Art exhibit on the panopticon

Following from yesterday’s post, I noticed this art exhibit in Vancouver on the panopticon.

The offending facet is a tabletop model of English utilitarian Jeremy Bentham’s idealized prison, the Panopticon.

Huang has peopled his miniature jail with a handful of reptiles and insects.

“[T]he work functions as a metaphor for the conflicts among different peoples and cultures — in short, human existence itself,” says a wall-mounted description.

The humane society insists the cage was deliberately designed to spur aggression among the animals.

That’s crap.

I think they’re actually angry because Huang is taking the mickey out of the philosopher considered the father of animal rights.

Bentham, who lived during the last half of the 18th and early 19th centuries, designed his Panopticon, which was never built, so prisoners felt constantly watched, with the idea that the pressure of feeling observed would modify their behaviour.

As you might expect, Huang’s installation is complex — it’s a piece about surveillance, the dynamic between the watcher and the watched and much, much more.

French legal theorist Michel Foucault, for instance, thought Bentham’s design a metaphor for modern “disciplinary” societies in which surveillance is used to “normalize” and control behaviour — George Orwell’s fictional world in his novel 1984 would be a perfect example.


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