CONTAINMENT POLICY essay by Dr. K. Malcolm Richards
â€œIf it werenâ€™t for prisons, we would know that we are all already in prison.â€?- Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster
Prisons, internment camps, detention centers, train stations, airport terminals, business offices, stock markets, clinics, asylums, department stores, shopping malls and other physical structures of modernity offer psychic strictures that often go unnoticed, undetected, and unquestioned. Even in the early twenty-first century, where many of the promises of tele-presence are becoming premises of being, assumptions of existence, the remains of modernity still haunt a culture of post-modernity and post-post modernity in the container-like forms littering the premises of the over-developed world. That is to say, the architecture of modernity provided a materialization of discursive ideals born of the Enlightenment. The modernist design aesthetic of form following function infiltrated these institutions of containment, where human activities are carried out through the confinement of bodies to a particular space at a particular time. Fordism and Taylorism contoured the workplace to the overriding necessity of efficiency and increasing production, treating the individual as a piece of machinery to be standardized into replicable tasks executed in the service of maximizing profit. These ideals still linger in todayâ€™s culture, fueling the dreams of ergonomic living and increased productivity, while maintaining an economic imbalance of proportional grotesqueness. Of course, in todayâ€™s culture of techno-narcosis, of a culture addicted to technology and predicated on a notion of infinite technological progress, one rarely looks at what is immediately beyond the screened reality that more and more absorbs the mobile and immobile public body, a body numbed by the technology that provides the illusion of subjective will and connection to others. If the Australian conceptual artist Stelarc offers an absurdist vision of the relation between humans and technology in his Third Ear, Third Hand, and Exoskeleton, the contemporary American offers a more discretely absurd vision of technological invasion. The addictive and numbing state induced by such a culture suggests the willingness to abdicate active subjectivity for an illusive interactivity that remains always at a distance, passive and safely contained within a field of containment. Remote control.
The emergence of the modern carceral model is mapped by Michel Foucault in his seminal study of prison reform, Discipline and Punish. Presenting a model of punishment that is based less on the pre-modern visual spectacle of the violence of the state made manifest to a modern model that is more rooted in the interior, inner self, Foucault shows how the notion of a normative subject, a model to be emulated, comes to formulate the attitude towards prisoners in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Instead of physical punishment, the prisoner is treated as a subject gone astray who can learn through a regimented lifestyle how to develop a way of being more in keeping with the norm of society. The subject learns to police oneself. The iconic image that Foucault presents for this self-policing is Jeremy Benthamâ€™s Panopticon, a model of invisible authority, or a psychological authority internalized by the subject that leads to the orderly society proposed by modernism. Â
â€œBenthamâ€™s Panopticon is the architectural figure of this composition. We know the principle on which it was based: at the periphery, an annular building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring: the peripheric building is divided into cells each of which extends the whole width of the building: they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so many small theaters, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions- to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide- it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap.â€?
In always being seen, the subject is subjected to an unseen authority, an invisible authority that takes the omnipotent position formerly held by the divine in pre-modern society. The potential of being seen, always present, marks the activity of the subject contained within the Panopticon.
â€œHence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effect, even if it is discontinuous in its action; the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearersâ€¦.The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the periperic ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen.â€?
Foucault also shows how the carceral model began to transform the educational system, as well as the work place, helping to forge the cultural shift towards modernity. Indeed, the pervasiveness of this model is at the foundation of modernity and its institutions.
â€œIt is polyvalent in its applications; it serves to reform prisoners, but also to treat patients, to instruct schoolchildren, to confine the insane, to supervise workers, to put beggars and idlers to work. It is a type of location of bodies in space, of distribution of individuals in relation to one another, of hierarchical organization, of disposition of centres and channels of power, of definition of the instruments and modes of intervention of power, which can be implemented in hospitals, workshops, schools, prisons. Whenever one is dealing with a multiplicity of individuals on whom a task or a particular form of behavior must be imposed, the panoptic schema may be used.â€?Â
While Foucault discusses the development of the modern prison system, suggesting the ways that such a model of containment goes beyond correctional facilities to all the institutions that â€˜correctâ€™ our behavior, Martin Heidegger discusses another idea of containment through the use of a carceral language, suggesting that language itself is the prison house of being. In doing so, Heidegger gestures to the futility of language as a container of presence, seeing this container as half-empty at best, or, better yet, incapable of containing being, a being that remains beyond the everyday utilitarian attitude towards language or what such an attentiveness to language contains. Only in non-utilitarian usage, such as poetry, does language begin to gesticulate towards the traces of being that remain beyond and resist the daily confinement imposed by routine. The confinement of routine is marked by many differing relations to the world, relations to the world that come to be mediated and negotiated through a technological facilitation that is taken for granted. Long before the recent revolution in telecommunications, Heidegger questions the shift that modern technology has brought about in the relation between humanity and the earth. This theme is prominent in his essay â€œThe Question Concerning Technology,â€? where Heidegger poignantly suggests a critical difference between modern and pre-modern technology. Â
â€œThe hydroelectric plant is not built into the Rhine River as was the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years. Rather the river is dammed up into the power plant. What the river is now, namely, a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of the power station. In order that we may even remotely consider the monstrousness that reigns here, let us ponder for a moment the contrast that speaks out of the two titles, â€˜The Rhineâ€™ as dammed up into the power works, and â€˜The Rhineâ€™ as uttered out of the art work, in HÃ¶lderlinâ€™s hymn by that name. But it will be replied, the Rhine is still a river in the landscape, is it not? Perhaps. But how? In no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry.â€? Â
In discussing the emergence of technology, Heidegger presents the notion of â€˜En-framingâ€™ to suggest a presentation of the world that those immersed in the world in question do not question. En-framing presents the constructed forms of human behavior and consciousness as being natural and neutral. En-framing is the framework of the world that we do not even consider in our everydayness because it has been ritualized as the â€˜correctâ€™ or â€˜normalâ€™ vision of the world. En-framing makes the world we live in seem natural and this is most unnatural. En-framing delimits the vision that we have of the world, presenting a world of infinite technological progress that is unchallenged, even as it challenges the very environment within which we live. En-framing closes off alternative visions of the world, presenting a framework for the world that orders human endeavors around technological facilitators, such as the computer used to type these very words. This normative vision of the world can be linked, naturally, to the discussion of the normative subject produced through the discourses that Michel Foucault analyzes in his historical studies. The institutions Foucault maps are the physical implementation of the conceptual en-framing Heidegger delineates.
â€œDespite the deceptive appearances of international terrorism in the year 2001, but also of the terrorism directed at Atocha railway station in Madrid in 2004, the enemy is first and foremost the sphere of accelerating reality, this prospective dromosphere that will be able to do away with expanse, tomorrow, in the very latest of historic globalizations. This explains the cabin fever presented by a humanity now deprived of a future and instead faced with the foreclosure of the space-time of the common world, in a lockdown that is both carceral and panoptic, in which the globalitarianism of Progress will come to mean control of movement, of travel flows.â€?- Paul Virilio, The Futurism of the Instant: Stop-Eject
From his discussion of the vision machine to his explorations of nano-technology and the â€˜information bomb,â€™ Paul Virilio presents an analysis of contemporary technology that extends the insights of Foucault, Heidegger and others, such as Walter Benjamin and Paul Valery to the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Underlying Virilioâ€™s thought is a concern with speed and the questions that arise from the transformation of speed by technology in the information age. That is to say, Virilioâ€™s thought traces a dematerialization of space, of distance, from a world where it took days to travel between cultural centers to the world of international travel that we take for granted and the tele-presence born of a culture infatuated with the instant and beyond. Â
â€œIn 1977, I wrote that speed is the worldâ€™s old age. Thirty years later, the evidence of this is clear, since the impact of global mobilization has torpedoed the political economy of the wealth of nations that, until now, turned its back on a principle of acceleration that would no less undermine the history of a technical progress incompatible with the quantitative reserve necessary to the survival of nationsâ€¦.This is the degree zero of an economic script in which accumulation of wealth meant overlooking the ravages caused by the speed of acceleration of movement which leads to the chaos of a systemic crisis, such as the one we have been going through for a year at least now, in anticipation of the further undermining of all national and territorial identity. What will be promoted instead is the traceability of individuals and the chaos of the mass resettlement involved in exodus for societies that will once again be dispersed in diasporas. The original town is giving way to the ultracity produced by an exurbanism that is not so much metropolitan as omnipolitan, and this anticipates the not far-off colonial exodus to the ultraworld of a distant planet, some super-Earth likely to see the â€˜ecological footprintâ€™ of an unnatural progress grow to twice or three times its current size in an all-out exploitation of the reserves of the exoplanet in question.â€?
The dreams of contemporary technology, however, are held in a tense relation with that which cannot be contained, such as accidents, something Virilio explores in his essay â€œThe Unknown Quantity.â€? Here, amidst the backdrop of contemporary technology and its premise of infinite progress, Virilio gestures towards a new danger, the integrated accident, where natural disaster and man-made disaster meet up in perfect disharmony, something that the recent Fukashima crisis is a further harbinger of. If new forms of disaster emerge to disrupt the fantasy of progress put forth by a hyper-technological society, Virilio also explores how technology offers an extension of the carceral model of surveillance opened up by Foucault. Virilio notes an important shift within the prison systems that suggests a transformation of the carceral model into even more insidious and subtle forms.
â€œThe recent installation of TV sets in prisonersâ€™ cells rather than just recreation rooms ought to have alerted us. Not enough has been said about this decision even though it represents a typical mutation in the evolution of attitudes regarding incarceration. Since Bentham, gaol has normally been identified with the panoptic, in other words, with a central surveillance system in which prisoners find themselves continually under someoneâ€™s eye, within the warderâ€™s field of vision. From now on, inmates can monitor actuality, can observe televised events- unless we turn this around and point out that, as soon as viewers switch on their sets, it is they, prisoners or otherwise, who are in the field of television, a field in which they are obviously powerless to intervene.â€?
Surveillance manifests its techniques of containment in new forms through Virilioâ€™s exploration of the use of nano-technology, drone technology, and machines that watch machines watch machines. Virilioâ€™s work, in its exploration of a range of industries, from the medical to the military, from cinema to transportation, offers powerful glimpses at the forces structuring and constricting the containment policies demarcating contemporary culture.
Virilioâ€™s vision machine envisions individuals motorized along paths of techno-narcosis, constantly in a state of being entertained, of needing to have control over their individual environment of mediated spectacles, a vision that echoes the world of individuals moving via machines, such as the human transporter, having legs and being able to use them, but refusing to use them, using motorized wheels on pedestrian walkways. If Virilio fixates on the strange image of Iraqi soldiers surrendering to flying drones during the first Gulf War, we could juxtapose this image with the individuals encountered in urban areas today replete with technological prostheses, an extension of the podular, modular world of inner-enter-containment that confines the individual through virtual walls of infra-thin protection. A loss of freedom emerges in the midst of the promise of autonomy that contemporary technology offers as the membrane between private and public space is rendered asunder. As we extend our presence virtually in the world, we become virtually immobilized, entrapped by that which offers us freedom. Such a paradox is indicative of the larger cultural shift Virilio analyzes.
â€œThe age of dialectic logic is the age of photography and film or, if you like, the frame of the nineteenth century. The age of paradoxical logic begins with the invention of video recording, holography and computer graphicsâ€¦as though, at the close of the twentieth century, the end of modernity were itself marked by the end of a logic of public representationâ€¦.once public space yields to public image, surveillance and street lighting can be expected to shift too, from the street to the domestic display terminal. Since this is a substitute for the City terminal, the private sphere thus continues to lose its relative autonomy.â€?
In 1984, shortly after Americaâ€™s invasion of the island of Granada, Hans Haacke displayed his piece, U.S. Isolation Box Granada, 1983, a reconstruction of a container for captured â€˜hostilesâ€™ utilized by the United States. While bringing into the space of aesthetic contemplation an object used for the abjection of the defeated body, one not represented in the media, Haackeâ€™s work also brings out other relations between art and militarism barely visible to the public, especially in regards to the representation of war and its place within the world. The art of mediation, one that is not limited to our age of media â€˜transparancy,â€™ can be mapped as part of a continuum of representing war to the public, ranging from the Salon paintings of Ingres, David, Gros, and others under Napoleonâ€™s reign to the underlying idealism founding the ideological narratives of relief sculpture on Greek temples. Haackeâ€™s wooden cube with two small horizontal slots also sets up relations to modernism, not only to the minimalist cube that is perhaps the primary point of ire for Haackeâ€™s aesthetic decisions, or, at least, the aesthetic calculus that they set in motion, but also to the ideological tensions within modernist aesthetics at large. The nearness of the isolation box to a wooden crate used for shipping commercial goods offers another resonance with the larger culture brought about through modern capitalism and its intimate relation to militarism. Indeed, there is a layer to Haackeâ€™s piece that can also be placed in relation to the modular system of Le Corbusier and its links to a functionalist aesthetic grounding modernismâ€™s aesthetic ideals. U.S. Isolation Box Granada, 1983 presents simultaneously the application of Taylorism to incarceration and the intimate relation between modernist aesthetics and confining spaces. After all, under modernism â€˜the arts have been hunted back to their mediums, and there they have been isolated, concentrated, and defined,â€™ according to Clement Greenberg, another proponent of aesthetic containment. Â Artists, such as Haacke, often â€˜containedâ€™ by the rubric of â€˜institutional critiqueâ€™ are able to offer insight into some of the inner workings of the cultural containers, such as museums, that preserve and promote art and that art manages to persevere in spite of or even out of spite for the cultural containment policies instituted by these containers. At the same time, the rational of modernism haunts our aesthetic spaces and we have to recognize and realize the importance still that such containers serve, even as they sometimes serve to contain too loosely or too stringently (sometimes at the same time) what is considered art. As with all commodities, a potentiality that all art bears, even art which resists commodification, it too is to be found in containers, such as these, a gallery. Yet, it is critical to think through the conceptual container that physical containers supposedly embody. Containment always brings with it its other, constantly courting the excess, the slippage and spillage of contents, a contents whose play roots not just the buckets of water some play with and some labor under, but also notes and denotes something of the excess of contents, that which always potentially exceeds containment from the word go. An archaeology of frivolity is manifested in the laborious labeling that a culture of modernism helped to manifest, even if its roots go deep, much deeper than these words can even hope to explore. Suffice it to say, containment suggests a danger that may rupture the everyday. Moreover, the need for containment suggests the impossibility of ever adequately containing that which is being contained, giving way to the need for a containment policy. Certainly, at another level, art is always contained within a frame, even when there is no frame. The gallery offers a frame to determine the space of art, even if it does not delimit what this art may be or could be. The frame of art also provides a powerful salve to the world it brackets, even if this frame is always prone to some slippage. These are some of the questions that Jacques Derrida poses in his essay â€˜Parergonâ€™ in The Truth in Painting and certainly they contain a great deal of insight into the container of aesthetics and the functioning of the frame as that which helps to mark a work as a work, even if it does not constitute part of the work, even if it does not successfully contain the work. Regardless, the frame matters in ways that cannot possibly be confined to these words or Derridaâ€™s. Suffice it to say, that in trying to have you entertain a couple of thoughts in regards to the theme of this exhibition, it is our desire that you most certainly keep yourself entertained to thoughts that are not contained here and that you cannot hope to contain. Laughter, shock, banter, exasperation, all bear the evidence of something that cannot be contained, an excess that we give space for in aesthetic contemplation, a contemplation elicited, both licitly and illicitly, by art.