Voyeuris­tic Spaces: Ma­te­ri­al­is­ing the De­sire of the Gaze


Session Title:

  • Surveillant Spaces: From Autonomous Surveillance to Machine Voyeurism

Presentation Title:

  • Voyeuris­tic Spaces: Ma­te­ri­al­is­ing the De­sire of the Gaze



  • Panel: Surveillant Spaces: From Autonomous Surveillance to Machine Voyeurism

    Sur­veil­lance and its ubiq­ui­tous tech­no­log­i­cal lens is often thought of as a de­tached gaze, an ab­stract, re­mote and im­per­sonal form of watch­ing. It sep­a­rates watch­ing from wit­ness­ing, and, in­creas­ingly, even the watch­ing, analysing and in­ter­pret­ing is au­to­mated. Yet even though de­tached, the sur­veil­lant gaze is by no means pas­sive and with­out agency; it is al­ways di­rected and mo­ti­vated by human de­sires. Tate Mod­ern’s re­cent ex­hi­bi­tion Ex­posed: Voyeurism, Sur­veil­lance and the Cam­era has put the al­liance be­tween sur­veil­lance and voyeurism on dis­play. The cu­ra­tor, San­dra Philips, ar­gues that “sur­veil­lance pic­tures are voyeuris­tic in an­tic­i­pa­tion, seek­ing de­viance from what is there: … ev­i­dence of in­crim­i­nat­ing be­hav­iour, such as spy­ing, cross­ing bor­ders il­le­gally, or ac­cept­ing bribes” (2010). Re­mote and ap­par­ently dis­em­bod­ied, the gaze as so­cial force also has a hap­tic pres­ence, “the ges­ture that seizes” (Brighenti 2010), reach­ing to­wards the gazed upon.

    The ro­botic in­stal­la­tion Zwis­chenräume (In­ter­sti­tial Spaces) phys­i­cally man­i­fests the force of the gaze to pro­duce an in­ves­tiga­tive lens into the pol­i­tics of sur­veil­lance. The work, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rob Saun­ders, em­beds a group of au­tonomous ro­bots into the ar­chi­tec­tural fab­ric of a gallery; they punch holes through the walls to in­spect what’s out­side, sig­nal each other, and con­spire. The ma­chine aug­mented en­vi­ron­ment ex­am­ines the stealthy in­va­sion of dig­i­tal sur­veil­lance through the phys­i­cal lens of urban com­bat tac­tics. In con­trast to the dis­em­bod­ied, dis­guised gaze of our every­day sur­veil­lant spaces, here the agency of the ma­chinic gaze ma­te­ri­al­izes and marks and wounds our en­vi­ron­ment.  Zwis­chenräume’s gaz­ing ro­botic agents are self-mo­ti­vated, cu­ri­ous to study their en­vi­ron­ment and its in­hab­i­tants. Rather than serv­ing as the eye for a human agent, they are voyeurs, only watch­ing for their own ‘plea­sure’. In­ter­est­ingly, it is the ma­chines’ de­sire to de­tect de­viance from the ‘norm’ that in­ti­mately links sur­veil­lance (the norm) to voyeurism (the de­viant). Zwis­chenräume, whose way of see­ing is mo­ti­vated by what it sees, ex­pects, and doesn’t see, does not only per­form but be­comes an au­di­ence to the au­di­ence’s per­for­mance.