Cinopticon was commissioned by Carriageworks as part of Suspended Moment: The Katthy Cavaliere Fellowship, providing three one-off grants of $100,000 to female artists or collectives to create ambitious new installation and performance artwork.
Now out of voluntary administration, Carriageworks opens its doors next Friday, August 7, with free access to eight new commissions as part of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney. These works were initially exhibited at the National Art School for 10 days, prior to the closure of museums and galleries in March due to COVID-19.
Carriageworks’ reopening means Stanborough’s show will be physically unveiled for the first time. It invokes philosopher Michel Foucault’s theory of the panopticon, in which people under watch are “seen, but he does not see; he is an object of information, never a subject in communication”.
Stanborough says our enjoyment on the internet is derived from our own self-exploitation. Algorithms weighted by commercial values ascribed by platforms like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook decide how we see ourselves and others and the nexus has only tightened as life moves increasingly online as a result of restrictions to public gatherings.
“Obviously, we have been spending a lot of time online lately and the dynamics have shifted from when the show was intended to open,” she said. “I’m excited to see how audiences respond to some of the content in the show which seems to preface or almost prophesise the living on-screen which has become literal in lockdown.”
The show “has a kind of paranoiac, conspiratorial aesthetic,” Stanborough says. “It’s a bit like in the detective movies. You walk into a dark space and there are manic scrawls everywhere and this is lit by roaming searchlights. The idea is using this motif of authoritarian surveillance that would be familiar from the nightmares of governmental regimes in the 20th century, which are funnily enough recurring now.
“But it also functions as a theatrical spotlight that you can step into and perform, much like we would on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok – this idea [of] spaces of performance, enjoyment, and titillation that are actually the mechanisms of surveillance.”
The problematic use of digital screens as a direct fount of information was highlighted during the Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the election of Donald Trump and the Cambridge Analytica data breach, and rammed home by the potency of COVID-19 conspiracy theories, she said.
“We don’t yet have the epistemic tools to navigate the fact that the presentation of the world through these screens is dictated by commercial interests,” Stanborough said. “It’s not even giving us what we want to know, it’s what will excite us most. Even things that outrage us can be incredibly profitable.”
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Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald