© Gianni Wise, 2012-17

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The term social paranoia could be understood in number of ways. Undoubtably what immediately comes to mind is of a symptom of personal psychosis, characterized by an unfounded or exaggerated distrust of others, sometimes reaching delusional proportions. This may result in depression, delusional disorders or even schizophrenia. Paranoia in a global or social context finds its origins in the individual psychoses in that there is a heightened sense of threat within social environment.

Specifically a post 9/11 (USA not Chile) world has seen a rise in form of social paranoia in the west, with an escalation in mechanisms of state security resulting in lose our freedom. Consensual paranoia imprisons us in our own delusional fears thereby incapacitating and debilitating us. This would lead to a discussion of criticality in art practices. Are there where possibilities for a disruption of this trend through art practices? How can art become usefully subversive open up possibilities for the transformation?

I want to further want to explore where this has led us in terms of the social phenomena of “the bystander” as citizens either become cynical or become literally bystanders to increasingly assault on freedom through policies enacted (both domestically and foreign) by various western states. He states that it is clear that Jeremy Bentham’s model of the Panopticon and Big Brother are dated, where surveillance is less centralised and disciplined. It is now replaced by the use of accumulated data in order to shape worlds in which populations of mobile individuals can be channeled and controlled?

Here Brian Holmes (Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society ) proposes a move away from Michel Foucault’s “control society” to one where control though punishment exists but one where there is a circulation, a fluidity (without the curfew as it were) which ‘absorbs dissent’ through a liberalised mechanism where “the aim of the liberal art of government is not to punish, transform or even save individuals, as in a disciplinary regime, but instead to arrive at the optimal distribution of citizens in society, thus minimising deviant normalities in relation to the normal.

How does this fit with notions of paranoia? Absorption produces an absolute condition of normality where the citizen exists in a state of fear of difference (the otherness vs normality). Foucault introduces this in 1978 when he surpisingly argues that he was wrong in his panoptic model stating that the real issue is that essentially freedom is nothing else but a form of the deployment of further measures of security.

And so Holmes goes on to say “From here it would have taken just one more step to foresee how the statistical interpretation of computerized surveillance data would open up entirely new possibilities for the governance of mobile populations circulating through the world space.”

In a sense the real enemy is no longer the dictator but ‘data systems’ that are quite Machiavellian in nature – eliminating deviant behaviour through consumption within cyber systems of behavioral modification – offering a promised future if only we eliminate the deviant within.
A clear example is the defunct U.S. data collection system referred to as “Total Information Awareness” which after public reaction was renamed “Terrorism Information Awareness System” – generating numerous machines for the collation and manipulation of data post 9-11.

My thesis and my art work will suggest a process of disruption of this normalisation.
The condition of successful (socially critical) art practice depends upon existing culturally iconic visual memes. An example is a practice based on the culture jamming model where artists are able to play with the semiotics of any particular cultural moment to insert alternative messages or icons – or better to make cultural meaning systems work in ways they were never intended to work.

There always a case of finding ways to intercept dominant discourses particularly media discourses.

Recently with all the material generated in the lead up to the 2010 Federal Australian election and the sheer amount of negative material – the lacking in ethics on the part of the major parties etc, that there must be ways of utilizing this material at the level of the ‘image’ as it appears all around us in the media.

The Situationist practice of detournement, is a good historical point of reference for this discussion. This movement is an interesting model for a way to offer an antithetical to the original ‘image’. There is a need for a counter to the fundamental level at which people, even very smart people, simply accept the media and its’ images at face value. Possibly we are so immersed in that it effects us on multiple unrecognised and unacknowledged levels.

Obviously there is no truth to ‘the image,’ which means that what is presented as truth can always be critically corrupted. The problem I think in doing this is either in being too obvious or too obscure, so artists need to tread a fine line between these two extremes. There tends to emphasise the death of criticality in art because they are willing to just go along with the system, their own closed system without thinking about broader issues or are reluctant to admit the limitations of critical art practice which will always exist.

It continues to surprise me that there is so little local Australian art that seems to, in any way, attempt to grapple with image politics, which means there are many critical rocks left unturned in this country.

In my past artist practice I began to investigate these issues; an example was the development of an installation that explored the military government’s court system in Chile that watched and documented the lives of so many of its citizens. This developed into a photographic series that represented the role of the camera in surveillance of citizens (shown in Sydney, Melbourne and Berlin). My photographic practice has on occasion referenced this through the POV of the camera (from above) in series on the Department of Housing buildings in Waterloo, Sydney. One recent short film piece has extended these themes through use of investigative camera styles. (fig 2) This was used in a recent installation looking at security and the state. A more humorous project has been the recent exhibition of a ‘game’ that combined the innocence of the bar game ‘foosbol’ with the dehumanising aspects of the US forces detention centres. This was followed by an installation project incorporating elements of surveillance photography within a ‘photo booth’ construction. In 2006, I produced an installation titled ‘Scenario House’ which operated within the sphere of political aesthetics. An environment was created that confused the structures inherent within domestic and militarised spaces.