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Thursday, 20 November 2014

'The Artist is Present' Performance and Screen Installation at Other Film Festival 2014

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This Wednesday night, I present a performance at Boggo Road Gaol (Jail). My work is about discipline, about architecture and surveillance - panopticism - the minority watching the majority. Whereas you may remember my 'Legally Lolita' performance in Indonesia, which also redresses discipline via re-enactments of my father being a Corrective Services Officer, Policeman, Security Guard and father; this performance is more about Institutions and how they instil discipline.


Conceptual Discussion -
Currently our collective life force is shaped and organised by many institutions. Foucault argues the guiding force behind these institutions is the “culture of discipline,” a system of discipline honed within jails, the panopticon/panopticism, the unequal gaze, the observation of the many by the few. [1]  The prisoner could never be sure if they were being watched at any given moment, for one is less likely to break the law, if they believe they are being watched. My ‘The Artist is Present…’ performance and screen work repurposes the architecture of Boggo Road Gaol to redress the ‘unequal gaze’ in surveillance of the incarcerated, whilst at the same time introducing the possibility of psychic interference in surveillance, by sharing a special mental and physical state of intense concentration with each audience member. I sit in a single confinement jail cell and invite the audience to sit with me, one-by-one, in a non-verbal concentrated gaze.

Panopticism (a social theory devised by Michel Foucault) is a central concept of punishment in jails in the 19th and 20th Centuries. It is “the general principle of a new 'political anatomy' whose object and end are not the relations of sovereignty but the relations of discipline.”[2] The panopticon is represented by an image of single cells within a transparent, circular cage, with its high towers powerful and knowing; it describes a project for perfect discipline. Practically, it encloses the inmate from companions; it is lit up for the supervisor; the inmate is seen, but he does not see. The inmate is the object of information, never a subject in communication.[3] Hence the major effect of the panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power - “Bentham [founder of panopticism] laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so.”[4] The Panopticon ensured the internalization of the disciplinary individuality within the bodies being controlled.[5]

Boggo Road Gaol’s architecture of the historic Number Two Division still holds the panoptic ‘culture of discipline.’ ‘The Artist is Present’ subverts the ‘culture of discipline’ in the jail’s panoptic architecture by opening up the jail cell to 1) holding an intimate moment between two people in a solitary space; and 2) presenting an external, non verbal one-on-one ‘equal gaze,’ opposed to the unequal gaze between the always visible prisoner and sometimes visible warden and 3) opening up the insides and circuitry of surveillance technology.

A one-on-one performance in a place which once confined an inmate in solitary reverses the tradition and function of the architecture of a jail cell. There is no punishment and no need to escape written within the walls, whilst it is also not a meeting place, a muted gaze indicates a place for communal reflection to remember the injustice of incarceration and acknowledge deaths and abuse in custody. 

An equal gaze suggests no hierarchy, no one is physically higher than the other, each person is equally lit, each person is in plain clothes and can see each other fully. This open disclosure of equality is a refreshing experience as we find ourselves herded in institutions by uniformed figures of authority or at worst in a jail, peered at by a visible but unverifiable figure of power. Are they really looking at you? Well, in ‘The Artist is Present,’ I am really looking at you but have no visible signs/symbols of power, in terms of your escape from the jail and punishment, I might as well be invisible..

The ‘culture of discipline’ in jails has evolved - zooming from 1901, when Number Two was built, to now -and panopticism in jails use technology for its surveillance, no longer using architecture. Boggo Road Gaol’s Number Two Division shut in 1989 and was not remodelled.[6] It’s panoptic discipline definitely lies in its architecture, but ‘The Artist is Present’ also redresses the panoptic control of surveillance. Currently in society, panopticism has advanced through technology and we have surveillance so tight we could predict what’s going to happen. The surveillance is hidden but we know it’s there, we have CCTVs everywhere, and even now, private Institutions (not the Government) monitor our purchases and whereabouts (increasingly by self disclosure, like Facebook). The screen work for ‘The Artist is Present’ uses a scattered plethora of deconstructed screens with exposed circuitry to present a recording of ‘The Artist is Present’ press-performance from the day before. In doing so, documenting a staged performance for media, rather than recording real-life transforms the function of surveillance to a dull entertainment in a classic V is for Vendetta, Fight Club anarchist movie plot kind of way. Therefore IRL, the baddies are getting away with it.



‘The Artist Is Present’ wishes to undermine the panopticon’s method of surveillance technology, and brings a handycam and audio recorder into Boggo Road’s Number Two. I believe we can cause spiritual (natural, non-physical) interference with these technologies so that we can see and hear things that the Warden, the Policeman, the Prime Minister, the Miner, the CEO do not see and hear. I believe this electronic interference is only observable post-moment. I have previously tested a group’s ability to manifest a psychic interference in technology.[7] To avoid disrespect and kitsch, no motto/model of any particular former prisoner will be used as a guide for psychic energy. So therefore, the audience is invited to simply sit opposite me. I posit the power of deep concentration between two people is enough to create a disturbance.  In the screen work, the surveillance is monitored for any electronic disturbance in the moment and post-recording.

‘The Artist is Present’ performance and screen work transforms panopticism’s ‘visible and unverifiable’ to ‘invisible and verifiable.’ The panoptic architecture’s and my own power function becomes invisible and the presence of two people at equal gaze, verifiable and re-shown as entertainment rather than surveillance; whilst a deconstructed panoptic technology is used to verify any electronic interference that was invisible/undetected at the time. Punishment turns into an act of psychic and physical creation, an intense physical and mental concentration between two people in a de-comissioned jail cell, in an art Festival in Brisbane, Australia. The subversion of panopticism’s architecture and surveillance technologies is paramount for those concerned with civil liberties in our neo-liberal environment. As we see these methods formerly used by Governments to punish are increasingly implemented in order to ‘manage’ us by Private Institutions in detention centres, schools, art museums, shopping malls and online security.

Physical Description:
‘The Artist is Present’ [Screen 30min] One-by-one I invite the other artists and media in Institutional Capture to sit opposite me in a single confinement jail cell. Our gaze is concentrated and non-verbal. An audio recorder, white noise generator and handy cam are present to document any electrical interference that may occur. The documentation is screened at Other Film Festival ‘Institutional Capture.’
‘The Artist is Present’ [Performance 30min] Audience members are guided one-by-one to sit opposite me in a single confinement jail cell. As we concentrate, I try to psychically manifest an electrical interference in the surveillance equipment that will be post-recording observed. A glitch in surveillance.


[1] Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977) pp200-228)
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Bentham in Michel Foucault 227
[5] ‘Discipline and Punish’ Wikipedia. Accessed Nov 9, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish
[6] ‘Boggo Road Gaol History’ Boggo Road Gaol. Accessed Nov 9, 2014. http://boggoroadgaol.com/history/
[7] Nicola Morton ‘The Spider in the Machine’ Freerange Vol.8 (2014: 56-64)