The Medeology Collective is a group of SCAD professors from Savannah and Atlanta that combine their love of interactive video sculpture into performance art. Friday night’s performance included artists Kelley McClung, Alessandro Imperato, and James Gladman. The performance, titled Geometries of Power, deals with the ever increasing amount of surveillance in our daily lives and the personal and cultural effects of that loss of privacy.
The performance took place in the cavernous atrium of the Jepson Center. A semi-transparent cube sat in the center of the space with three screens mounted on the windows behind it; the trio of artists sat inside, controlling the videos projected on the four sides of its exterior. Three of those wall feeds repeated on the three window screens. Cameras pointed at various angles were mounted on the sides of the cube, capturing live images of patrons as they watched themselves being watched.
At one point, artist Alessandro Imperato came out of the cube to adjust one of the cameras, breaking the shroud of anonymity the artists singularly enjoyed inside the glowing box. A look through the transparent walls revealed the artists sitting in a tangle of cables, working away on their computers – reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain…”
This piece was a lot to take in, so I sat down for a while and decided to meditate on what I was seeing from the steps nearby. There is no way to fully describe everything that was going on: the multiple screens to try to keep track of and the sheer amount of videos projected was overwhelming – but so visually striking. One could become hypnotized just sitting there, becoming immersed in the video feeds.
The arresting (and intrusive) nature of the performance drew parallels to our daily inundation of information and images and our resulting desensitization to them. Unlike the typical, every-day experience of overstimulation Geometries of Power encouraged the viewer to slow down and process the repeated segments of information.
Much of the performance’s layered and blended video feeds appeared to be composed of stock footage from wildly different sources and time periods – including news footage that seemed to span the last three decades, clips from educational programs like Nova, blips from commercials, and glitched montages of American presidents. Sometimes text and symbols (I saw runes and Asian logograms) were imposed on top of the clips, played under sound that was equally blended, stratified, and distorted. At times it was indistinguishable from the murmur of people talking, like listening to the TV from outside of a room. Other times it was a droning, hypnotic sound that alternated between ambient soundtrack and maddening, deafening buzz.
The imagery on its own was evocative enough with its exploration of spying and systematized violations of privacy, but the ingenuity of the piece was (for me) not in the selection of visuals, but in the placement of the installation. It would have been easy to place this inside one of the galleries, allowing people to come and go as they pleased. The choice to place it in the open atrium of the Jepson Center removed any sense of privacy that they viewer may have had – with cameras lining all sides of the cube there was nowhere to escape.
Geometries of Power reminds us that we are being watched everywhere we go. Standing in the atrium under the unblinking gaze of the Collective’s lenses it was completely possible for people to be watching you from the street, the upstairs café, or the balcony above. As the night wore on, I took on the role of the voyeur and people-watched from the café, struck with how little the groups of people gathered to chat in the atrium were aware of their own vulnerability to prying eyes.
The only time their attention faltered from each other was when one of the cameras began to live feed onto the screen behind them. It started with one young man delighting in his image being projected. He danced around, waving to the camera, and watching the lagging footage show up overhead. A friend joined him and they began to experiment with different poses while a woman began to film them with her phone. I watched them watch themselves be recorded while their friend recorded them, and later others (maybe even strangers like me) would watch them all over again.