Eyeball and Panopticon

Some thoughts about the Eyeball

Eyeball is a soft sculpture of an imaginary supervisor who has eyes (receptors of the spectacle) visible to the observed object. The observed is at the same time an observer of the Eyeball in a two-way visual relationship. The viewer perceives himself/herself as a subject but also as an object of observation.

The artwork is inspired by Panopticon, a prison designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. Bentham proposed the Panopticon as a circular building with an observation tower in the centre of an open space surrounded by an outer wall. This wall, occupying the circumference, would contain cells for prisoners. The concept of the design is to allow all inmates of an institution to be subject to survey at all times both collectively and individually by an observer in the tower who remains unseen. The prisoners should be unable to see the concealed custodians and so could never be sure whether or not they were under surveillance. This design would facilitate more effective surveillance; the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times regulating their own behavior constantly— in effect, watching themselves.

French philosopher Michel Foucault, in Discipline and Punish, The Birth of the Prison (1975), refering to panopticon, suggests that, "He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection".

A realization of Bentham's vision only became possible through 21th-century technological developments which eliminated the need for a specific architectural framework. The concept of the panopticon is widely used to describe the nature of surveillance as a form of information collection by CCTV cameras, Internet Service Providers tracking users' activities, cellphone GPS etc.

I think of Eyeball's design as a poetic transformation of the architectural design of the panopticon, invoking Eyeball as a metaphor for the contemporary deployment of panoptic structures throughout society that technology has allowed. Eyeball is a ball covered by eyes observing to all directions an indefinite number of objects. It is not discreet, camouflaged, unverifiable as the officers in the tower of the panopticon. The subjects are able to see the Eyeball and be sure that they are constantly under surveillance. But in this case, information is collected about everything and everyone all the time. This way, Eyeball's "gaze" does not produce real effects of discipline, it is significantly a reversal of the panopticon illustrating the contemporary failure of surveillance to limit freedom. The monitoring and the collection of data is so huge and perpetual that mining in information takes too long to be able to make the difference.

Panopticon creates a consciousness of permanent visibility as a form of power. Eyeball on the other hand defines its object only in relation to a specific issue. No surveillance subject is identified in order to trigger an information collection process. A subject appears only when a specific question is asked triggering data already gathered but of doubtful efficiency or effectiveness.

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