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Sophie Calle and Panopticism
Michel Foucault’s is highly regarded as one who identified the birth of the “disciplinary” society from his analysis of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon (Michel and Sheridan 1-10). Foucault’s theory on Panopticism is based on am explicit spatial construction and the significant asymmetry of seeing. For instance, in his analysis of Panopticon, he stumbles upon a structure, which is flexible according to Bethan, and ideally could be used indifferently as a prison, medical center, a madhouse, a school, or a factory (Michel and Sheridan 1-10). That is; there is a far-reaching dissimilarity concerning an individual who sees and persons who are been seen. Further, this is evident between the tower guard at the center of prison, who sees everything without being seen, and the prisoners, patients, students, maniacs, and workers hosted in the cells surrounding the central tower (Michel and Sheridan 10-11).
The idea of Panopticism thus is an advancement of these assertions, whose aim according to Foucault is “to maximize the outcomes, while equally trying to minimize the sweat: imperiling a possibly large number of persons to the disciplining control of an undetectable surveillant look” (Michel and Sheridan 1-10). Nonetheless, the psychological consequences of the rapid proliferation of such a pervasive surveillant gaze has been under scrutiny by many artists, working with different media, ranging from photography, to video and found footage cinemas (Michel and Sheridan 19-34). For instance, examining the works of Sophie Calle, has allowed us to observe how the practice of Panopticism can easily be reformulated in more diverse Medias while upholding some of its essential qualities.
Sophie for a long time has chosen performance, photography, and text to search in the interiors of the metropolitan space the undercurrents of following and being trailed, observing and monitoring. In one of her works in relation to a detective, she asks her mother to hire a detective whose main task was to track her and take snapshots and records authenticating all her activities and undertakings. In its final form, The Shadow (Detective) consists of a series of both the detective’s photographs and Sophie’s photos. The photographs portray the artist seen from behind in a series of locations and the notes taken by Sophie. This directly relates to Foucault’s notion of discourse, which is a reflection of the forms of knowledge that exhibits and element of unity. Science, theories, or various forms of text are such examples (Michel and Sheridan 190-200). However, Foucault notices that coherence does not originate in the commonality of “an object, a style, concepts, or thematic choices…rather in the presence of a systematic dispersion of elements.” Looking at this from a critical point of view, Panopticism capacity relies upon, as Foucault puts it “a play of prescriptions that designate its exclusions and choices” (Michel and Sheridan 200-201)
This literally conforms to Sophie Calle’s created work based on the unfortunate event of several valuable paintings being stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Interestingly, she asks visitors and museum staff who had previously seen the paintings to describe them. She transcribes the notes, further photographs the galleries of the museum, and then exhibited the photographs together with the text from the transcriptions.
In conclusion, what strikes most in this analysis is on one hand the suppleness with which dissimilar cohorts of artists have toiled with different mass media and diverse devices in order to institute an affiliation of surveillance. As such, between those who see and those who are seen, as if such objectives had a clear primacy over the different media forms in which it has been articulated.
Foucault, Michel, and Alan Sheridan. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage, 2012. Internet resource.