"Observe Yourself Being Watched" Interview on Humble Arts Foundation
Is Technology The New Big Brother? Youngho Lee's "Observe Yourself Being Watched" Uses Interactive Video to Address Present-Day Surveillance
More than half a century since George Orwell’s novel 1984 foreshadowed a dystopian, government surveilled future, a new exhibition, looks at present-day surveillance – not by a human authority, but by technology.
Observe Yourself Being Watched, a collaboration exhibition between MiA Collective Art and artist Youngho Lee, curated by Grace Noh at Brooklyn, NY’s John Doe Gallery, uses film and video installation to question how we understand the role of social media, technology, and data in our lives and how it allows our activities to be marked, followed, and traced. “The click we make to add an item to the ‘shopping cart,’ Lee says in the press release, ”may haunt us for days…how much is our own and how much of ourselves are shared with others?”
Lee and MiA Collective Art use these ideas to create a fantastical and ambiguous installation addressing the space between the analog and the digital boundaries. Various visual elements of computer graphics, three-dimensional images and composite images of chroma keys collide and overlap.
The exhibition is on view from Tuesday, November 6 to Wednesday, November 21, 2018 with the artist’s reception on Thursday, November 8 from 6 pm to 9 pm.
I spoke with the Youngho Lee and curator Grace Noh to learn more.
Jon Feinstein in conversation with Youngho Lee and Grace Noh
Jon Feinstein: How did this exhibition come about?
Grace Noh: I was first introduced to Youngho Lee about a year ago through Residency Unlimited, a non-profit art organization in Brooklyn, where she was an artist-in-residence. I was intrigued by her artistic practice and work. We talked about a possible collaboration and knowing her previous work, I came up with a project idea that might be interesting to collaborate. This later developed into this exhibition.
Jon Feinstein: Much of this exhibition centers around video and surveillance. How do technology and the constant surveilling gaze play out in the exhibition space itself?
Youngho Lee: They are based on video work, but the installation elements surrounding the film play also quite important roll. I’m trying that attempts are being made at creating disharmonious experience of sort by juxtaposing the act of immersing oneself in the film installation and realistic elements.
Grace Noh: Initially, this exhibition, and its title Observe Yourself Being Watched originated from a question of our perception of “being watched” not by human authority but by technological supremacy. By nature, humans care a great deal about being watched. As soon as we leave our apartments, we’re constantly exposed to the gazes of other individuals but also of various various digital devices.
What this exhibition focuses on, however, is not the obvious exposure to these technological devices on us. It’s the “surveillance” that comes from the digital world that this exhibition is focusing on and how we comply with the circumstances given to us and allow our traces to be marked digitally. Ultimately, the digital world is complexly linked to our contemporary lives. And of course, this gallery space is no exception. It has multiple cameras that capture all the movements of people entering the space.
Jon Feinstein: The exhibition layout is pretty minimal, which I think is interesting when you think of how bombarding digital surveillance, data mining, online marketing etc can be.
Lee: The rapid development of film technology had a massive influence on the form of visual culture perception. The essence of film lies in creating perceivable vision, and also in guiding the audience into this world of illusion and fantasy by reproducing the reality. Visual reproduction of desires is creating vision beyond our imagination based on film technology, and has brought about changes in the physical ways we approach things.
Consequentially, the audience can no longer be capable of recognizing the boundaries between real and virtual reality because of this hyper-reality reproduced on the screen or Monitor. Media is a tool used to record phenomena for realistic reproduction, and it is evolving further from an act of art which expresses human desires based on the existing narratives. I think vision, this hyper-reality being completed through media is restoring the aura of perception. This could be a new form of aesthetic text expanded from formalistic expressions.
Feinstein: My first thought when you sent the release was a kind of contemporary, tech-driven evolution of Foucault's discussion of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon.
Lee: The emergence of the Internet and social media can be evaluated positively in terms of a range of possibilities and domain extension requirements. However, the medium always operates with a double-edged knife. The emergence of crowds and populism, manipulation of public opinion, state and corporate surveillance possibilities can play a role in limiting democracy. The possibility of a surveillance society can also manifest itself as a dysfunction of media change.
Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, developed by Michel Foucault and the surveillance system designed as an effective prison management form and presented in the form of general surveillance of the modern society, is able to exert more power in the internet and social media space. It was. Data and information accumulated through surveillance technologies and various data such as artificial intelligence (AI), biometric (face) recognition technology, and Internet of Thing (IoT) are used by citizens and large corporations It can be used as a monitoring and control mechanism.
However, there is also a view to pay attention to the possibility and appearance of Synopticon, which allows a large number of citizens to monitor a small number of power. Various civic technologies are an attempt to realize synopticon. Just as all media changes, the emergence of the Internet and social media has an impact on how politics work or Power of social and, moreover, on politics itself. The fact that the effect has a positive side and a negative side at the same time is also a truth of all. The important thing is to minimize the negative aspects and find ways to maximize the positive aspects.
Feinstein: Youngho, can you tell me a bit about how the collaboration plays out between you and the collective?
Lee: This is the vital initial stage of the first collaboration between MiA Collective Art and me. I’m looking forward to establishing long-term relationships with artists, curators, and every individual involved in the project and working with them to test out new ideas and establish engaging dialogues with peers and the public. i expect to perform new creative activities based on the subjects which are “Art and Environment”, “Cultural diversity and the activities of New Art Institution”, or “Possibilities of collaboration”
Feinstein: How active are you on social media, online, etc? What I'm getting at, is where are you personally in this work?
Lee: I’m not doing any social media at this time.
Noh: MiA Collective Art is a collaborative media platform and the organizer for this project. We definitely try to stay active online and offline to spread the words on this project. When you work on an exhibition, it’s important to communicate with and reach out to various individuals. You never know what you may learn from them or what you may add valuable ideas for others. It’s always the learning process for us. By sharing this exhibition on our website, social media, email newsletters, etc., we received valuable feedbacks and information related to this project theme from a number of our supporters. This brings additional depth of new ideas to the project.
Feinstein: What do you and the artist hope viewers will come away with?
Lee: My Plan is an attempt to create a project that throws an open-ended question of compliance in human perception not from an authority figure from humans, but from the hyper-intellectual system. While the advanced technology is becoming more developed in various aspects, here comes the question. How much is our very own and how much of ourselves are shared with others? Can we resist to the unspoken violence of paranoia and damage? Through this Project, the goal is not to criticize the current situation, but rather, to encourage people to think about things differently and to think for themselves.