Please see my previous notes on Foucault. 

Many video artists today use themselves as their subject (eg. Lindsay Seers) Think about this in relation to panoticism

Find six images in any medium; two the result of looking, two of observing, and two of surveillance and explain your choices

Seers’ work is incredibly inspiring and I would like to explore it further.

In the meantime we have been asked to consider why video artists use themselves as their subject, in relation to panopticism. I am trying to work out what the question is looking for. Lots of artists throughout history, before the advent of video and moving image technology, have used themselves as subjects. I had no intention of discussing women here, but they do seem particularly interested in work around ‘self’, from Frida Khalo to Sam Taylor-Wood and Elina Brotherus, so my writing has gone that way. But that women feel able to at all seems to cause some consternation. So much so in fact, that when I searched on the Internet for “artists using themselves as subject”, I found a Guardian article with the subtitle, “Why do so many women use themselves in their work – often with no clothes on?” by Germaine Greer, right at the very top of the Google page. Greer, perhaps predictably, thinks it’s unhlepful that women should do this, especially naked. Video, as I wrote about in A1, was embraced as a medium by women artists when it first entered the world as a viable alternative, probably not least because it did so at time when women were starting to have more opportunities to exist outside of the domestic sphere. Vanalyne Green states in an essay I quoted from in that earlier assignment, “Rather than objects, they’re (women) actually agents in producing and complicating the voyeuristic gaze as the audience is fixed between looking and being caught looking…” Although not on video, Jemima Stehli, whose work I admired at Tate Modern in Performing for the Camera, takes things further, and toys with male camera operators who she undresses in front of, and invites them to press the remote button, so they photograph themselves watching her. She makes them record their own voyeurism, and then shows it to an audience, turning the historical male gaze around as well as inverting it. Video, however, as Green suggested was the first medium that women were able to dominate, which they duly did, according to her account. (Green, 2006)

In relation to the current world of social media, where most people are willingly watched and actively inviting people to do so, in what might be seen as a panoptic social landscape, there seems to be several positions for subjects other than those in power to be in. One can either choose to be blind, perhaps blissfully unaware or blasé about all the personal information being offered up and fed to whatever forces are intent on obtaining it, or one can attempt to hide from it. I suspect trying to hide would ultimately prove pointless, like Winston in 1984 who I mentioned in the previous section, discovering that all his secret thoughts have been read. If it isn’t a social media site that claims something of you, usually information for marketing and monitoring, it will be a survey or an electoral role, or the GP, or any number of other institutional mechanisms. An alternative is to embrace aspects of the panoptic seer’s relating and work with it, especially in art, in order to examine it at the very least. Artists who use themselves as subjects might be doing this in some way and especially women who engage in nudity. Women it might be argued have existed in some form of panoptic relationship with the male gaze for centuries and are now using whatever medium works for them, sometimes video, but many others too, to turn that around, and take back some of the power they have lived without for so long. Nevertheless, Greer in The Guardian article above asks why use flesh at all in art. She has a valid point when she asks why women feel the need to expose themselves and writes, “There is a possible answer, which is that the use of the nude is necessarily exploitative, and therefore a female artist who needs to use a body has no option but to use her own, but surely it can be no more than a sophistry”. But perhaps Greer also misses the point; that women are using and playing with the dynamics that left them subjugated, as they remove the ability for the authoritative male to subjugate, which could be seen as an ironic kick in the balls, or an own goal, depending on your view. The ultimate answer rests on whether you view the naked form on public view as exploited regardless of the context. But her question about using flesh at all, naked or otherwise, seems odd if one accepts that art, at least in some way should, suggested by Alain de Botton, help people to reconcile their failings and recognise that others posses similar ones too. “One of the tasks that works of art should ideally accomplish is to take us more reliably into the minds of people we are intimidated by and show us the more average, muddled and fretful experiences they have. That way, we would be helped to understand that we are not barred by our vulnerabilities from doing what they do.” (Botton, 2016) Human beings and one’s own self in that case seem to be ideal subject matter for exploring in art, and perhaps the authorities might at times find themselves being watched. Exploring exploitative watching of all descriptions, in whichever way possible, seems a reasonable thing to do given how much impact it potentially has on society.

At the end of this, it is still difficult to fully understand why we were directed towards video only in the first half of the question since so much contemporary art across mediums utilise the self in some way. Perhaps there is something considered most voyeuristic in video work as the image is sustained rather than a moment in time, and is used by authority to monitor subjects as they go about their day. It was reported earlier this year that the South London borough I live in is one of the most watched in the entire country. “Hackney has the most cameras, with 2900, while Wandsworth was second with 2246.” (Evening Standard, 2016)

Six images in any medium: two that are the result of looking, two of observing, and two of surveillance. Some or many images may invite arguments that suggest more than one category.


  1. The first image is from a collection of images taken by many photographers but the project is driven by one women over a period of 20 years. Isabelle Mège is not a photographer and nor is she anyone’s muse. She does, however, appear in all the photographs in her collection. She archives the image when she has received it along with any ephemera. Only a handful of people have seen the entire collection. Many of the images are nudes. Mège in this particular image is inviting the photographer and therefore the viewer to look at her. She has not asked to be observed but rather to engage in a process where she can be seen, and in this case, where she looks back. I may use this collection for A4.The following subtitle appears beside the image on The New Yorker website: “An untitled work from 2000 by Constant Anée, from a collection of a hundred and thirty-five images featuring Isabelle Mège which have never been exhibited.”
  1. Lindsay Seers’ Entangled² / Entangled² (Theatre II) is about seeing and inviting others to see through her eyes. Even the screens are shaped as eyes and there are two of them so her binocular vision is really experienced by the two viewers who are seated in the tiny cinema where the work is shown as they each become the nerves leading to the eyeball. It could be argued that viewers are being invited to observe, but it seems more likely they are being given the opportunity to really see through these two representations of Seers’ eyes.


  1. Trevor Paglin’s work is concerned with surveillance and observation, and how government and markets impinge on our privacy. These images are a collection of photographs of satellites and falling debris, all of the technology that orbits our sky, some of which will be tracking life below. Paglin observes the observers.
  1. From about the opening show at the new International Centre of Photography in NYC: “By installing performance artist Ann Hirsch’s video piece Here for You (Or My Brief Love Affair with Frank Maresca), 2011 close by, Public, Private, Secret draws a comparison between video surveillance and reality television. As part of this work, Hirsch hijacks the VH1 reality / dating game show Frank the Entertainer in a Basement Affair for her own means. Competing as a contestant of the show as part of her performance, Hirsch’s video cuts together interview recordings, her initial casting tryout, and clips from the show to tell a story that diverges from the series loose narrative.”This installation includes video and still images, and invites us to observe as the artist engages in a type of modern behavior that is highly prurient and encourages a certain type of voyeurism that has become socially acceptable. The fact it is often inappropriate (especially where children are included) and exploitative doesn’t stop people from taking part willingly, despite the fact that often it is orchestrated, certainly in this country, by highly educated upper middle class media people and yet focuses its gaze on middle and lower middle class sections of society. Sometimes reality TV disguises itself as helpful and educational, caring and life enhancing. It is however, always exposing.


  1. Jill Magid, Trust, Evidence Locker, 2004. – Magid utilizes and engages with surveillance systems. She asks police to film her with their surveillance equipment. She is recognisable by her read coat. Afterwords she makes a formal request for the image but in the form of a love letter. When you visit her site you must register to receive emails which further invite you to keep a surveillance on the character she has created. 
  2. Dries Depoorter, Would you like to report the jaywalker? Depoorter links into a surveillance camera in a small town which he hooks up to computer in gallery which can communicate with the nearest police station, and asks viewers if they would like to report people they see making minor infringements such as jaywalking. He is highlighting just how watched we are using the equipment that watches us.


Image (c)SJField 2016









2 thoughts on “Project 4.3: Looking, Observation, or Surveillance

  1. It’s a fascinating subject and one that causes a lot of controversy. I have had a few conversations in the TV group about how it is seen as inappropriate to use your own body and perhaps especially when the artist in question is female. The feminist show at TPG in October will have a number of artists who did and I’ll be interested in those discussions! Gillian Wearing’s ‘get your top off’ is interesting have you seen that? Hannah Wilkie, who will be at TPG but I really like Jenny Saville’s work, another who like Wearing’s crosses the gender binary on occasions.

    Liked by 1 person

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