Digital Watch , 1991
video monitor, custom electronicsa, cameras
76 1/2 x 79 x 50 inches
|Our bodies do not wholly
belong to us. They are circumscribed by identification numbers, photographs,
official documents, and they are recorded, videotaped, and surveilled
by people who are, more often than not, strangers. A centralized system
of observation intersects with our daily activities, from video cameras
at banks, restaurants, and the work place, to the mechanized automatic
door openers at grocery and department stores, all of which we have become
normalized to. Jim Campbell's interactive video and digital works suggest
how surveillance, the power implicit within it, and our casual acceptance
of its social control impact our behavior.
In his accounts of power, truth, authority, and discipline, French historian Michel Foucault (1926-84) analyzed how these systems worked together on the citizenry to control and regulate it. 1One regulatory mode was surveillance. Foucault's references to Jeremy Bentham's (1748-1832) panopticon demonstrate socialized surveillance methodologies. The panopticon was an architectural device that allowed subservient or imprisoned people to be easily monitored by one person. Situated in a central observation tower ringed by a perimeter building, the person in the center could see and therefore control everyone at once. However, the "inmates" could neither see the central observer, nor see each other. Bentham suggested the panopticon was appropriate for prisons, insane asylums, schools, hospitals, and factories. Power was manifest in the central observer because of his gaze-he could see and observe those who were without power. Thus the "seeing" and recording of our actions by someone else is a central idea in who has power and who does not.
Jim Campbell's video works, which record and display our activities, capitalize on personal and social effects of surveillance and power. In Campbell's Digital Watch , the viewer is recorded whenever in camera range, but may be unaware he is being recorded. As the viewer approaches the television monitor, he sees himself in the monitor as if in a mirror, recorded in real time. Simultaneously, the viewer notices that filling a portion of the screen is an image of a watch face ticking actual time. Superimposed on the watch face are images of the viewer that have already been recorded. If the viewer sees himself in the monitor, outside the area of the watch, the image is live, but if the viewer moves into the superimposed image of the watch, then those images of the viewer are seen in one-second intervals that pulse with the beat of the watch's second hand, and are also delayed five seconds. As Campbell states, "As a consequence of this delay, the viewers feel as though they no longer have control over the movement of their bodies." 2
Jim Campbell disturbs the linear concept of time and the power we believe we exert not only over our bodies, but over images of our bodies. Our own image is continually co-opted through surveillance, and the resulting pictures and videotapes could be capriciously watched by an (invisible) person. As Bentham's panopticon suggests, power is contained in who is watching us, why they watch us, and how they control us/our image. But surveillance and its inherent power are seductive because, as Campbell's work implies, we are fascinated with our recorded image, and with the sophisticated computers and equipment that allow people to watch us. We surrender privacy daily in electronic realms of e-mail exchange, internet surfing, and shopping. Ultimately, we strengthen systems of power with our own curiosity. As Foucault suggests, What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn't only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. 3
And while we may take for granted that to be in the world is to be observed and recorded (we usually don't mind when criminals are caught by security cameras), Campbell's work suggests that our enchantment with technology often leaves us complicit in the arena of power and subjugation.
|1. See Michel Foucault's
Power/Knowledge: Sel ected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 ,
ed. Colin Gordon, translators Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham,
and Kate Soper (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1980).
2. Undated and unpaginated artist's statement.
3. Foucault, p. 119.
Jim Campbell lives and works in San Francisco, CA. He has degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. Among other places, he has exhibited his work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Auckland City Art Gallery, New Zealand; Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL; and the Power Plant, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Digital Watch (detail), 1991, pocket watch, two black-and-white video cameras, sixty-inch rear-projection monitor, custom electronics, Courtesy of Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA