Zwischenräume, the deviant surveillance


We generally think of surveillance as a detached gaze, a remote form of watching. The fact that cameras record information continuously and unobtrusively somehow makes their presence elusive. And the idea of data being analyzed only when needed makes these devices feel innocuous. However the gaze of surveillance is always directed and motivated by human desires – it is a form of voyeurism. What happens if we push the question of ownership of the gaze to a point where the machine’s seeing not only augments the human eye but becomes independent and able to produce its own narratives? The robotic installation Zwischenräume by Petra Gemeinboeck and Rob Saunders is aimed at investigating this question, physically manifesting the force of the gaze and casting an investigative lens over the politics of surveillance. It consists of a group of autonomous robots embedded into the architectural fabric of a gallery; the bots dig holes through the walls to inspect what’s outside, communicate with each other, and conspire. Each robot is equipped with a motorised hammer or a chisel, a camera, and a couple of pick-up mics to interact with the environment and network with the other machines. As Gemeinboeck explains, the artwork develops a political relationship between the invasion of digital surveillance and urban combat tactics, like those wherein Israeli soldiers were literally instructed to smash through private walls to ambush their enemies. In this case the wall is that of the exhibition space, turned into a medium for intervention. Audiences are therefore surprised by the disruption of a familiar environment. And through the curious eyes of the robots, what is the norm (the surveillance) turns into the deviant (the voyeur).

Valentina Culatti