11:11 Online May Residency with Meredith Morran 01.05.21 - 31.05.21
I. We r watching u ! is a 15-minute short film about surveillance. It also features a series of ten interruptions created by ten other writers, artists and creatives, who you can read more about below.
The film is voiced by the text-to-speech bot Kimberly and the visual content includes recordings of the sky taken at multiple locations on Munsee Lenape and Canarsie land in three boroughs in New York City: Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.* The narrative content of the film leads audiences through a series of three stages titled “Skies,” “Clouds,” and “Screens.” The first of these stages, “Skies,” follows a careful practice of looking up. To begin, viewers are prompted to examine many recordings of the sky. Similarities and differences are pinpointed; comparisons are drawn. All of which begin on the level of the strictly-visual:
Kimberly: “There are skies. Like this sky [video of: sky 1] and this sky [video of: sky 2], and this sky [video of: sky 3], which is slightly more blue than the previous two skies but slightly less blue than this sky [video of: sky 4], which might possibly be the bluest sky you will ever see.”
This pairing of visual and auditory elements—of skies and a devised taxonomy for them—sets up an internal mode of signification in the film. Audiences are encouraged to ‘read the sky.' As this act of 'reading’ teased out, the content prompts audiences to consider the act of viewing the sky as spatialized experience, namely one which is informed by viewing position. These moments are described:
Kimberly: “Then there is this sky [video of: sky 8] which is likely viewed by people who hold more power than those who are viewing this one [video of: sky 9], even though the concept of power is an imaginary one. And also kind of immeasurable, but not without social and political consequence. So we can say that power is complicated especially when weighted in terms of sky-viewing-position.”
This section ends with a categorization of particular skies—nighttime skies—as more dangerous than others—daytime ones.
* As this project exists in digital space, viewers are encouraged to visit this site to acknowledge the land from which they are currently tuning in.
II. Following “Skies,” viewers move into the second stage, “Clouds.” This section draws influence from the ever-present analogies which pair physical clouds with their digital forms (i.e. cloud computing). Additionally, this section is informed by an essay titled, “Cloud Physiology,” written by Lorraine Daston. In this text, Daston outlines the scientific history of cloud classification.
Kimberly tells us: “Clouds live inside the sky kind of like how people live on the Earth.”
Datson describes the difficulty scientists faced when developing taxonomies for clouds, as clouds move through the sky during observation, and, therefore, evolve more quickly than most other observable natural phenomenon. And not only are clouds ubiquitous in digital analogies, but the impossibility of classifying them is also becoming a point of comparison when discussing the impossibility of face categorization in the context of machine learning for the development of facial recognition softwares. By drawing on this theoretical influence, the second section of the film, “Clouds,” encourages viewers not only to ‘re-read’ previous images of the sky, but also question objectivity in technology on the whole.
III. The third section, “Screens,” begins with Kimberly’s evocative statement repeated from the beginning:
“Numbers tell us that this part of the screen is more dangerous than this part of the screen.”
This section seeks to further undercut notions of this digital objectivity, which appear throughout. This section is also informed by a theory of three types of looking popularized in film studies. In her essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” written by Laura Mulvey, she describes these types of looking as: 1) the look of the camera at the recorded scene, 2) the look of audiences at the screen, 3) the look of the characters within the film at each other. As Mulvey and others often explain, the look of the characters within the film is often privileged over the other two looks, in an effort to properly suspend disbelief. Many filmmakers do not want for audiences to have constant reminders that they are watching a film, instead they hope viewers will become immersed—or lost—in the world. With that in mind, this section borrows images and moments from the previous two sections and exposes all three types of looking within the film. In doing so, the film reminds viewers that it has been recorded and is, therefore, heavily mediated. In this way, audiences are prompted to not only consider the ways in which this film was produced, but to also consider that all films are always produced. And the camera isn’t neutral. And often those who have the finances and connections and means to creative dominant films and other forms of mainstream media, bring their own agendas, which are by no means universal or progressive. This final stage helps to question various modes of looking, not only as they related to one’s “sky-viewing-position” on Earth, but also the position from which one reads, watches and consumes media everyday.
Theoretical underpinnings: This project was developed alongside a study of surveillance. At the start of 2021, my obsession, my fascination with, and my fears concerning all things surveillance studies and data mining really took off…I started reading a lot.
In February, I attended VLC’s As for Protocols Seminar 4 titled: “Reclaiming, Challenging, and Queering Surveillance,” which also has an excellent reading list if you’re interested. It’s linked here. Then, I (finally) finished Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang and read Dark Matters by Simone Browne.
Most recently, I’ve been following this podcast, Mirror with a Memory. In the final episode, there’s an interview with Eyal Weizman the founder of Forensic Architecture, in which he talks about the overarching goals of the research agency’s practice. Namely, he discusses this idea of a “collective gaze,” which has totally stuck with me. Basically, he says that one way he believes people can oppose the dominant gaze of mainstream media is by creating work with as many gazes as possible, which I found to be a really powerful sentiment. As such, I decided to invite a group of 10 friends to contribute what I'm calling "interruptions" to my piece. Their work will roll out daily and overlay my own video as an experiment at collective gazing, art making, some Paul Soulellis-inspired urgent publishing, etc.
Simultaneously, I have been reading about predictive policing technologies that are becoming more popular in major metropolitan areas in the United States such as New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. It’s no surprise that technologies use existing police data to inform their predictions about which areas in these cities might be most prone to crime or where crime might be most likely to occur next. As Rashida Richardson expertly outlines in her text, “Dirty Data, Bad Predictions: How Civil Rights Violations Impact Police Data, Predictive Policing Systems, and Justice,” these technologies are, of course, completely biased as they are based on exiting police data, which is undeniably “dirty data,” as she terms it. While some proponents of these technologies attempt to claim their “objectivity,” it becomes so necessary to critique where their existing data comes from and how such “predictions” are developed. It comes as no surprise that these technologies are continuing—and exacerbating—the existing disparities present in policing, in which some areas are more heavily policed than others, primarily according to the race and class of the people living there. I found presentation materials for one of the more popular softwares, PredPol. I looked at their research data for the software's trial run in NYC, and discovered—in line with Richardson's essay and the disparities in policing ever present in the city—that the areas most targeted in the study were historically Black and POC neighborhoods. I have also learned that much of the development of these technologies is deliberately being hidden from the public. The use of these technologies as well as the research surrounding them, is not being made widely accessible. Many people do not even know that this is going on. In this way, predictive policing poses an immense threat to cities where it is beginning to roll out as it will only worsen the already present over policing problem.
With this in mind, I started to think about what it might be like to look back at the sky from which these maps were created and predictions were made. I began filming the sky everywhere I went around the city. The choice to omit human forms from the work (exclusive of my own) was a deliberate one. Furthermore, I wanted to create a film that one might watch either before—or after—reading this text and accessing the other sources I have linked below. As such, the film uses this theory as a foundation, but abstracts many thoughts and ideas in an attempt to get to the very foundation of what it means for humans to look at other humans and classify other humans and surveil them.
Finally, the film is an attempt to expose these problems related to looking at people as well as the power structures and systems of oppression that exist when certain people begin to have access to doing so on a large scale (…surveillance). It is a work in progress and a project that I hope will keep evolving. I am lucky to have a team of talented friends contributing interruptions to the project throughout the week. They all inspire me greatly. I am also by no means an expert on these topics and would like to extend my thanks to the folks who have written the sources I’ve listed below. They are doing such important work and I encourage everyone to check out their writing and/or projects.
Thank you for to everyone for watching!
Stay safe, take care—
Interruption Schedule | 25.05.2021 - 31.05.2021
With live releases each day from:
Some notes + reading materials: Here is a small breakdown of the ways things have organically emerged during the past few weeks (plus links to add to my reading list… and yours!)
12.05.2021 - Chatted and laughed and chatted some more with my friend Thea <3 who told me I absolutely must check out this talk.
13.05.2021 - Emailed back and forth with my incredibly talented filmmaking pal Naiyah who I hope to finally see in person this summer! She recommended this Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism by Stephen Graham.
14.05.2021 - Just wrapped up a simultaneous project about digital privacy with my brilliant friend Sally, who has taught me so much (!!) about coding, traversing online spaces, etc. While working on this, we stumbled upon some resources about digital security linked here and here.
Index of Sources
Bratton, Benjamin H. The Black Stack. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/53/59883/the-black-stack/
Browne, Simone, Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness, Durham, NC and London, England, Duke University Press, 2015.
Chun, Wendy. Programmed Visions. MIT Press 2011.
Daston, Lorraine. “Cloud Physiology” in Representations Volume 135, Issue 1, The University of California Press Summer 2016.
Daston, Lorraine and Peter Gallison. Objectivity, Zone Books.
Deleuze, Gilles, Postscript on the Societies of Control, 1990.
Ford, Paul. “What is Code?” in Bloomberg, 2015.
Galloway, Alexander, Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization, 2004.
LaRochelle, Lucas, “Queering the Map: On designing digital queer space” in Queer Sites in Global Contexts; Technologies, Spaces, and Otherness, 2020.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader. Ed. Philip Rosen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 198-209. Print.
Richardson, Rashida. “Dirty Data, Bad Predictions: How Civil Rights Violations Impact Police Data, Predictive Policing Systems, and Justice,” 94 N.Y.U.L. REV. 192 (2019) (with Jason Schultz & Kate Crawford)
Syms, Martine. Mirror with a Memory (podcast).
Tiqqun, The Cybernetic Hypothesis.
Wang, Jackie, Carceral Capitalism, Semiotext(e) and MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, England, 2018.