[ISEA2011] Panel: James Coupe – Sur­veil­lance Art as Panacea

Panel Statement

Panel: Surveillant Spaces: From Autonomous Surveillance to Machine Voyeurism

My re­cent art pro­jects have fo­cused on var­i­ous themes emerg­ing from sur­veil­lance, in­clud­ing real-time data, si­mul­tane­ity, au­then­tic­ity, voyeurism and non-lin­ear­ity. Sur­veil­lance today is not sim­ply a grainy black and white image fed to a VHS recorder from a cam­era pointed at the out­side of a build­ing. In­creas­ingly, it is a net­work of high-de­f­i­n­i­tion, ro­botic vi­sion de­vices, ca­pa­ble of see­ing in ways that we will never be able to. Today’s sur­veil­lance net­works are pre­sent­ing mas­sive-scale par­al­lel per­spec­tives on re­al­ity – in sev­eral places at once – and through this are con­struct­ing com­plex vir­tual spaces that exist along­side, and not nec­es­sar­ily in sync with real spaces. The nar­ra­tives im­plied by this sur­veil­lance world claim to show us how we be­have, who we re­ally are – they exist purely in the do­main of the vi­sual and the be­hav­ioral, ig­nor­ing any kind of in­ter­nal psy­cho­log­i­cal states and show­ing us how mal­leable re­al­ity re­ally can be. Slavoj Zizek has re­ferred to a kind of re­flex­ive short-cir­cuit, a re­dou­bling of one­self as we find our­selves stand­ing both in­side and out­side our own image – to see one­self under sur­veil­lance is to wit­ness the only part of re­al­ity that we can­not ex­pe­ri­ence first hand, our­selves as an ob­ject act­ing in the world. This paper ap­proaches sur­veil­lance net­works as gen­er­a­tive art sys­tems, ca­pa­ble of ex­plor­ing themes such as lone­li­ness, iso­la­tion and sus­pi­cion. I will argue that sur­veil­lance is the in­evitable re­sult of the search for a cure to a va­ri­ety of 21st Cen­tury ail­ments. Rather than dis­miss­ing or re­sist­ing it, we need to ex­plore it in order to prop­erly un­der­stand the re­al­ity that we have con­structed for our­selves.

  • James Coupe is an artist whose work fo­cuses on emer­gent sys­tems, aes­thetic ma­chines, au­ton­omy, and net­works. His re­cent work with ‘sur­veil­lance cin­ema’ ex­plores the wit­ting and un-wit­ting re­la­tion­ship be­tween the artist/par­tic­i­pant and the viewer/par­tic­i­pant. This method of ‘sur­veil­lance cin­ema’ uti­lizes com­puter vi­sion soft­ware to ex­tract de­mo­graphic and be­hav­ioral in­for­ma­tion from video footage from a va­ri­ety of sources in­clud­ing YouTube clips, stu­dio footage, and sur­veil­lance cam­era feeds. The footage is then al­go­rith­mi­cally re­or­ga­nized and re­con­tex­tu­al­ized into nar­ra­tives, often using cin­e­matic ‘tem­plates’ such as An­to­nioni’s clas­sic film Blow-Up. James Coupe has ex­hib­ited both na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, re­ceiv­ing awards from the U.K. Arts and Hu­man­i­ties Re­search Board In­no­va­tion Award, Cre­ative Cap­i­tal and Artist’s Trust. jamescoupe.com