the institution, the individual is  constantly being assessed and judged, becoming a cog in the  institutional system. As we are conscious of this gaze and carry an  image of ourselves, we in fact internalize the role of the guard and  self-police in a similar manner to that of the prisoners in the  panopticon prison.

Based on this concept, Modopoulos created a three-channel  installation, which focuses on several security cameras as the  instruments of the gaze. She used two of the channels to turn the gaze  inward, in effect taking back the power. The third channel turns the  gaze outward toward the viewer through a webcam to further support the  aspect of taking control of the gaze. 

Over two thirds of the video loops concentrate on the surveillance  cameras as the subject and their movement as they capture surveillance  footage as Modopoulos in turn, captures the footage of the cameras with  the use of a video camera. All other footage is a series of  approximately 60 clips of Modopoulos as the subject of the surveillant  gaze, which are layered in, ultimately overwhelming the viewer. By  bombarding the viewer with the volume of video clips and by capturing  the viewer image, they are unable to absorb all the content, especially  with the urge to look at their own image being captured. 


The associated audio includes the recorded  camera sound synced it to  each camera movement. Also layered in are news broadcasts, which  provide differing perspectives on the presence and use of surveillance  cameras in society and in personal settings. The contrast of banal  surveillance footage provides an interesting dichotomy. 

Modopoulos is inspired by US-American, Amsterdam-based artist Jill  Magid who spent 31 days in Liverpool and gained access to the CCTV  cameras throughout the city to find her own image as performance for her  two installations, Evidence Locker at Tate and Retrieval Room at FACT.  French conceptual artist Sophie Calle is also an artist that is of  interest in this arena. 


Watch Dogs is a large-scale split screen video projection  installation revealing a day in the life of two family dogs – Snuggles  and Pepper as they survey their surroundings, using wearable cameras.  Synchronized surveillance footage from each dog’s point of view is  recorded, appropriated and projected to cover two walls in the shooting  studio at OCAD University. Inches from the ground and much larger than  life, we see what interests them, how they interact with each other and  with their humans.

Now engrained into contemporary culture, surveillance has shaped our  “selves”, becoming enjoyable as we willingly place our “selves” into the  view of others – wanting to be seen. Placing this camera technology in  the hands of the many, a type of “omniopticon” has emerged as “the many  watch the many”. While the origins and primary use of surveillance  cameras have held positions of power, the images often captured are  themselves uneventful and banal. These mundane moments become a  palimpsest of contemporary culture through fragmented digital traces  continually replaced by the next.

  While footage is continually captured and digitally overwritten in the making of Watch Dogs,  the selection of footage for this piece becomes a permanent  representation of family life. It offers a view of these banal moments  from a different perspective. It also comments on the desire to watch  and to be watched, creating a mirror of contemporary culture. Does this  alternate view change our perception of these moments? Do these moments  become more or less mundane?