Transformation of the Public Sphere
"He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection."
-Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
This group of paintings examines the issue of public surveillance as a form of political technology. In 2008, the city of Buffalo, NY installed 56 wireless surveillance cameras (Avrio Rapid Deployment Surveillance Solution PoleCams) on strategic street corners in order to monitor the public. These pole-cams offer a new vocabulary of power and coercion, being disseminated from above. The public sphere is viewed by state power as a chaotic and untidy; it must be controlled and manipulated. With no intention for improving peoples lots, it is seen as a necessity to bring them in line by the deployment of disciplinary techniques.
The paintings mark the transformation of the public sphere from democratic space into a petri dish of experimentation. As the paintings are laid out, one follows three viewpoints offered of the cameras: a straight on view of the camera in the public space, a view of the camera body with a distorted reflection of the street/intersection on the surface of the glass sphere, and finally, just the distorted reflection of the public sphere itself, resembling a giant eye with dilated pupil. The process of transformation of the public realm is shown as the public space is inverted, captured, and distorted by the camera.
The implementation of this political technology signals a cynical lack of imagination among our leaders, adding to a continuing trend of dehumanization. As a nation, we contain less than 5 percent of the world's population; but have a quarter of the world's prison population (2.3 million people). We seem incapable of addressing the conditions that make criminal behavior manifest. Instead, we seem obsessed with prohibitive laws and strong punishment.
The introduction of surveillance cameras follows the principles of Panopticism as described by philosopher Michel Foucault. These mobile eyes ensure that power is increasingly visible and at the same time unverifiable. It operates by creating sites where political technologies can be inscribed on bodies; the goal is to create the automatic functioning of power. The state is no longer there to serve of the public; but rather the multitude is integrated from above, and is there to serve the state.
With the gaze alert everywhere, the public further becomes an object of data; raw information inside a laboratory of power. I want to draw attention to these cameras, enabling greater discussion about this new presence. This unseen seer should be scrutinized, it should be brought out into the light of day.