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A Sly Installation That Tracks You, Turning Voyeurism Into Art

The Japanese artist Seiko Mikami installs 90 wall-mounted video cameras and six robotic cameras, all aimed at the audience.

A Sly Installation That Tracks You, Turning Voyeurism Into Art

To visit “Desire of Codes,” which recently ended its run at Tokyo’s ICC/InterCommunication Center, was to subject yourself to an aggressive surveillance strategy. Installed by the Japanese artist Seiko Mikami, there are essentially two levels: Along the wall were 90 “mobile units” that held small, highly sensitive video cameras (0.00003 lux) that were mounted at the height of the eyes of the audience.

[The cameras are trained on the audience…]
[…and the images are fed into a honeycomb display.]

Meanwhile from above, six robotic search arms, resembling six normal-looking video cameras with laser projectors mounted onto the ends, follow and record the movements of approaching visitors–every moment of the day for the duration of the exhibit. If the wall sensors weren’t active, the images are replaced with real-time footage of recorded surveillance cameras from places like airports, parks, hallways, or crowded streets. “Basically, ‘Desire of Codes’ has an original database,” Mikami tells Co.Design. “It’s built from images of the exhibition venue–visitors’ skin, eyes, hair, bags–recorded in real-time by the devices on the wall, along with images filmed whether five seconds, five hours, or five days earlier.”

The seduction comes in the third and final part of the exhibition, where recorded images have been separated and transferred to a giant screen, composed of 61 hexagonal shapes and designed to resemble an insect’s compound eye. Images from the database are mixed in to appear at regular intervals, allowing viewers to see other people who have gone before, or who are just under some sort of surveillance elsewhere in the world. “Looking at the constantly changing projected scenery with its shifting time axes, the visitor feels as if watching memories stored in their brain, and discovers the desires that are automatically generated through the act of monitoring,” Mikami says.

The exhibition was first shown in Stockholm in 2005 and has since “advanced little by little, both technically and financially,” the artist says. It showed at YCAM/Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media last year before its latest incarnation at the ICC/InterCommunication Center. Another of Mikami’s work is on view now at YCAM: “Molecular Informatics,” in which the eye movements of the audience are visualized as sequences of molecules in a virtual space, resulting in three-dimensional shapes drawn “with the eyes.” More information here.

[Photo: Ryuichi Maruo//Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media]