POV: Surveillance and Sousveillance, curated by Christine Olejniczak

Mandy Bernard & Alicia Kelly | Fall, 2022 | Tufted wool and acrylic yarn, cut Tyvek, acrylic, wire

People’s images are captured on security cameras approximately 70 times a day – 25,550 times a year. We have become comfortable noting cameras at intersections, mounted on lights in parking lots, playing our image back to us in real time as we stand in line at convenience stores and gas stations. We’ve become so comfortable with the presence of the camera that we surveil ourselves. 93 million selfies are taken each day – that works out to 34 billion images a year. Sousveillance is a point of view we understand.

The title of the show – Point of View – is a cinematic term now ubiquitous in social media. With so much sousveillance, contemporary smart phone users are aware of how they look from the outside. We watch ourselves and consider what others see. Scenes are set. Backdrops are designed. Stories are implied. Even when a camera isn’t obvious, we are aware of the POV of someone looking at us. We are voyeurs to other people’s lives on social media and we participate as performers in the movie of our lives as shared in a communal digital world.

Mandy Bernard, Candace Hicks, Becky Hyberger and Alicia Kelly have created an environment at the Salina Art Center that collages a story suggesting that we are all involved in decoding truths, lies and illusions. All of the artists ask us to come closer, take a peek, step inside, press our eye against the peephole and look around. Viewers are discouraged from being passive.

Alicia Kelly | The Passing | 2023 | Cut Tyvek

Walking through the exhibit, we experience a change in scale as we move throughout the three spaces. Entering the first gallery, Alicia Kelly’s installation The Passing incorporates the skylight as light source and framework for a suspended cut paper piece that drapes from floor to ceiling. The piece creates an architectural space within the gallery. As we walk through The Passing, patterns of shadows pass over our body and absorb us into the piece. We are part of it. Our body moves through the installation and changes the shapes of the shadows. The cut paper projects patterns on our faces and hands – we move and they follow. We are cast in a net of shadows. We become aware of how we must look and stop to take our picture. We look over at our friends and take their picture too.

On the back wall behind The Passing, Kelly reminds us, “Don’t Forget to Call Home”. The words appear in shadow – like light flittering through the leaves of trees, spelling out a message in a magic forest. The text appears high on the wall, we look up to read it and we are reminded how small we are in a fabricated space we couldn’t have imagined just minutes earlier.

We are not alone. Four mannequins are stationed in the space displaying collaborative wearable sculptures produced in a mail exchange by Alicia Kelly – Lawrence, Kansas and Mandy Bernard – Homer, Alaska. Historically, Bernard’s work has involved manipulated textiles and hand-tufted fiber sculptures. She shares a material process with Kelly that is process heavy, repetitive and uses rhythmic patterning to articulate sculptural forms. Separated by three time-zones, this collaboration began as an intuitive creative exchange, a “call and response” experiment. Bernard providing the textile elements and Kelly with cut paper accessories. The work was documented at the peak of each of the four seasons placing the wearable sculptures in natural light. The mannequins are draped, wrapped and framed with the same materials and patterns as the environment they exist in. The figures are of this place and contribute to the installation of projected patterns throughout the space.

Anne Waldman, poet, activist and co-founder of the Naropa Institute wrote this text published online for the Prague Writers Festival in February 2009 where she addresses sousveillance from a Buddhist perspective:

There’s also the interesting activist/artist movement called ‘sousveillance.’  Besides having inherent meaning and value, sousveillance is an example (for me) of what I would call a social movement with  ‘spiritual architecture’ – meaning (in this case) that it emphasizes awareness, being mindful, recording the moment, being both participant and observer at the same time. 

Mandy Bernard’s performance work has turned the camera on herself. Her video piece Liminality, observes the artist’s feet walking on eggshells scattered across tufted chenille and wool yarn on a raised wooden platform. The piece is mounted low to the ground. The images appear nearly life sized. Walking on eggshells through a liminal space of light and shadows.

Inspired by conspiracy theories and government secrets, Candace Hicks presents Cloud Storage in the adjoining gallery space. The scale shifts from large to small as we are presented with a 65-foot pixelated mural of cumulus clouds comprised of over 5,000 round mirrors. Hidden among the mirrors are a handful of security peepholes that give access to hidden rooms where a cumulus cloud is the main character at the center of an inept plot of surveillance, cover-up, and violence. We are now part of the surveillance team. As we lean in to find the peepholes and discover more clues, we notice how our reflection is broken up into dots from the mural. We stop and take our picture. The surveillance team has been documented. POV has switched again.

Candace Hicks | Cloud Storage | 2023 | Mirrors and peepholes to alternate universes

When asked about the title of the installation Hicks references Mark Miodownik’s Liquid Rules. In her own words:

Why do we see clouds as white (sometimes fluffy) objects? Composed of billions of tiny droplets of water, we see the reflected many pinpricks of light that bounce back to us, but because our brain is used to interpreting light and shadow as objects, we see objects floating in the sky. Even as another part of our brain tells us that a cloud is made up of water droplets, it’s very hard to see that.

The installation encourages and incentivizes us to work together to fully explore the enigmas within. Cloud Storage focuses on optical phenomena that can only be experienced first-hand. A cloud is the protagonist and star of the installation as a stand-in for UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena), the preferred nomenclature that has replaced UFO. The cloud is the subject of scrutiny in a world where conspiracy theories abound, and we are made ever more aware of the gaps in our understanding.

A stop action animated film of a crop circles forming is projected on another wall in the space – photographic “proof” of their creation. We have all seen the aerial photos of the pictograms but no one has ever seen them in the making. There is a desire to figure it out and at the same time we can’t help but root for the underdog and wish that just once we could catch an alien stamping out a crop circle to prove what thousands of viewers of the History Channel already take for fact – the aliens are here. We want to believe the fantastic and we want proof. But some proof and blind faith goes a long way in upping reverence for the extraordinary.

Hicks is also exhibiting embroidered pages and books from her Common Threads series. She has been working with literary coincidences for the past 18 years and produces 8-page embroidered books styled after composition notebooks. In a world of interconnectedness, a word or phrase in one book shows up in a newscast, the words are heard again in a song that repeats the phrasing. Hicks tracks disparate sources that reference the same images – some literally – some metaphorically. New work is being presented as part of the Cloud Storage installation.

Becky Hyberger uses dream imagery and symbolism in a series of scaled miniature constructions. Maintaining a studio practice that involves dream journaling, Hyberger has amassed a large visual vocabulary of images that originated in her subconscious. She is drawn to small, intimate spaces that often reference the home. Carl Jung refers to the symbol of the home as “both a map of our collective evolution and a description of the individual psyche.” The house is the self. The spaces that capture Hyberger’s attention are the corner of a basement, a drawer under water, a closet – all aspects of the subconscious. Doors are openings into the unknown; a suitcase contains unremembered thoughts, dreams and memories; a bird is a spirit, and a bed represents the passage of time.

Hyberger’s installation space is personal. Dream Fragments are installed on plexiglass shelves along the walls. They wrap around the space creating architecturally scaled domestic tableaus. Each vignette is metaphorically dense and never tells the whole story. Richard Kearney wrote the introduction to The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard in 2014 and states “Because ‘the poetic act has no past,’ we must be fully attentive to the image at the very moment it appears. . . .“ Attention is key. Hyberger is vigilant in her quest for capturing transformational moments and realizing those ethereal images as sculptural objects. The miniatures evoke a time past. They reference a childhood seen through the lens of an adult. As viewers we feel this shift and are aware of how large we are in relation to the beds, chairs, and suitcases on display. We are not a participant in this story – we are an observer – a witness. We are being shown a history of past events that has a truth to them. The care and details are proof of the veracity of the story.

We emerge from the gallery with new experiences. We looked and we were looked at. We were part of a surveillance team and we were also aware that we took pictures and contributed data to our own sousveillance. We were perpetually working to make sense of our surroundings. We wonder how we will tell the story of this exhibition to others. How do we make sense of objects we see with our own eyes? What about dreams? What are we trying to tell ourselves? There are strategies for understanding the world. We live in both digital and IRL. Once enough information is collected the data can be stitched together to have a beginning, a middle and an end and a story is put in place. The higher the adrenaline, the sharper and more detailed the memory. A bit of unease shapes the focus. Meaning can be attached to the story. Lessons can be learned. Myths made. Evidence can be assessed, and truths can be determined. All of us are trying to figure it out.

–Christine Olejniczak

More info at www.salinaartcenter.org

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