I’m a huge fan of hip hop and listen to it before I need to do anything that needs my full attention and presence (yes, including art writing). Naturally, anything around hip hop and rap intrigues me. So, I couldn’t help but take a picture of this (of all places, IN HAYES VALLEY – What tha?). I’m so tempted to call and find out a bit more about this said rap content BUT trying to muster the courage.
Please let me know if you have any questions about the show.
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surveillance |sərˈvāləns| noun: close observation, esp. of a suspected spy or criminal: he found himself put under surveillance by military intelligence
ORIGIN early 19th cent.: from French, from sur- ‘over’ + veiller ‘watch’ (from Latin vigilare ‘keep watch’ ).
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Recently, I met someone whose relative works for the FBI. This relative belongs to the surveillance division. Obviously, fascination grew and I started imagining scenarios of espionage and intrigue. My friend continued, “Well, I’m told it’s actually very boring work until something happens, which is quite rare.” [Insert fail horn]. Really? Then again, if you think about it, isn’t that why anyone watches anything…to wait for something to happen? Rolling dice and calculating the probability of landing on even numbers (i.e., Gambler’s fallacy and yes, I actually had to do this in grade school for math class) seems so much more interesting until artists were asked to explore the idea of surveillance in this post 9/11 world. On the eve of September 11, 2011, at The Performance Art Institute, the Bay Area art community gathered together to view works in the group exhibition, Keeping an Eye on Surveillance, curated by Hanna Regev. Below are my reflections of artists that captivated my attention.
** For this post, I selected five artists from the show. For a full listing of artists, please click here.**
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Campbell’s beautifully executed piece, Church on 5th Avenue, illustrates transient actions of everyday life into arresting LED sculptures forcing the viewer to concentrate on the subject versus the act of surveillance. Squinting my eyes, I was able to see discernible articulations of the body. Almost magically, a city scape with people walking and cars whizzing by appeared. The multitude of technologies at work in Campbell’s art speaks to both his experience and interpretations of the post modern world. Elegance and precision are trademarks in his evolving art practice. One of the main reasons Campbell’s work remains emblematic of our time is his desire to show humanity as best described in his sentiment below,
“…the biggest challenge for working with technology and art is to transcend the medium. To not have the technology become what the work is. To go beyond that and have some sort of humanist side to the work”.
Title and materials: Church on 5th Avenue (2001), 29 x 22 x 7 inches. Custom electronics, 768 LEDs, treated Plexiglas. A matrix of 32 x 24 (768) pixels made out of red LEDs displays a pedestrian and auto traffic scene in NY from an off-street perspective. There is a sheet of diffusing plexiglas angled in front of the grid. As the pedestrians move from left to right the figures gradually go from a discrete representation to a continuous one (or metaphorically from a digital representation to an analog one). ~ Source of detailed description is from Artist’s website
Title and materials: The Spectacular Seat (2011), Multi-media installation
One of the more psychologically engaging pieces of the evening was Tim Roseborough’s The Spectacular Seat, which involved a real-time feed displaying the interior of a men’s restroom. Oddly enough, men (and some women) were told beforehand about the live feed but most didn’t seem to mind and proceeded to use the restroom. The knowledge of being watched affected the piece dramatically. The act of knowing changed the idea of surveillance to spectacle, hence the àpropos name of the Spectacular Seat. Since the pseudonym of Art Research Group was used to cast the original surveillance subject, Roseborough’s transparent approach at acquiring this initial data gave way to lively discussion during the opening. From the use of the internet and social networking to create this work, a strong sense of inquiry ensued at the opening.
Title and materials: Double Reflection (2008), Video Sculpture with Single-Channel Video
Artist, Scott Kildall, set up his piece, Double Reflection, in Dolores Park to capture footage of curious onlookers on a sunny afternoon in San Francisco for the show. With Double Reflection, the curiosity itself becomes the act. It took on a performative aspect because it was relatively conspicuous but a bit enigmatic. Many people didn’t know what to make of this large sculpture that appeared to be a mirror yet shaped similarly to a periscope. The question of whether it was an object of surveillance played more of role in the exhibition versus out in the public space. To learn more about the piece, please click here.
Title and materials: Giving You my Eyes (2011), Multi-media installation
Hoover’s, Giving You my Eyes, gave the surveyor (in this case, his assistant) his sense of sight. Since this puts a completely different spin on the idea of watching, it begs the question, is this surveillance? What does it say about the way we watch, observe, and act when the person that needs to see is unable to do so? What is the participant’s role in the act of surveillance if Hoover were to give his Eyes to you? I’m hoping to gain access to this performance piece at some point.
Title and materials:Minicam II (2006), Video
From a seemingly never-ending multitude of camera angles, Minicam II shows two (clothed) men wrestling (reminiscent of Oliver Reed and Alan Bates nude wrestling scene in the film adaptation of DH Lawrence’s Women in Love) with minicams taped to their chests. The multitude of angles makes the act intimate because the grunting, panting, and sweating were audible and visible. Circling back around to where we started, surveillance is about waiting for things to happen and more often than not, it’s a monotonous and wearisome task to vigilantly watch, well, nothing. Locke’s piece contrasts this view. We continue to stare and watch (closely) and waiting but is it surveillance? How does it redefine the act of observation? Yes, dear friend, I would like you to answer the question. Tell me what you think…wishing you were there (and, if you were, I invite you to engage with me).
You want to know what I say to that statement. Bullsh*t!
As a contributor to a few organizations, I have the pleasure of working with editors and supporters that give me extremely useful and productive feedback that not only improves my writing, but my critical thinking skills. Admittedly, I love the quote because there are many bloggers who exhibit poor grammar, diction, syntax, and total lack or desire to EDIT. However, there are bloggers, such as myself, that constantly try to improve and use our blogs as a reference and a record of our learning, our musings, our mistakes, mishaps, and observations of the world. Okay, I’ll kick the soapbox to the corner now.
Last thing, what the hell does a scientist know about writing? I’ve met a good number of scientists that are not very articulate. Okay, okay, enough. I need to work on some writing deadlines (yes, it never (ever) ends). Playing catch up has been very difficult lately. As one of my favorite professors has reminded me about the nascent stage of any piece – you gotta turn on the faucet and let the brown water run!!
After a pretty brain draining weekend and much-needed rest, I’m back and trying to catch up and hoping to hit the publish button on a couple of pieces I’ve been neglecting working on for a couple of weeks. I’ve been studying (and doing lots of independent research). I’m not even in grad school (yet).
So, what gets me back into writing mode? It’s simple. Reading.
In Winterson’s essay, Writer, Reader, Words, I found a rather illuminating excerpt about the cyclical nature of art, writing, and reading I wanted to share.
Art is a way into other realities, other personalities. When I let myself be affected by a book, I let into myself new customs and new desires. The book does not reproduce me, it re-defines me, pushes at my boundaries, shatters the palings that guard my heart. Strong texts work along the borders of our minds and alter what already exists…Art is conscious and its effect on its audience is to stimulate consciousness. This is sexy, this is exciting, it is also tiring, and even those who welcome art-excitement have an ordinary human longing for sleep. Nothing wrong with that but we cannot use the book as a pillow.
~ Jeanette Winterson, British Novelist
Trust me, my laptop might as well be my pillow!! One of my mentors and dear friends reminded me that the most skilful writer is able to explain complexity with simplicity. That is extremely difficult to do and I think that’s why reading (constantly) and writing (constantly) cannot stop. Of course, I’ll leave it up to Haruki Murakami or Hunter S. Thompson for the truly mind altering texts but I hope the longer I write and keep up with my practice that my ramblings become eloquently written prose and my opinions become a conduit towards critical thought.