2002- (Work In Progress)
In Merleau-Ponty’s writings, he frequently refers
to the seeing and the seen. He fights the Cartesian model of vision where
individuals see the world from an external vantage point, or “God’s
eye” view and stresses that we as human beings are not dis-embodied
eyes looking down upon the world. We are embodied. Therefore, in order to
see, we must be in our bodies, in the world. If we are embodied in a shared
world, we can be also be seen by those we see. Merleau-Ponty identifies
the fundamental “reversibility” in vision: the observer is both
subject and object, the seeing and the seen.
Bentham, in his writings about the Panopticon, attempts to break this reversible vision through architectural strategies. He describes the first methods of mediated sight where the body of an observer is obscured behind a technology through which he can look out. However, when the observed look back, they see only the mediating technology, not the observer. Bentham tries to break the bi-directional gaze.
Technologies for mediation of gaze, have made radical leaps since Bentham’s time. The advent of the CCD and surveillance cameras have spread numerous gazes across our cityscapes. A CCD’s gaze can place the observer further from the observed than Bentham ever dreamed. However, the technical mediator (or camera) must remain in the proximity of the observed. Therefore, if the observer wishes to move away from their gaze mediator, they need some form of communication. In other words, a distant observer can view through a remote camera, but the signal from the camera needs to be transmitted to the observer. Traditionally, this is done with a direct wire between the camera and a monitor. However in recent years, it has become easier and more cost effective to connect the camera to the recorder via wireless radio transmitters.
These transmitters crack open the Panopticon in a way neither Bentham, nor Merleau-Ponty imagined. Anybody with a proper receiver can pick up the transmission between the camera and the recorder. In essence, a receiver allows the seen to see from the viewpoint of the seer. They can observe how they are observed.
Unfortunately, according to current Dutch Law, this is thoroughly illegal. Even if a camera is pointed into public space and the signal is intercepted in the same space, Dutch privacy laws forbid you from viewing thetransmission. In other words, it is illegal for a person to see how they are observed.
SeeingSeen uses the Internet and wireless networks technology to exploit loopholes in these laws. It allows people to view through each other’s eyes and specifically seeks to show people themselves as viewed by others.