Art

An Artist Turns Surveillance into Affection

Installation of Jennifer Moon's "Will You Still Love Me: Learning to Love Yourself, It Is The Greatest Gift of All." Image courtesy of Dawn Light Blackman and Equitable Vitrines.
Installation view, ‘Will You Still Love Me: Learning to Love Yourself, It Is The Greatest Gift of All’ (all images courtesy Dawn Light Blackman and Equitable Vitrines)

LOS ANGELES — Artist Jennifer Moon is not the first or the last to experiment with self-surveillance, documenting selfies of her every moment for anyone and no one. Her solo exhibition Will You Still Love Me: Learning to Love Yourself, It Is The Greatest Love of All, an installation at Equitable Vitrines, which is located in the lobby of a drab corporate office building in Koreatown, presents at times problematic evidence of our compliance with selfie culture.

Moon has installed six computer monitors inside a glass display case in the building’s lobby. Pasted on the walls of the display case are notes on surveillance culture theory, intermixed with a variety of pop song quotes, and various charts made to look like a middle school experiment. Each monitor displays a different view from a surveillance camera, either of Moon’s home or inside her car. Attached headphones offer viewers an added audio experience of the surveillance.

The premise of Moon’s project operates much like the random public moments of selfie culture, where once-private, performative self-portraits (often posed before mirrors) are publicly shared for no other purpose than to share a spectacle. Unlike the early internet self-surveillers who engaged in lifecasting and projected similar live-feeds of themselves in domestic settings for public viewing, Moon is completely self-aware of the political and personal implications of making her life public. Still, a problem arises when self-surveillance becomes the norm.

In the 2009 film We Live in Public, internet pioneer Josh Harris, who founded a live audio and webcasting network called Pseudo.com during the ’90s tech boom, suggested that one day in the future we would all willingly trade our privacy for “the connection and recognition we so deeply desire.” In other words, we would trade sweet selfies and private thoughts for the “likes” of our peers. In his 1999 experiment “Quiet: We Live in Public,” Harris created a surveillance environment in two buildings on Lower Broadway in Manhattan. Inside, he installed 150 living pods, an 80-foot dining table, and a gun range. With 110 surveillance cameras hooked-up throughout, every “resident” of the space was able to watch everyone else. It was a competitive “program,” and anyone who wanted to participate had to answer 500 questions about their personal lives, sharing all, in order to be considered.

Installation of Jennifer Moon's exhibition. All images courtesy of Equitable Vitrines unless otherwise noted.
Installation view, ‘Will You Still Love Me: Learning to Love Yourself, It is the Greatest Gift of All’

Of the experiment, Harris said: “Everything is free, except your image. That we own.” This is, of course, much the premise of social media today — that you may post whatever you want, but in doing so you give up exclusive rights to it. In a second experiment, Harris placed himself under 24-hour live, online streaming surveillance, which eventually caused a mental breakdown. Today, many humans voluntarily live in a self-imposed social media universe that mirrors Harris’s early experiments, but engages in a sort of complacency with surveillance that Harris didn’t predict. 

Similarly, in the work of early web lifecaster Jennifer Kaye Ringley, who broadcasted her daily life from her apartment between 1996–2003, we see the ways that one becomes both entrenched in and amenable to the network. Writes Mikhel Proulx in his paper Queer Technologies of the Selfie: “Nearly twenty years ago — well before checking-in to digital networks became commonplace, Ringley checks-in. Through setting up a system for the automated imaging of the self, she regularly checked-into the system, and checked-in her own body. Such checking-in has become prosaic, as many of us register our bodies within technological systems as a continual practice throughout daily life.”

The title of Moon’s exhibition draws on the proliferation of pop songs that equate attention with love, expressing the sort of public affirmation we desire — not just online. If what Moon has coined a “Love Panopticon” — a concept she created from her readings of Benthem, Foucault, and Zizek’s theories on surveillance and control — is evidence of the way we’ve become culturally brainwashed into sharing our lives as an act of self-love, then surely we’re all screwed. But it’s not because our images are no longer our own, which has been the case since the beginning of the age of mechanical reproduction. If Moon’s project suggests anything, it is that perhaps no one is looking at our images, and if they are, they don’t care about what they see — they just consume, then forget. Passersby in the lobby of the corporate office building rarely stopped to take a look at the monitors, instead hurrying to their offices.

In light of these average viewers, Moon’s performance ends up being more for her than for them, much like how a number of self-conscious selfies don’t actually get seen. Through her participation in this experiment, Moon eventually becomes complacent, and even joyfully “connected” to the network, the feeling of constantly being watched — and the question ‘will you still love me?’ becomes synonymous with ‘will you still watch me?’

Installation view
Installation view, ‘Will You Still Love Me: Learning to Love Yourself, It Is The Greatest Gift Of All’
Installation view
Installation view, ‘Will You Still Love Me: Learning To Love Yourself, It Is The Greatest Gift Of All’
Installation view
Installation view, ‘Will You Still Love Me: Learning To Love Yourself, It Is The Greatest Gift Of All’

Jennifer Moon’s Will You Still Love Me: Learning to Love Yourself, It Is The Greatest Gift of All continues through February 20 at Equitable Vitrines (3435 Wilshire Blvd, Koreatown, Los Angeles).

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