A Review of Under Surveillance

by Regan Golden-McNerney (excerpt, first published August 3, 2008)

Under Surveillance at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin (608 New York Avenue, Sheboygan, phone 920-458-6144, places us both behind the camera and before it.

What is most compelling about this exhibition is the instability of your position as a viewer: what at first seems like innocent voyeurism turns into a menacing gaze; what at first appears cold and threatening transforms into the soft and harmless. As the work in this show suggests, much of the technology that surrounds us oscillates between these two poles of alluring and frightful.

The work of Yasmine Chatila and Trevor Paglen encourage us to question the authenticity of the information that is collected through surveillance. Yasmine Chatila’s digital prints allow us to peak through the windows of unwitting New Yorker’s at home and at work in the series, Stolen Moments. The subtle disconnect between the individuals and the spaces they inhabit reveal that Chatila’s prints are actually constructed scenes made up of many different images of the same city all mashed together digitally, even though the artist’s titles such as Night with Full Moon-City Hall, Fri 10:53 PM, 2005 attach a specific place and time to the whole picture. As the viewer, we are asked to accept the images as complete and accurate depictions of the city.

Being in the position of the voyeur is awkward in each of Chatila’s images, but it is most clearly felt in looking at the intimate exchange between two lovers in Office Romance-Tribeca, Thu 5:46 PM, 2005. Her arms rest on his waist, but her elbows remain locked. He gently places his finger on her nose, but seems hesitant as if expecting his hand to be brushed away. Our own discomfort at looking is reflected back in the awkwardness of this exchange. This print by Chatila opens up an entirely different reading of this show. It enabled me to see past the chrome boxes, steel railings, and crisp digital images to see the quaintness of Goodwin’s model buildings, the soft fleshy weather balloons in We, and the warm light emanating from the airplane hangars in Paglen’s Illuminated Hangars / 9:08 PM.


Yasmine Chatila, Stolen Moments
On view through October 18 at Edelman Arts, represented by Asher Edelman


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