Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Recess with Rob Waters

Welcome to the second installment of Mercer Union Hall's, "Recess". This series is devoted to Mercer artists and is the platform upon which I, your devoted interviewer, ask them a maximum of five questions. These entail, but are not limited to, both serious questions about their practices and stupid questions that may only have word associative significance. For this installment, I asked Toronto artist Rob Waters about his recent Mercer exhibition, "Man at a Computer".

CT: In your "Man at a Computer" piece, you've done an installation that includes packing tape and cutting out the image of the man directly onto the wall. In the past, you've used a similar technique with paper surfaces. There seems to be something more resolute in having a sight-specific installation with this application, specifically as it relates to the fragility of the material you've used.

RW: I certainly agree that the site-specific 'Man at Computer' installations are more resolute than the 'Man at Computer' works on paper. One reason, I believe, is that the site-specificity and time-specificity of the installation act as necessary counterpoints to the general nature of the subject matter. Because the man at computer could be any man, anywhere, the fact that it exists on a permanent wall provides a necessary grounding. It will exist for a month, at Mercer Union, and then it won't. The gallery becomes part of the piece as the image, the man actual being the gallery wall.

In terms of the material - brown packing tape - I think that it is more the impermanence than the fragility that is important. Although the drawings won't last forever, they will probably be framed and will certainly exist longer than the installation. The short life of the installation better reflects the planned obsolescence of computer technology, and in relation to
the body points more directly towards mortality.

The increase in scale also makes the installation more effective, as the installation becomes a space that the viewer occupies, with (and not just) an image to consider. The greater size allows for more detail in image, and an increased common to life relationship between the man and the viewer. I believe this increases the sense of voyeurism in the viewer, as they move towards and glimpse over the shoulder of the image.
The body in relation to technology and thought is primarily what this piece is about, and the increased physicality of the installation heightens the discrepancy of these relationships.

CT: Looking over a person's shoulder can allude to so many privacy issues that arise with computer technology. While Big Brother so often comes to mind, computer-related voyeurism, in this case, then becomes just that much more invasive. As in: anyone can spy, anyone can spy upon. While perhaps not initially at the foreground of your concept, I think the over-the-shoulder pose allows me to run with this train for a while..

RW: The type of voyeurism I was initially interested in was purely physical - one of 'shedding light' by providing access. I wanted to bring a private, though common situation into public view. I had been reading different articles about horrified wives discovering the digital pornography collection of their husbands, and mothers who had walked in on their sons to find them masturbating at their computers, unsure quite what to do. I thought this was very interesting - both that computers were being used for sexual exploration and stimulation, but also that there was the intention that such activities always be kept hidden.

It was also interesting, (or perhaps not), that it was a gender-specific chain of events - men trying to hide their actions and women eventually finding them out. I wanted to bring such activities to light, and to question the necessity for such discretion.
I was thinking of precedents like Degas, who painted women as they watched an opera, part of the audience, unaware that they were being watched. For my series, however, I wanted to turn the tables so that it was men who were being objectified, portrayed in a position of vulnerability.

In terms of computer voyeurism, or 'Big Brother' as you suggest, it does somewhat relate to my subject matter. When you suggest that anyone can spy, however, I don't quite think that's the case. It is primarily those in control and those with a specialized knowledge of computer technology (often the same people), who are capable of such voyeurism, or access to
information. We all of course can learn to become hackers, but there is definitely a knowledge gap when it comes to understanding how computers work.

I believe the biggest issues we face right now in relation to computer voyeurism and compromised human rights on the Internet are the issues of surveillance, censorship, and control. I have been reading about such things as the manipulated version of Google developed for China, and of a computer program developed by the United States Department of Homeland Security that monitors email in order to identify language patterns common to the development of terrorist plots. These increased controls and invasions of privacy go against what I believe the Internet should be - more free.

CT: And finally, you into this album or what?

RW: Kraftwerk is actually one of those bands on my to do list.

Stay tuned for next month's Recess. Who will it be? Damned if I know, sir.

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