How does the act of filming become interwoven with the events unfolding before the camera? How does the camera become a tool? In what ways does it grant or deny its subjects, or the person wielding it, permission to perform or do things that they would not do otherwise? And can filming people simultaneously mean framing and controlling them while giving them a platform and a voice?
These are some of the questions raised in the exhibition "Into the Eye of the Storm," which brings together video works that use the camera as a protagonist, or that otherwise call into question the camera’s power over its environment and the subjects it records. The supposedly simple, neutral act of documenting people becomes, in these works, a loaded exercise in power dynamics. The result is a complex web of interactions between subjects, artists, and the viewers who ultimately pass judgment on them. Through these works, we learn that the camera does not simply record its subjects, but rather produces them.
In the essay “Short History of Photography,” Walter Benjamin states (harking back to László Moholy-Nagy) that the illiterates of the future will be those who cannot read photographs. In our age of Photoshop and iPads, YouTube and unmanned war drones, as our personal and collective realities are increasingly mediated by imagery, visual literacy has expanded to encompass myriad forms: photographs, computer screens, and, most importantly, video in its many manifestations. Much has been written, particularly within the field of visual studies, about the state of reception, the deciphering of visually manipulated images, and the fragmentation of the visual experience. Yet in order to truly understand and critique what we see – in photography, in video works, on television, and online – we must analyze not only the effects of post-production and reception on the images we consume, but also the conditions of their production, ones created simply by turning on the camera.
This exhibition encompasses a range of international works that use the camera as a device through which to examine various media in an almost metaphysical way. Rather than focusing on form and medium, however, these works are the products of cameras that have, in some way or another, clearly changed people’s behavior. Tova Mozard, Julika Rudelius, and Rinat Kotler demonstrates to us how people aspire to become images. Other works, such as those of the Surveillance Camera Players and the B’Tselem footage, look at the camera as a vernacular tool placed in people’s hands, and at how it can be transformed into a weapon. These issues are pushed to extremes by Jannicke Låker and Renzo Martens, who examine the potential for behavioral manipulation and even for the breaching of ethical boundaries.
In Låker’s video, as in many other works in “Into the Eye of the Storm,” people perform and manipulate others for our consumption, so that their very existence as subjects is predicated on our own presence. We ourselves are thus implicated in the power relations at play in these videos, and are by extension responsible for the choices made by both the artists and the subjects. In essence, the works in this exhibition are “stress tests” that probe the meaning of consuming imagery. When our expectations are unmet – or worse, when we are offended – we realize we actually have expectations and values. The unblinking eye of the camera gives the artists in this exhibition the license to scrutinize their subjects, often in uncomfortable or strange ways. When they go too far, they provoke in their viewers a demand for accountability. Yet even the mildest of these works makes viewers consider how such imagery came to exist, and the conditions in which these scenarios unfolded. If the camera is indeed the device that has allowed the artists or their subjects to act differently than they otherwise would have, we must conclude that it similarly affects everything it films, and that the countless images we consume in our media-saturated world are all similarly influenced by its presence.