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