[text] Julia Scher
by Julia Scher
1993/2001, installation, steal table with two monitors, video camera, chair, video printer, 81 x 53 x 46’’
There is an industry that practices the claim of hyper vigilance a world where no one is vigilant at all.
... there is no security in nature ...
Part of the larger discussion of protection and threat as represented by contemporary cultural practices, this work is intended as a reflection and response to questions of psychological surveillance, the production and distribution of false/innocent bias machines and the unrelenting activity of designing defensible space. Surveillance discourse itself triggers reactions in individuals even when a mechanism is not in place ("warning: you are under surveillance"/"guard will be back momentarily" signs permanently on the desk). Superdesk explores why and how electronic mediation and a structure of control paralyzes some viewers, empowering other viewers/citizens/prisoners from action and what effect this disablement ultimately has on viewers and their libidinal structures. The Superdesk is an interruption station along any network of space or place. A place to stop and question the questioning station and yourself. A place where ... dismantlement is always a possibility. It confirms the desire to supply, display and dispense control even when what is to be controlled is up for grabs.
My work engages question of control in everyday life. The Superdesk is a temporary and transitory event-space of links, fallible network attributes, shiny and rusty electronics, protection personnel and hands-on narcissistic flexibility. It is organized as a small twisted and swirled security desk ensemble. The Superdesk is a jab at the idea of obtaining consent, with a formal and tacit agreement with space. The Superdesk is a packaging place of the tracking of individuals. The physical manifestation is penetrable, loosely cabled, and perforated. Indeed, the controllers at this station are completely visible as the visitors themselves can "seize control" of the surveillance mechanism.
The desk is at ground floor, an anchor and access portal of the corporate supertower. The normal agenda for this desk is of publicly recording entries and exits of the constantly moving targets of individuals in the space. If you suspect siting down at the desk temporarily subtracts you from the list of moving targets, you are wrong. The desk and the apparatus are geared to re-photo the non specialized public and also attempts to disarm its authority by creating parodies of surveillance language, codes, spatial organization, technological operations and even employees, showing it instead as a fallible human made system whose control relies on our willingness to surrender autonomy. The piece is a send-up of a normal "urban chronic" check-in zone. Above the desk is a "Security By Julia" sign hanging gingerly from a nest of broken cables. In place of a full round closed desk system, this desk is in a "cut open" shape. One can choose to dissent here, to take control of the apparatus of the watch-station itself. Here the viewer is confronted with his or her own internal desire to control or not control.
The desk is inverted, and the normally exterior facing skirt part of the desk is twirled, so that the hidden usually protected portion of the desk is facing out to the outside, exposed. Rather than a guard taking and assessing your own image, passerbys do it for themselves. There is no need for infrastructure to the piece, as it is furniture. The core activity of the desk is different from its use in corporate space as the cabling to and from the desk are large and out of scale with the desk, blue and sparkling pink, plus, the wires above are broken, stripped and the security sign itself is nested cut into a crumbling cabling system. The desk is cut open/shaped as if someone cut open a closed circle. The Superdesk aesthetic exerts control while at the same time suggests the personality and the vernacular of a surveillance in ruins. Two screens, black and white monitors display the electronic images. The images are halved [images of the self are halved in the screens, one to the left and one to the right and the desk itself, shaped as a split-open circle] and also doubled and distanced by the two photographs hanging on the wall, suggesting further duality's: viewer/viewed, subject/object, dominant/submissive, bound/unbound, controller/controlled, watcher/being watched. The piece does not include any boundaries and rather suggests that being unbound is the moment of attaining a self image without devastating unintended consequences. The piece allows viewers to see themselves while at the same time being fully accessible to other viewers at the station. Controlling the equipment knobs is not genuine control; rather it helps explain our complicity in our receptivity to systems whose ultimate aim is to be coming (re-emergent) inside us.
"Please feel free ... to come inside ... NOW!"
The camera is an input area; likewise the guard is an input area, and it is communications that are output, localized and disseminated to the desk itself; a place where the real world and the artificial world converge. What the cameras pick up live is mixed-in with previous day's recordings. This bundle assemblage then, plays back continuously. So, as cameras, via their light-articulating lens look at the present, the system regurgitates the past as well. This mix is shuttled into the monitors. The video facet of the installation parodies the structures of security systems and their nominal agenda of reporting information about the presence of the "other" [usually as a warning about potential danger].
The video printer invites viewers to press a button, to receive a souvenir/portrait of their own making. Participants are able to view their own image and then watch it disappear as it is mixed in with other images. Pressing this button on the video printer appears to produce a self-portrait, but viewers will be frustrated to find that they have very little control over which images are actually given back to them. These other images include earlier recorded scenes from the desk, hallways, back rooms, bathrooms of the current and past institutions that hosted the Superdesk. 
For technical sustainability, control stations rely heavily on video images, a basic principle of single-point corporate security station networks. This tiny amalgam is built on the idea that the industry is promoting robust, modular, reusable scalable components. These pieces are easily separable from specific content, so that their potential general usefulness seems to be unthreatening. For its institutional sustainability, the institution that hosts the Superdesk must realize that the historicizing of the data must take place largely within a digital environment. The core images saved for reclamation are like traditional sketches or photographs in that they are small enough to take away. The desk requires modest daily support in the form of refilling the video printer, changing the tape, and having a guard sit at a desk, although a sign is provided to remind that this "position" is empty - "guard will be back momentarily" sign permanently on the Superdesk.
The activity of creating an image by subtracting it from the system can be ongoing but engenders an additional cost to the system - its alteration is human like, against the machine production. A heavily manufactured criminalizing portrait made of light and heat is here pirated for analysis critique, and for self imaging pleasure, allowing the user to create entire new families of images. At the same time, encountering the new world and aesthetics of superficial penetration.
1 See Softly Tapping the Wires, 1986, live interactive CCTV surveillance project with then state of the art Hitachi Bubble Memory electronics and screen. ^