Out of Control?

21. 03. – 24. 08.2014 – “Out of Control? Life in a World under Surveillance.” Exhibition, Museum for Communication Berlin.

Do we life safely when squares, streets and buildings are monitored by surveillance cameras, when secret services scan all kinds of communication? Does it make things easier when software proposes our next moves? Are security and freedom compatible under these circumstances?“ The exhibition shows over 200  historical exhibits, ranging from 19th century albums of mug shots to Stasi observation equipment, as well as contemporary technologies of surveillance and control. The technical exhibits are complemented by artistic works that make surveillance surroundings perceptible, raise awareness of the phenomenon, but also offer the possibility to laugh. Artistic works by Adam Harvey, Timo Toots, Raul Gschrey and others.

Mug shots & Burning Caravans

Review of the exhibition „La Traversée“ by Mathieu Pernot in the „Jeu de Paume”, Paris, March 2014.

The exhibition „La Traversée“ by Mathieu Pernot in the „Jeu de Paume“, Paris opens with a wall of photographic portraits: small and large-scale, colour and black and white. The subject of all images is a boy turning into a man over the time, offering glimpses into his life. The portraits of the Roma individual set the tone for an examination of concepts of sedentary and nomadic living life.

Entering the exhibition space, in a niche on the left hand side, a work compiled from historical identification documents, interviews and photographic portraits shows how non-conform, nomadic behavior was restricted through heavy police pressure far into the 20th century. The personal stories and artistic portraits contradict the externally prescribed identity in the signaletic cards and nomadic passes.

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In another work, on an adjoining wall, the historical mug shots and documents are contrasted with a series of photo-machine portraits that the artist produced with the children of the Roma family he is working with since his university days. The self-portraits hint at the ongoing administrative pressure directed against the non-sedentary population.

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This is not restricted to the distant past as a series of large scale photographs of today’s disciplinary institutions, prison yards illustrate. A series of portraits shows family members trying to communicate with the inmates beyond the high walls. These state institutions still extend their influence in an extraordinary manner on the non-sedentary population.

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In the next part of the exhibition, this apparatus of identification and population management meets images of sedentary life in the 20th century, concrete housing structures, their de-individualising character, but also their increasing disappearance as overcome and no longer acceptable spaces for residence.

Photographs of a burning caravan and alighted faces of a group of onlookers terminate this circle of a description of society that goes way beyond the documentary realm. Mathieu Pernot is mixing and composing, comparing and opposing story threats and offers new perspectives on – and readings of – our pre-structured and often unquestioned realities of contemporary life and questionable strategies of upholding this status quo.

Identifying Identity?

“Identifying Identity? Identification and Typification in 19th Century and the Formation of 21st Century Identities.”

Presentation at the conference “W(h)ither Identity – Positioning the Self and Transforming the Social” at the GCSC, Giessen University.

19th century endeavours of identification and typification, among others by the French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon, have provided the basis for today’s intricate and interconnected collections of data on individuals – their body and face. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of their work widely influenced today’s means and practices of biometric identification as well as contemporary identity formation.

Taking portraits from the early days of photography as a starting point, the paper will examine the genesis of the practices and modes of visual representation and provide an outlook on contemporary digital archives of personal visual data. Here the ambivalent role of the portrait becomes obvious: on the one hand as a sign of voluntary and confident self-representation of for the first time large parts of society in the 19th century, on the other hand as a means of forced external ascription in practices of identification through the mug shot in police work. This technique of recording the criminal face is eventually extended to cover the whole population in IDs and administrative archives. These processes of visual development have gained new momentum through techniques of computerisation and automation in biometric identification that have just in recent years changed the pictures on our passports from smiling half-lateral portrait to frontal expressionless mug shot.

Schädelsammlung & Narrenturm

Forschungsaufenthalt in Wien

Auf Einladung des Instituts für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung war ich 17.06.-21.06.2013 für einen Vortrag in Wien zu Gast. Mit Daniel Messner und Christoph Musik und ihrem Forschungsprojekt zu „Verdaten und Identifizieren“ waren da interessante Gespräche vorprogrammiert – im Besonderen die Zeit mit Daniel bei 38°C in Cafés und Biergärten sind mir in guter Erinnerung. Der Vortrag bei kaltem Sushi in der Mittagshitze der Bibliothek war eine echte Herausforderung und die Diskussionen mit Historikern und Technikwissenschaftlern eröffneten mir neue Perspektiven.

Neben dem wissenschaftlichen Austausch habe ich die Ausstellung und das Archiv des Rollettmuseums im nahe gelegenen Baden besucht und dort mit dem Museumsleiter und den Mitarbeiten über die Sammlung Franz Josef Galls gesprochen, der mit seinen Vermessungen des menschlichen Schädels als Begründer der Phrenologie gilt. Die gruselig anmutende Sammlung von Abgüssen, Büsten, Totenmasken und Schädeln verweist auf eine im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert weit verbreitete Überzeugung aus der äußeren Struktur des Schädels und Gesichts auf innere Charakteristika und psychische Dispositionen zu schließen zu können. Die Sammlung von 110 Büsten und 67 Schädeln ist in einem abgedunkelten Raum in historischen verglasten Holzschänken untergebracht, die bis unter die Decke reichen. Es gibt in der Sammlung keinerlei Messinstrumente, entgegen häufiger Einschätzungen über die vermeintliche Strukturiertheit und Exaktheit der „Schädellehre“ Galls, war dessen bevorzugtes „Werkzeug“ seine Hand – die gesamte flache Hand, nicht nur die Finger. Schädelsammlung & Narrenturm weiterlesen

“150 Jahre Kompositfotografie: Zwischen Wissenschaft und Kunst“

Auf Einladung des Instituts für Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung bin ich mit einem öffentlichen Vortrag “150 Jahre Kompositfotografie: Zwischen Wissenschaft und Kunst“ am 20.06.3013 an der Universität Wien zu Gast.

///On 20.06.2013 12.00 I will be giving a public lecture entitled “150 Jahre Kompositfotografie: Zwischen Wissenschaft und Kunst“ at the Institute for Science and Technology Studies, University of Vienna.