CTRL [Space]. Rhetorics of Surveillance
Exhibition view "CTRL [Space]"
From Bentham to Big Brother
Sat, October 13, 2001 – Sun, February 24, 2002

In 1785, the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham [1748-1832], founder of the doctrine of Utilitarianism, began working on a plan for a model prison called the panopticon. The signature feature of this design was that every one of the individual jail cells could be seen from a central observation tower which, however, remained visually inscrutable to the prisoners. Since they could thus never know for sure whether they were being watched, but had to assume that they were, the fact of actual observation was replaced by the possibility of being watched. As a rationalist, Bentham assumed that this would lead the delinquents to refrain from misbehaving, since in order to avoid punishment, they would effectively internalize the disciplinary gaze. Indeed, Bentham considered the panoptic arrangement, whereby power operates by means of the spatial design itself, as a real contribution to the education of man, in the spirit of the Enlightenment.
While long the subject of theoretical and political debate, the panopticon was reintroduced into contemporary philosophical discussion in 1975 by the French philosopher Michel Foucault who insisted on its exemplary role as a model for the construction of power in what he called a »disciplinary society«. Ever since, the controlled space of the panopticon has become synonymous with the cultures and practices of surveillance that have so profoundly marked the modern world. When we hesitate to race through a red light at an intersection where we see a black box, not knowing whether it contains a working camera but having to suppose that it might, we are acting today according to the very same panoptic logic.

Challenged by the disturbing [and constantly expanding] omnipresence of surveillance in our daily life to investigate the state of the panoptic art at the beginning of the 21st century, the interdisciplinary exhibition »CTRL [SPACE]« will explore the wide range of practices? from more traditional imaging and tracking technologies to the largely invisible but infinitely more powerful practices of what is referred to as »dataveillance« – that today constitutes the extensive arsenal of social control. However, taking its cue from the central role in the genealogy of surveillance played by an architectural model, the focus will be on the complex relationships between design and power, between representation and subjectivity, between archives and oppression. If a drawing could become the model for an entire social regime of power in the 18th-century, to what extent does that regime change [if at all] along with shifts in dominant representational practices? What happens, in other words, when we reconceive the panopticon in terms of new infrared, thermal or satellite imaging practices? Indeed, what are the sociological and political consequences of a surveillant culture based increasingly on entirely non-phenomenal logics of data gathering and aggregation? Is there a history of surveillance and, if so, how have contemporary practices of, and attitudes toward, surveillance changed?

As it turns out, these and other key questions concerning the practices, transformations and experiences of surveillance have long been explored not only by sociologists, political theorists, and philosophers, but also by artists of all sorts. These include Vito Acconci?s following pieces and Andy Warhol’s explorations of »real-time« and early »closed-circuit video« in the 1960s, Bruce Nauman’s video corridors, Dan Graham’s »Time Delay Rooms« and Rem Koolhas’ »Project for the Renovation of a Panoptic Prison« in the 1970s, Sophie Calle’s documentation of a detective hired to spy on her, and Michael Klier’s by now classic compilation of found surveillance footage in »Der Riese« in the 1980s, and Thomas Ruff's »night photographs«, various installations by Diller & Scofidio and the ironic surveillant science of the Bureau of Inverse Technology in the 1990s. Whether it is the photographic documentation of public surveillance cameras by Frank Thiel and their systematic mapping by the »New York Surveillance Camera Project«, or Laura Kurgan’s refunctioning of declassified satellite reconnaissance images and Josh Harris’s »we-live-in-public.com,« a brutal experiment in life under continuous real-time cyber-surveillance in the new millennium, panoptical questions are far from a new concern even as they have increasingly become a major focus of contemporary cultural production. Yet, curiously, with the exception of a handful of small gallery shows, there has never been a systematic museum overview of this so important issue.

In order to grasp the stakes of highly visible developments such as the self-conscious soap-operatic panopticism of the global television phenomenon »Big Brother« and the increasing tendency towards »real«-time in the so-called »reality-TV« paradigm, not to mention the dramatic proliferation of surveillance both as subject matter and as narrative structure in much of today?s cinematic production [witness »The Truman Show« or »Enemy of the State«] it is essential that we map the full range of cultural engagements with panoptic issues. In its exploration of the historicity of surveillant practices in their relationship to changing logics of representation, »CTRL [SPACE]« will offer both a state of the art survey of the full range of panopticism – in architecture, digital culture, video, painting, photography, conceptual art, cinema, installation work, television, robotics and satellite imaging-- and a largely unknown history of the various attempts to critically and creatively appropriate, refunction, expose and undermine these logics. With an exhibition structure that will itself be thoroughly saturated by multiple tracking systems, »CTRL [SPACE]« promises to be an experience that is at once fascinating, frightening and above all enlightening. Indeed, the latter seems especially important, given that the German word for enlightenment, Aufklärung is also the term used to refer to aerial reconnaissance, i.e. surveillance

Exhibitions team

Martin Häberle (technical project management)
Sabine Himmelsbach (project management)

Organization / Institution
ZKM | Medienmuseum

Landesbank Baden-Württemberg ; The British Council ; Mondriaan Foundation ; Videor Technical ; Barco ; Contact - Werbung ; Buchhandlung Mende

Accompanying program

Key topics