'Watched and Measured' (detail showing orange tracking rectangle)
My work often focusses on the image of the body moving through time and space. Video surveillance systems have played an important part in extending my explorations in this area. Watched and Measured is a system that observes, tracks and catalogues people walking through the new Wellcome Wing at the Science Museum in London, UK. It explores the some of the ethical questions surrounding surveillance systems: do they invade our privacy, act as guardian angels, or, perhaps make us sanctioned voyeurs?
"Watched and Measured" installation shots showing close-tracking of heads in the upper screens
In Watched and Measured, surveillance cameras observe the threshold between the Wing and the rest of the Museum. The images from these cameras are digitally processed in real-time by software which I wrote specifically for the project. The resulting altered images are presented by three large video projections. A computer searches through this live video feed for the presence of the kinds of things that I designed it to be interested in: things that are moving, things that are still but are not part of the building, and things that might be human heads. Its interests are reflected in the projections. Sometimes everything that is still disappears, leaving only moving people visible in a blue-tinted void. At others people who are moving dissolve and blur into invisibility. Only the building and those visitors standing or waiting can be seen. Occasionally, the system selects a human head to investigate. Its digital zoom frames the head, tracking it with a mechanical precision as it analyses it further. These close-ups are collected in grid displaying a slow-motion replay of the 20 most recently investigated heads.
"Watched and Measured" slow motion playback of recently tracked heads.
The work presents a series of people looking and being looked at, watching and being measured. The audience's feelings may alternate between sympathy and suspicion as they realise that they are not only witnesses to, but also subjects of, the system's activities. (Next)
Permanent Commission for the Science Museum, London, UK.
Copyright 2001 David Rokeby / Very Nervous Systems / All rights reserved. 2/7/01