EVERYTHING IS A BORDER, 2018
In situ installation
Following the invitation for the project Digital Imaginaries, Younes Baba-Ali was invited for a research residence in Johannesburg, South-Africa. After three weeks spent in this highly controversial and interesting country, he could not help but to be inspired by its structures of surveillance.
The high walls, constantly buzzing electric fences, and private security guards murmuring through their walkie talkies surrounding South Africa's residences and businesses have become inherent to the country's landscape. Since Apartheid ended 20 years ago, fear of crime has led to a boom in South Africa's private security industry. The field's quick expansion is largely a result of continued social and economic inequality, increased violence, and inept police forces and continues to highlight the gap between those who can and cannot afford the luxury of safety.
With Everything is a Border, he aims to translate and further explore this idea of surveillance and explore issues of power, subjectivity and imagination.
For the intervention in Karlsruhe’s ZKM museum, he wished to connect his experience in South-Africa to the relation between surveillance and the institutionalized museum. He privatized the exhibition space given for the show by enclosing it using transparent metal fences with electric wiring, accompanied by its buzzing and clicking sounds, and having it be supervised. In this way, the artist wants to highlight and question the notion of sacredness and inaccessibility of the space artworks take up in western institutions. The space is visible, but remains inaccessible at the same time: both to visitors and the museum staff. At the same time, by having the space be supervised by a South African security company, the classical western gaze is inverted.
The installation consists of a simple set up: fences and electric wire, producing buzzing sounds, accompanied by surveillance cameras and a megaphone. At random, unannounced times the South-African surveillance company intervenes through use of the speaker when visitors do not follow a certain protocol of behavior (e.g.: getting too close to the fence, etc). Thus, making visitors even more aware of their behavior within the institutionalized space with its prescribed codes of behavior and sacredness.
At the same time, the buzzing and clicking sounds coming from the electrical wiring and megaphone convey a sonorous aesthetic of security and surveillance, containing a certain tension much in the spirit of the panopticon: am I still being surveilled or not? In this way, sound acts as a watchdog itself, much like the buzzing sound the fences make throughout the city of Johannesburg, constantly making the visitor self-aware. They become aware of the vulnerability of their embodiedness to the look of the other, that fluctuates here between sound and an embodied person. What is revealed in this instant is their prereflective consciousness of being objectified by that gaze of another subject, or the potential gaze that is conveyed through sound and the remaining objects.
Their experience of objectification is simultaneously the experience of the other as subject. Even if they happen to be mistaken about the source of the sound they hear, the experience is indicative of being seen by another, a sentiment that has become inherent in our contemporary "big brother" society, enlarged by ever-growing surveillance tools wherein the limitations of private versus public space continue to expand, as populations freely share in the development and consumption of electronic devices that operate as a means for the few to observe the many, just as the many may observe the few.
Text by Aude Tournaye