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angles of incidence (works) : watched/measured
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Watched & Measured
Permanent Exhibition, London Science Museum, U.K.
by HorizonZero editors

The click of a shutter snapping. An image of a man on a projection screen freezes, then dissolves into nothing. Soon there is another image: a video camera follows the movement of a woman through the gallery, pans, zooms in on her head, tracks it, seems to be analyzing it, takes a quick snap shot. Click. Now the woman's close-up has been collected on another nearby screen next to twenty other close-ups. Each frame displays a human head, looping simultaneously in slow motion. The woman, a new visitor to the gallery, steps up to the screen, reads the title of the piece, notices her face among the snapshots, realizes she has been observed and recorded while strolling among the exhibits. Words scroll across the bottom of the screen. "Selected," she reads, "Hunted." Click. Now the camera is following a child playing in the foyer. It zooms in on a round, oblivious face. Click. Suddenly, the child is gone, and the woman is confronted once again with the image of her own profile, blurred and indistinct, caught in the act of watching. The image dissolves.

Watched and Measured is a work commissioned for permanent exhibition in the Welcome Wing of the London Science Museum. As David Rokeby explains in his artist's statement, "It explores some of the ethical questions surrounding surveillance systems: do they invade our privacy, act as guardian angels, or perhaps make us sanctioned voyeurs?" Surveillance cameras observe certain spaces in the museum. The images from these cameras are digitally processed, altered and sometimes distorted, then projected on three large video screens. The computer-guided cameras search for things they have been programmed to be "interested" in: sometimes they track moving objects; at other moments they investigate objects that are still. At yet others they search for images that might be human heads, then zoom in and analyze them. Eventually, the heads may be "collected" with other recent close-ups onscreen in a gridded display. As Rokeby explains, "The work presents a series of people looking and being looked at, watching and being measured. The audience's feelings may alternate between sympathy and suspicion as they realize that they are not only witnesses to, but also subjects of, the system's activities."

Half a world away, David Rokeby's art is watching people. But what are they seeing in return? Intrigued, HorizonZero asked UK arts journalist Lina Dzuverovic-Russell and her artist friend Rachel Baker to do some watching and measuring of their own. We invited them to take a walk around the galleries of the Science Museum with a sound recorder and video camera, and zoom in on the watching of Watched and Measured in a live installation review. What did they return with? Feelings of sympathy and suspicion, certainly, as Rokeby predicted. But also words like "seductive" and "sensational", "fetishizing" and "voyeuristic". In their lively conversation, they consider the undeniable -- and undeniably disturbing -- aesthetic and social importance of surveillance artwork. They also ask some difficult questions about the installation itself: Is Rokeby's piece critical enough of a world constantly under the looking glass, or does it ultimately fall into its own voyeuristic trap? Find out what our correspondents thought by listening in on their live investigation. Audio is available on the Flash site.

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