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
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
3 peepholes to view video
3 audio tracks
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?
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