Artists: Peter Peng, Clayton Kim
TIME magazine said a few years ago that the person of the year was "you" or me or any of us with the advent of YouTube and reality TV and a rapidly growing phenomenon of being interested in other people like ourselves or being obsessed with exhibitionism or narcissism. Originally, we were inspired by a strange phenomenon that people would often look at themselves in reflective surfaces or screens that displayed their image. This phenomenon manifested itself in looking at ourselves in windows and mirrors to watching ourselves on the CCTV security camera screens prominently displayed in stores such as CVS or Target. We wanted to document this phenomenon and explore issues of both narcissism and voyeurism (in a sense, a type of surveillance).
The BioMed center at Brown University is built with a set of two-way windows in which you can see out, but people trying to look in will see only their own reflections. We placed a video camera behind one of these window panes, located in the center of the grid of reflective panels. These windows look out to a highly used sidewalk where students, faculty, and other people travel along. Our camcorder recorded all activity that could be seen out from the window of the BioMed conference room during a peak hour, from noon till one (the time a standard Mini DV tape can record).
From there, we took the footage and edited out long stretches of nothingness, when no people were passing by the window, but kept in all shots of everyone who walked directly past. This footage was then looped and played from a laptop computer connected to a portable projector that threw the edited surveillance footage onto a rear projection screen displayed from window of the Modern Culture and Media Production Building located on the other side of campus from the BioMed center.
People walking by the MCM building and look into the window are treated to the view out of the BioMed center conference room window. The video is labeled as such, so people know exactly what they were seeing as well as when and where the footage was recorded.
Unlike the CCTV security camera monitors of CVS and the like where people walking in the store 1) realize they are being filmed and often can see the camera itself, 2) are presented directly with a screen in which they can view themselves in real time, and 3)usually do not give much second thought to their circumstance, our project "Window With a View" takes important aspects of surveillance, but transforms our relationship to it by emphasizing certain features.
First, people are completely unaware of their being filmed in our project - this is unlike store surveillance where people are so aware to the point that they often forget. Second, people are enticed to look at the two-way windows simply by the reflective nature of these panels - in some ways, this is similar to the draw of the CCTV screens. Third, the MCM projection is not real time, and people are made aware of this fact. Had we possessed the technical know-how and the physical resources, we had considered streaming the camera view real time from the BioMed center to the MCM window. Perhaps seeing a projected video of the recent past and knowing that that it is not real time forces the viewer to understand something else though. This decision was made with an intuition that there is something more behind it, but we are not sure what. It brings up questions of surveilling the past, or perhaps is similar to looking at old videos and photos of oneself. Fourth, and most importantly, the looking space (the MCM window) has been removed from the original site of recording (the BioMed window).
We tried to create a pure, unadulterated view into the way people view themselves in public by hiding the camera. However, the fact that the BioMed windows are known to be windows and not mirrors no doubt does deter people from looking - in fact, a Brown Daily Herald article was recently published about these two-way windows, so what we found was that only a small percentage of people we recorded actually looked at. The small percentage may also be because there are several windows to look at, and we could only record from one, so people may have checked themselves out in the other windows and not directly in the one we had placed the camera behind. Nonetheless, we caught many people looking at themselves, and it is this action that comprises the heart of our project.
The location of the projection is important because it creates a situation in which viewers looking into one window (the MCM window) see out another (the BioMed window). In this way, the final presentation of our project becomes a portal seeing into first of all, the past, but more importantly of a situation in which the dynamics of looking are reversed. In the footage, people look into a window, at the camera, but only see themselves. Perhaps this is a statement on surveillance - that cameras are invisible, that even when looking directly at a camera, one fails to notice it because it is impossible in our project, but even when plainly visible, one tends not to register its existence. Furthermore, it is important not to forget that the camera looks out this window, but ultimately shows what it sees on the other side of the portal, projected into the MCM window.
Our project hopes to explore issues of seeing: our relationship to the way we see others, the way we see ourselves, the way we see others seeing themselves, the way a camera looks at us, and the way we view, in both senses, the camera.s
[Preview pt. 1|mcm0750:Window With a View^BioMed Survelliance pt 1.mov]