Auto-Surveillance Encounter (2004, 2015)
A meditative exercise in non-mediated human communication.
Surveillance usually entails distance, control, concealment, alienation. What happens when we allow a cycling between viewer, viewed, and voyeur? In this participatory performance, a viewer stands in the center of a group of people. The artist is the first viewer. A micro-camera is on the viewer's forehead, and his or her "point of view" is projected on a screen behind him, in view of the audience/participants. For exactly one minute each, in total silence, the viewer maintains forced eye contact with every participant in turn.
When the interval is over, the viewer turns to view the next person, and the former participant becomes part of the audience once again. The others are free to look at the viewer, or the participant who is looking at the viewer, or the screen showing how the viewer sees that participant looking back, or even at the others – to look at how they are looking.
While the audience cycles between the different viewpoints, they are necessarily forced not only into the role of the viewer, but of the voyeur. The looming presence of the projected image constantly threatens the act of looking itself. It is difficult to look away from the screen, even for those weaned on constant video imagery. The nature of spectacle is such that, even when simultaneous, it seems more real than reality. Yet only the viewer and the current participant are experiencing direct, personal contact. The onset and fade of self-consciousness is broadcast for all to see. Amidst the layered panoply of surveillance, each one minute interval becomes a meditative exercise in non-mediated communication.
When the cycle is finished, the participants rotate positions, and a new viewer wears the camera, and engages in one minute eye contact with each participant. Although the artist is the first viewer in each cycle, the traditional power of that role is handed off, and all participants become equal.
Auto-Surveillance Encounter was first performed in 2004 at the Hostel Haus Salon (Brooklyn, NY), curated by Leejone Wong. It has no relation to Marina Abramovic's The Artist Is Present. It was conceived as a reaction to and extension of Dan Graham's Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975), updated to focus on the cultural ubiquity of surveillance and self-broadcasting. No documentation of the original performance survives.
Auto-Surveillance Encounter was performed again in February 2015 at the Art Souterrain Festival in Montreal, Canada.