Panel: Surveillant Spaces: From Autonomous Surveillance to Machine Voyeurism
Surveillance and its ubiquitous technological lens is often thought of as a detached gaze, an abstract, remote and impersonal form of watching. It separates watching from witnessing, and, increasingly, even the watching, analysing and interpreting is automated. Yet even though detached, the surveillant gaze is by no means passive and without agency; it is always directed and motivated by human desires. Tate Modern’s recent exhibition Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera has put the alliance between surveillance and voyeurism on display. The curator, Sandra Philips, argues that “surveillance pictures are voyeuristic in anticipation, seeking deviance from what is there: … evidence of incriminating behaviour, such as spying, crossing borders illegally, or accepting bribes” (2010). Remote and apparently disembodied, the gaze as social force also has a haptic presence, “the gesture that seizes” (Brighenti 2010), reaching towards the gazed upon. The robotic installation Zwischenräume (Interstitial Spaces) physically manifests the force of the gaze to produce an investigative lens into the politics of surveillance. The work, a collaboration with Rob Saunders, embeds a group of autonomous robots into the architectural fabric of a gallery; they punch holes through the walls to inspect what’s outside, signal each other, and conspire. The machine augmented environment examines the stealthy invasion of digital surveillance through the physical lens of urban combat tactics. In contrast to the disembodied, disguised gaze of our everyday surveillant spaces, here the agency of the machinic gaze materializes and marks and wounds our environment. Zwischenräume’s gazing robotic agents are self-motivated, curious to study their environment and its inhabitants. Rather than serving as the eye for a human agent, they are voyeurs, only watching for their own ‘pleasure’. Interestingly, it is the machines’ desire to detect deviance from the ‘norm’ that intimately links surveillance (the norm) to voyeurism (the deviant). Zwischenräume, whose way of seeing is motivated by what it sees, expects, and doesn’t see, does not only perform but becomes an audience to the audience’s performance.
- Petra Gemeinboeck explores the ambiguities and vulnerabilities in our relationships with machines and is interested in making tangible the desires and politics involved. Her practice in machine performance, interactive installation, and virtual environments engages participants in scenarios of encounter, in which they are provoked to negotiate, conspire with or even solicit a machine-generated co-performer. Her works have been exhibited internationally, including at the Ars Electronica, Archilab, Thessaloniki Biennale, MCA Chicago, ICC Tokyo, OK Center for Contemporary Art, and the Centre des Arts Enghien at Paris. She has also published widely on issues of interactivity and machine agency. Born in Vienna, Petra is currently based in Sydney, where she is a Senior Lecturer in Interactive Media Arts at the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW, AU.