“In The Event Of Amnesia, The City Will Recall” is a social experiment created and performed by Denis Beaubois, a Mauritius born artist who now resides in Sydney. The work focuses on the dynamic relationship between ‘the city and the metropolis’ in which the performer attempts to engage the city’s surveillance in an entertaining way.
The artist achieved this by setting up one dozen specified sites for the performances to take place which involved the artist/performer/citizen (dual roles are explored) holding up various signs, making hand gestures and engaging in a conversation of sorts with the camera that surveyed him.
Beaubois’ work intrigued me initially because the ideas behind the artwork feature concepts that I had never considered.
Basically, according to Beaubois, the city is composed of a network of “eyes” that watch and analyse the every move of people going about their daily business. It’s essentially a one-way street, with us (everyday citizens) presenting actions to the myriad surveillance cameras and security devices that cover every square meter of our cities (or near enough). These security devices monitor and scrutinize our movements based on pre-ordained guidelines as to what is socially acceptable and considered the norm for everyday situations.
Despite this generally unchallenged and unspoken social agreement, Beaubois defies the convention and interacts with “the eyes” in a way that is unusual and thought provoking.
Pictured here, Beaubois, through his artwork, attempts to invert the one-way interaction that is typified in regular security device and citizen behaviour. He probes the cameras, urging them to react in a way that is uncharacteristic. This concept is interesting to me and urges me to consider the fact that we as people feed the ever-present “city eyes” information everyday without a second thought. However, it was Beaubois who challenged these eyes to give us some information back, breaking the bounds of regular interaction and forcing actions back from the audience itself.
Signs like this one show how Beaubois tries to engage with the city’s eyes on a personal level. Rather than merely knowing that he’s being watched, he participates in a ‘conversation’ of sorts with the security devices he is performing to / with / in front of.
‘Media art’ can be defined in numerous ways with various sources putting emphasis on the use of media forms such as animations and robotics. However, “Amnesia” doesn’t use either of those technologies and is still defined as media art. “Why so?” you may sit and ask yourself.
Well, I think this definition will best sum up that up for you. “An emerging form of art which is recognized by the fact that it can only be realised by using media technology. It is typically process-like in form, which entails that its characteristics include e.g. moulding, televirtuality, interactivity, environment.” (Elina Melgin. University of Art and Design Helsinki, 2012 www.uiah.fi/art2/art2_194/d.html)
For me, media art is all about interaction, engagement and entertainment. And personally, Beaubois’ work hits the nail on the head in terms of working with media and challenging its conventions for the sake of art. Not only does Beaubois engage with a media form that is present in all of our lives, but he uses the footage he has scripted (which he is legally entitled to) to create a piece of work that the audience finds exciting. Perhaps its just the novelty of the artwork that attracted me to it in the first place, I mean its not everyday that real security footage is released and composed for entertainment. Is it?
The video below is a performance of Beaubois’ work “In the event of Amnesia the city will recall” in Times Square, New York.
The people in this clip have a clear choice: they can either walk by, ignore the commotion or they can watch and consider the performance that is unfolding. For this reason, it becomes hard to define who the target audience of this media artwork is. Is it the person behind the security who controls the camera’s movement? Is it the average person walking down the street? Or alternatively, is it the person sitting at home ‘YouTubing’ the artwork in a hasty attempt to write a blog?
I think the lines become blurred whichever way you look at this work – and the beauty of interpretation truly shines through Beaubois’ bid at extreme social commentary. Beaubois describes this performance as, “An exploration into the structure where the crowd confront itself in the inescapable role of performer.”
“Amnesia” shows that the audience is both the everyday person walking down the street and also the human behind the security camera who is being addressed personally by the signs he holds up to them. Beaubois addresses this idea himself in his testimonial of the artwork on his website, “When both parties (self & surveillance camera) become locked in performance the notion of audience is further expanded.”
I think that this was Beaubois’ bottom-line in creating this work. He wanted to address the concept of ‘audience’ by inverting the traditional roles that society places on individuals and parties.
Denis Beaubois. 2012. In the Event of Amnesia The City Will recall. [Online] Available at: http://www.denisbeaubois.com/Amnesia/In%20the%20event%20of%20Amnesia%20copy%202.html [Accessed 19 August 2012]
Elina Meligin. 2012. Media Vocabulary. [Online] Available at: www.uiah.fi/art2/art2_194/d.html. [Accessed 20 August 2012]