Concept Police the Police

Biennial of Young Artists on Facebook

The Biennial of Young Artists’ fourth edition, Bucharest 2010, opens with quite an untranslatable mirroring word pun: “police the police”. There is something tricky in the constructive symmetry of this message and in its automatically imperative stance. It seems to be captured in the net of mere illustrative restriction and second offence imminence. It would be rather superficial, nonetheless, if it went only as a militant and rebellious impetus or as yet another predictable and exhausted form of institutional critique. I would like to give for this year’s theme and exhibition another angle of incidence, modeled by a certain polymorphism, stringently contemporary and ubiquitously felt.

Policing ways of seeing are intimately linked with observance and surveillance strategies, with relationships between the observer and the observed, with points of vision and position, with tracking and targeting techniques, with mingled regulating forms of control, protection and sanction. Seen in these terms, there is some basic epistemological complementariness between police praxis and any visual study or historiography – same decoding phantasms, same morellian inductions, and same indicial reconstructions.

Going farther. I will introduce as a fertile and more indeterminate antiphrasis for the surveillance notion its counter-part concept, “sousveillance”. Launched some time ago by Steve Mann as an accompanying notion for his hybrid cyborg surveillance and mediating extensions, “sousveillance” literally designated a form of “appropriating the tools of the oppressor”, in a fundamental subversion of any Panoptikon logics. More recently and more locally oriented, Rob O’Copp’s Nottingham Office of Community Sousveillance opposes, doubles and thoroughly watches community police officers by registering their sideslips.

I convoke this notion today and I would like to test and confront it in this edition with other chameleonic artistic practices that make use of it in their civic dilemmas. How do artists and cultural activists tackle such a political subject in their work, how do they react in their own counter-observance actions towards authority and control, how do they carry their own investigations, how do they launch speculations, pendulating between “wakefulness” and “watchfulness”? How do they work “under cover” in dreaming of full disclosure?

Reminder. On the local Romanian scene, the “surveillance” history activates in the private and public space and memory long time invasive practices (acquired, hereditary, suffered of or inflicted upon others). Recent cultural productions plunged in and exploited this rich invisible heritage with its recurrent lieux de mémoire. Not to mention the paradigmatic figure of the policeman, subject to so many fictive screenplays, vampirized and mocked, nurturing his duplicities or fearing his versatility. Talking today about “sousveillance” tries to breech revolute lines of thought and reflex associations. It tries to understand the way contemporary cultural practitioners grasp this emblematic figure of control and all its possible disguises, far more diffuse and imperceptible, far more allusive and infiltrative. Local interventions (recent projects as well as historical sparkles) will try to articulate this proposition in collaborating with a wide range of attitudes, situations, objects, discourses and devices, multilayered and spread on various theoretical platforms and different international entry and view points.

Bandwidth. In analyzing Montaigne’s reflections and Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence”, Jacques Derrida was reactivating one oracular saying about those legitimate fictions our law is based on. On another level, one should keep in mind the abundance of heterogeneous visionary inventions deploying in fantasy literature an impressive technical inventory that never ceases to proliferate.

More than activist radicalism, I think of an activist reverie and of giving a fictional, metaphorical indentation to this exhibition. In re-instating an old-time fantasy, could we still dribble power today through a visual “dazzling” reaction?

Mica Gherghescu