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Surveillance and Punishement
Wie Gehts es Ihnen?



Nach der Eishoehle


Thursday 10 May 2007
Closed Circuits
Voyeurism, (self-)control and TV
with Thomas Edlinger, Adrian Dabrowski, Anca Daucikova, Ramón Reichert

Camera images tend to seem as though they already are what is real, as though reality only exists in its mediatization. It is probably not in spite of, but specifically because the suspicion of simulation in response to visual overload has become so widely held and the distrust of the frequently invoked power of images has become rampant that documentary techniques like those provided by surveillance cameras are undergoing a boom. It is exactly this prevalently stated power of images whose magical, fetishist quality nurtures and radicalizes the desires ascribed to images: on the one hand there is an iconoclast rage (expressed in the politically or religiously motivated destruction and prohibition of images), on the other the worship of idolatry celebrating the imaginary seductive power of permanent visual presence. Thus the two opposite ways of dealing with the “flood of images”,  iconophobia and iconomania, prove to be two sides of the same coin. Both are fed by voyeuristic desire. Yet in the context of the video surroundings of today, is this desire really directed to the image per se?

In his introduction to the third and final discussion accompanying the exhibition, Anthony Auerbach, initiator of Video as Urban Condition, suggested freeing voyeurism from its ostensible object, namely the image, which invariably slips away in motion anyway, and linking it to the “act or rather the apparatus of seeing” instead. According to Auerbach, this fetishism enables us to better understand phenomena like the duplication of images in live videos of live performances by musicians and other evidence of audiovisual “inter-passivity”(Robert Pfaller): video recordings we never look at, camcorders targeting motifs without ever being turned on. In fact, the shift of desire towards the act of documentation could be an indication of how and why surveillance images are not only feared today, but also increasingly enjoyed, not only in reality TV shows and self-promotional Internet forums.

Adrian Dabrowski, chairman of Quintessenz, a Viennese organization for regaining civil rights in the information age,recounted a number of interventions that he and his colleagues have undertaken on the issue of the public acceptance and estimation of surveillance. Dabrowski cited international data indicating no overall reduction in crime following the introduction of video surveillance, but only a shift to areas of the city not under surveillance; in contrast to this, however, a test set-up in Vienna did indeed have an impact on behavior on the streets. A fake notice about video surveillance placed by a newspaper stand led to a significant increase in payment for the newspapers that are otherwise simply taken from the stands.

It seems that the mere indication of monitoring cameras pre-structures our behavior. This connection was discussed in more depth by the media studies scholar Ramón Reichert, who was only able contribute his lecture in written form due to an injury. Reichart analyzed the film “Nach der Eishöhle” by Michael Petri and Lukas Marxt, a montage of private found footage originating from the mid-eighties through the early nineties. What we see are an amateur's video recordings of his family, his wife and two children (one of which is his son Lukas Marxt), filmed nearly every day over a long period of time. Reichert’s theses are grouped under four aspects: “First, the private use of video generates and reinforces power relations. In this way a culture of control is established under media conditions. The amateur video-makers justify their surveillance and monitoring of family members as an 'experiment', a 'test set-up'. Secondly, the frequent application of 'closed-circuit' situations is integral to the media-specific use of video during the 1980s. This results in the multiplication of power and self-technologies. Traditional comparisons of 'voyeurism' and 'exhibitionism' or 'external control' and 'self-monitoring' become obsolete. Thirdly: amateur video producers of the 1980s are almost exclusively male. Video stills indicate their gender. The time-based culture of remembering with the Video Home System conveys narratives of families in which fathers are generally absent. They may shoot as 'camera men', but otherwise do not appear, so that they are missing from the frame of the early images of the family elsewise so familiar as family photographs. Fourthly, the integrity of the uninvolved observer behind the camera remains a male-constructed compound, which the actors in front of the camera continually deconstruct and invert.”

The roles of the recorded children oscillating between objectification and subversion, resemble, in a way, the self-staging of the (female) body by feminist inspired video art, which has frequently experimented with closed circuit situations, in other words, self-contained situations of depiction. Anca Daucikova, artist and lecturer at the Bratislava Academy of Fine Arts and Design, reflects on the doubling of self-exhibitionism and subjectification, surveillance and self-empowerment with the metaphor of the mirror that she frequently uses in her work. The mirror can be used in a voyeuristic sense from a keyhole perspective, but serves at the same time as an instrument of self-awareness and self-control. In an artistic composition and as a gesture of power reversal, the mirror can also cast the direction of the gaze back to the observer.

In contrast to these experiments in the critique of forms of subjectification, which are made transparent as such, there are visual subcultures that focus on shock value and garish reality effects. In his lecture, Thomas Edlinger, journalist, curator and Auerbach's co-organizer of Video as Urban Condition, described vulgar bum-fights, commercial fight films depicting the homeless, and dubious purchasable DVDs that can be easily ordered through the Internet. These DVDs are of and by brawling hooligans who produce anonymous feature-length films of violent clips edited together. The raw material is spliced from police and surveillance footage and amateur recordings in and in front of football stadiums with only the date and occasion of the game inserted. Edlinger interpreted the voraciousness for these kind of kicks of the authentic as a desire for the genuineness and memorableness of an “event” in a world otherwise experienced as simulative and simulated. The event transports the potentiality of a situation in an act that disrupts the established order. Exactly this disruption of order, this indigestible, catastrophic and terrorist act, breaks the flow of mediatization-- such as Jean Baudrillard, for instance, observed in the destruction of the WTC. The bitter irony in this case, however, is that participation in the event is in turn insinuated through a medium. The substantive break between the real and its visualization is supposed to be masked. The point is to make it possible to experience a contingent, physical reality, which fictionality—or one might say Video as Aesthetic Condition—has always countered with its own construction of reality.

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