Contemporary Reactions: Panopticon and MISSILEBLOWER

Les Duffield, a third-year MFA student at Indiana University, found himself in Utah after transporting artwork from Indiana. While in the neighborhood, Les decided to squeeze his favorite Utah attractions into one day, which included a visit to UMOCA. The day of his visit, he had woken up in Zion National Park. After sharing his campsite with tourists who were unable to find a site of their own, Les traversed in some 300 miles (308, according to Google Maps) to indulge in what UMOCA has to offer. Regarding his impressions of the current exhibitions, Les laughs, “I overwhelmed myself.”

In the Main Gallery exhibition, Panopticon, there is a striking piece that catches both eyes and ears: Constant Dullaart’s Terms of Service. The work is a Google browser, projected onto the gallery wall, which has been animated to recite Google’s Terms of Service to the viewer. The upbeat, peppy voice reads the insurmountable text found on Google’s terms of service—the very terms that make liars out of the best of us when we select, “I have read and accept the terms and conditions.” Les and I discussed how, in this day and age, it’s almost impossible to navigate what is actually being agreed to, and Les noted that the piece is “forcing me to confront things I put out of my mind.”

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Constant Dullaart, “Terms of Service.” Courtesy of the artist.

Several other pieces in Panopticon also stood out to Les. He described feeling uncomfortable about a piece by Heather Dewey-Hagborg, entitled DNA Spoofing. The film showcases how DNA might be procured, and expels the air of neuroticism that might follow someone after viewing Panopticon. Les was intrigued by the video work, which is presented in conjunction with a meticulous arrangement of everyday items where DNA collects—a hairbrush, for example.

Les specifically noted what he described as the video’s audible “mouth sounds.” The mouth sounds appear seemingly independent from the footage (which, at one point, is of a woman applying lip gloss), and sound similar to someone gumming a banana or peanut butter. Les’s word for it was “upsetting”—most would agree the sounds are a fairly unpleasant listening experience, but overall, lends to the piece’s palpability. The distaste for the mouth sounds seem to unify people in a way that is sensory, and somewhat intimate, lending to a sort of aversion. Hearing someone smack something around in their mouth is unpleasant as is, but when combined with the concepts behind DNA Spoofing, the mouth sounds add tangibility to the abstractness of DNA, and fuel the neuroticism conveyed by the notion of DNA counter-surveillance.

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Film still from Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s “DNA Spoofing.” Courtesy of the artist.

 

Les sat through Brian Charles Patterson’s installation, MISSILEBLOWER (And the Selected Good). This exhibition is comprised of four screens in UMOCA’s Codec Gallery. There is a large screen in front, two screens displaying footage of ambivalent primates on either side, and a screen of documentary-style footage behind the viewer. This installation is most easily described as a “guided meditation” of sorts, but quickly becomes more complicated than the initial diagnosis, as Les discussed after his “session.” The largest screen in the room—directly in front of the viewer—combines imagery that is at times tranquil, and other times, grotesque. The viewer is led through the meditation by a calming yet eerie dialogue (reminiscent of the haunting voice used by the character Frank from the 2001 mind-bending cult film, Donnie Darko). In addition to this disembodied voice, the viewer is accompanied by an ever-present “guide” in the form of a shadowed figure on the screen behind the viewers.

Les stealthily listens through the phone next to one of the MISSILEBLOWER screens.

Les stealthily listens through the phone next to one of the MISSILEBLOWER screens.

While experiencing MISSILEBLOWER (And the Selected Good), Les discovered that next to the two screens displaying monkeys, there are phones. Les told me that when standing in the middle of the room, it is possible to pick up both of the phones and listen to the nature sounds that come out of the receivers. As we discussed the multiple interpretations of the piece, Les described talking into the mouthpiece and finding that the words he uttered were fed through to the earpieces. Les pondered the multiple ways to interpret the piece, and was excited to articulate the reactions and conclusions he’d received while interacting with the exhibit.

Smiling, Les concluded that both the MISSILEBLOWER and Panopticon shows left him with quite an impression. During the course of our discussion, we became uncomfortably aware (or rather, reminded of what we’d rather not think about) of surveillance and self-policing through Panopticon. MISSILEBLOWER leaves viewers with a whispered idea of the civilization that develops after climate change, food and water wars, and the implosion of society. The exhibitions definitely leave even the most unshakable viewer feeling a little paranoid. After exploring these at times baleful concepts, and when asked for a final word, Les smirked and said, “I feel like shit.”

 

Written by Stephanie Southwick-Hickey

Panopticon will be on exhibition UMOCA’s Main Gallery through July 25. MISSILEBLOWER will be on exhibition through June 20.
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