Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Public Private Panopticon

A project submitted to Artwall in January 2008
Copyright for text and photos: Jan Krcmar
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ppp – a project to reveal the private, unacceptable b/w images of the author’s apartment – a private space at it’s most vulnerable; in an untidy state, the im-ages have partly been taken from a hidden position (i.e. behind a door, from be-hind a bookshelf, etc.), partly in a hasty manner. The photos first resemble se-cret surveillance images, before the beholder realises, that the items shown in the photograph are in fact common and banal. The hidden perspective puts the viewer in an uneasy and uncomfortable situation by forcing him or her to look at something utterly private.

An untidy flat, room or apartment contains a lot more, than just the mess itself. It serves as a source of very private information: it can tell us where we spend time, what, where and how we eat, sleep, wash, etc. At the same time it is information, which we want to keep secret at any costs and which we hide when we have visitors. A mess or disorganisation is a window to the part of our personality, where we are unlike others, where we are truly individuals.

It is also where the fundamental basis for all our opinions is constructed and thus ultimately the origin of all vox populi. It is thus no coincidence, that whoever plans to gain access to our opinions (whether to manipulate or to suppress them) must know as much as possible about our private sphere with the least possible effort. This strategy resembles Bentham’s “Panopticon”, a prison design which enabled the observer to watch over the prisoners without them knowing, when exactly they were being watched.

Whilst totalitarian or post-totalitarian regimes used repression and a secret police to watch over its population, billboards and commercials have taken over this role in the age of consumerism. Both create an ideal citizen and seek to sup-press any deviation from the norm. But while the communist regimes used re-pression (or the mere memory of it in the era of post-totalitarianism), modern consumerist society use images of perfect life without worries to convince us, that we should not spend too much time in our private sphere. Both seek to block the process of us forming our own vox populi and substitute it with theirs. Both use, in Bentham’s words “ the sentiment of an invisible omniscience“. Already occupying the public sphere, they aim to extend their reach into the private.

At the same time, however, both non-democratic regimes as well as the leading protagonists of a consumerist society feign an interest in the opinion of the peo-ple. While the former “allowed” it citizens to cast their votes in elections with pre-determined outcomes, the latter constantly asks for consumer feedback, carries out opinion polls in what is ultimately nothing more than mere taste profiling.

We are made to feel ashamed of our private, individual sphere, through images of either model citizens or model consumers. The ideal labourer has been re-placed by the suntanned young model in a bikini. The panopticon remains largely the same, but it has been internalised and privatised. The sentiment of an invisible omniscience has been transformed from the paranoia of surveillance into the schizophrenia of consumerism.

The photographs, silent, documentaristic and almost boring aim to turn things around, to force the protagonists to swap places. They stare back at the ob-server as a reminder of our inner space, which is everything but perfect. But it remains where most of our decisions are being formed.


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