art projects
On the Observing of the Observer of the Observers
Categories: Art

Observe your spouse

Commission: Commissioned by the Phillips Museum of Art, Franklin and Marshall College.
Exhibition: Exhibited at the Phillips Museum of Art, Franklin and Marshall College,
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
February 9 – April 7, 2013
Materials: Video cameras, monitors, computers, electronics
Description: This installation is inspired by Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s novella, The Assignment. One of the novella’s major characters, Tina von Lambert leaves behind a diary entry that says, “I am being observed.” It is unclear if this refers to the meticulous studies her psychiatrist husband is making of her, or if it is a positive acknowledgement that, at last, someone is paying attention to her. This paradox applies to surveillance now more than ever. With the advent of social media, cell phone cameras, webcams and YouTube, is being ‘seen’ confirmation that we are meaningful, or something to avoid?

The text used in this installation is derived from Chapter Five of the novella, a chapter in which a logician develops a theory of observation that connects war, science, terrorism, marriage and God. The installation merges surveillance video with a self-help style voice-over, a psychology experiment, and a religious sermon. The installation is comprised of thirteen specially constructed rooms, incorporating a total of fifty high-definition webcam feeds and fifty monitors. Each room contains a ring of cameras that capture a 360-degree panorama that is then displayed on a row of screens. Each camera runs computer vision algorithms that determine what they display and what they ignore, enabling the monitors to display a panoramic view of the gallery space that is asynchronous, a composite that has been reconstituted from multiple different moments in time. The algorithms are unique to each room – some require the displays to always show two people in the room, others five people, or one, or none. Some blend staged footage – the Asch conformity test, a religious sermon on God as voyeur – with real-time footage of visitors to the installation. The result is a series of fixed narratives, an endless succession of the same event, each one a new version rather than a looped repetition. These narratives are then brought together, unified via a series of spoken instructions derived from the logician’s theories, into a single cinematic video projection.

Credits: With thanks to DXARTS, Rus O’Connell, Yi Ding, Eliza Reilly, Johanna Gosse, James Hughes, Jimmy Johnson, Ron Leik, Erika Herrera and Sunny Waap.
Technical: On the Observing of the Observer of the Observers uses computer vision algorithms built in OpenFrameworks and OpenCV to detect, profile and track people as they move through the installation. Each space in the installation has unique rules governing what is displayed on its monitors. The work also incorporates custom electronics that control door locks, LED counters and lighting within the installation. The video files captured by the various cameras are automatically tagged and uploaded to the installation’s ‘projection room’. From there they are automatically edited into a sequence, with subtitles and audio derived from Durrenmatt’s text, again using OpenFrameworks.
Reviews/News: Catalog essay, “Waiting to be Seen”, by Johanna Gosse
PDF of exhibition catalog
Wood Stove House
IMAGES: pp6 pp7 pp8 pp9
IMAGES: pp1 pp2 pp3 pp4
VIDEOS: image Once video starts, click ‘Full screen’ to view text. Best viewed at 1080p.

Categories: Art -