Though English philosopher Jeremy Bentham first coined the term ‘Panopticism’ the theory was substantially developed by French philosopher Michel Foucault in his book, Discipline and Punish (1975). Foucault explored the history of criminology and penology and according to Foucault, the perfect situation for influencing behaviour is the creation of docile bodies, ‘bodies that not only do what we want but do it precisely in the way we want.’ These ‘docile bodies’, Foucault says, are instilled using three techniques: ‘hierarchical observation’, ‘normalising judgement’ and ‘examination’. These enable us to control what people do just by watching them.
The underlying belief of Panopticism is that humans will behave well under constant surveillance. Foucault drew this theory by looking at Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’, a specific type of architecture that he found ideal for maximising control of the subjects with minimal authority members. The Panopticon is a circular building with well-lit segmented rooms on the outside and an observation tower within. The authority figure in the watchtower can look within each cell at any given time, 24/7. Panopticon principle was beneficial to a variety of institutions in which surveillance was important, including hospitals, schools, workhouses and prisons.
VITRINE’s unique architecture creates conditions for viewing the work 24/7, playing between the public and the private. This exhibition explores parallels between the space and the Panopticism theory. Using the divisions in the window panels and spatial partitioning, the space reflects the Panopticon. The artists will present works exhibited as six solo presentations existing aside each other. Offering the viewer an active role, ‘Docile Bodies’ explores VITRINE’s relationship with public space, and the gallery’s proximity to private space masquerading as public.
Panopticism’s core themes are ‘the systematic ordering and controlling of human populations through subtle and often unseen and/or unknown forces’. Today society continues to understand and manipulate the bases of enacted control through the fear of being observed. The Panopticism theory acts as a unifying device for this group exhibition as the works draw on themes of various institutions, audience viewership and performativity.
Each artist is approaching the subject of Panopticism individually yet all works feature the self or the body. The works are activated through the action of examination which in turn creates ‘Docile Bodies’.
Hardeep Pandhal’s figurative cutouts are positioned in conversation with each other and the viewer. They are human height and have a dominant presence in the space. Georgia Lucas-Going presents two etched metal works, hung high and watching the viewer. One stating ‘I’ve given you everything up until now’, the other with a figurehead. These works are accompanied by her ‘chair’ performance, to be performed on the evening of the opening, which pushes the boundaries of the body.
A chair reoccurs in Benjamin Edwin Slingers’ section, where the artist creates an office-like positioning of work, hosting fragile glass ‘plastic bags’, a car-seat-Swedish-chair hybrid and a smiley inlayed framed work. Authority is present within each of Slingers’ work, specifically reflective of police state.
Jesse Darlings’ Untitled (waiting room poster/municipal hospital series) are drawings on plastic signage, which examine the multitude of institutions where surveillance has been seen as important and implemented, such as schools and hospitals. Similarly exploring systems of power, Liv Preston creates a “sprue system” hosting a display of previous works within the work, exploring gaming tropes that link to Panopticism theory in the age of digital surveillance.
Finally, Sam Blackwood uses windowlene to vaguely block out one of the panels, obstructing the viewers gaze. One metal tattoo artwork hides behind the clouded window and sits alongside found objects, cans and chains, which are used to create a physical partition that echoes the thick panels of the gallery architecture and the cell walls of the Panopticon.
Docile Bodies is curated by Helena Kate Whittingham (VITRINE Assistant Curator) and is her first London exhibition.
The event is to act as a coming together of various parts on the square and creative community.