Who monitors the vigilance?

Walking across Madrid, I came across this provocation. An urban artistic intervention that makes one think: who watches the vigilance and its watchmen? In the contemporary world, the cult of image is total and there are images of (almost) everything. We are increasingly connected in a real global village (McLuhan, 1964/1994), the daily image records produced by the most different devices are abundant, travelling for miles in seconds through the borderless roads of the web. These frames, in movement or not, are spread across the mobile networks of communication and build a network of data available to any equipment with internet signal. Like this example from Madrid, we are permanently watched, if not by strategically installed government cameras, by the other big brother’s eyes that are now no longer limited to a fable about a dystopian future, but fit in the palm of a hand, ready to watch and sometimes punish. Disciplinary power is invisible, but paradoxically, it imposes a principle of compulsory visibility. Those who are watched need to be in evidence, their “illumination ensures the grip of the power that is exercised over them”. (Foucault, 1987, p.156). The vigilance through the streets of big capitals is omnipresent, we insert ourselves in a context of complex communicational entanglement of a countless number of ways that carry information from one side to the other.

The imagetic world arises from the most varied gazes that are focused on it. “We live with images and understand the world with images” (Belting, 2007, p. 14). The set of perceptions that record humanity shapes a collective memory that constructs our understanding of what surrounds us, whether through our own gazes in real time on everyday life, or the vision of others that generates an artistic piece to give shape to a thought. The arts are domesticated terrors (Debray, 1993), and with their help we decipher and multiply the universe of images. Debray (1993) states that one looks at an image according to what one is. The meaning to be perceived of each image varies according to the context in which it is presented, and the culture, the baggage of knowledge and experiences of those who see it. The truth is that we have no control over images. They can simply, as if by magic, appear or disappear from our mind, out of our control, because they are part of the body itself and are fragments of a personal and collective imaginary, which is linked to consciousness, and consequently also to the society where a collective history of myths is lived.

We cannot fail to think that images are frozen moments — even those recorded in motion — that refer, like a bridge, to a time that no longer exists, is immaterial and that exists only in our memories of it: the past. Images are what survives from the old time, our link with memories, whether good, bad or simply indifferent (Didi-Huberman, 2013). Life is increasingly watched through screens, and in this way the present is relegated. The recording of the event is what will remember the past in the near future. This is a pathological symptom of the structures of digital social networks, which dominate by leaps and bounds the attention of the population. They are great deposits (or requiens) of memories, traces and remains (Gagnebin, 2006). Their contents are ephemeral, because everything is fast in the empire of algorithms. If, on the one hand, they function as an archive, these platforms also demand frames of daily life in real time, which may, or may not, become records of exact moments that changed the world, or perhaps just one world, within the microcosm of someone who was affected by the event recorded.

The great irony is the fact that we have our image seen and reproduced by constant surveillance, and yet the watchers are not seen. They are anonymous, only watching from somewhere in time and space. As Foucault (1987) observed, surveillance requires the invisibility of the watcher. Therein lies the artist’s sagacity in planning his work: in that corner of that building on calle Pérez Galdós, finally, someone is watching the surveillance.

Text and Image: Vinícius Zuanazzi (Doctoral student in Communication Sciences at the University of Minho. Master’s in Social Communication from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), and a degree in Journalism from the same University. E-mail: zuanazzivinicius@gmail.com)

Published on 13-01-2023


Belting, H. (2007). Antropología de la imagen. Katz.

Debray, R. (1993). Vida e morte da imagem. Vozes.

Didi-Huberman, G. (2013). A imagem sobrevivente. Contraponto.

Foucault, M. (1987). Vigiar e punir. Vozes.

Gagnebin, J.M. (2006). Lembrar, escrever, esquecer. Editora 34.

McLuhan, M. (1964/1994). Understanding media: The extensions of man. MIT Press.(Original work published on 1964).



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