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James Coupe's On the Observing of the Observer of the Observers exhibited in Lancaster, PA

Submitted by Jacob M Lambert on March 23, 2013 - 12:00am

Phillips Museum of Art
Franklin & Marshall College
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Jan 30th - April 7th, 2013

"Sit, and wait. Stand, and walk. Proceed down a corridor, and enter a room. Listen, and react. Watch, and be watched. These, and other, more and less subtle cues and directives provide the logic behind James Coupe's installation, On the Observing of the Observer of the Observers, at The Phillips Museum of Art. Over the course of a six-week installation in winter 2012, the Rothman and Curriculum Galleries were transformed into an enclosed theatre of observation, where anyone may enter, participate in, and subsequently become the exhibition. 

The exhibition is comprised of a network of rooms, some physical, some virtual, and some, both at once. Certain rooms are located within the museum's walls, while others are dispersed across the Franklin & Marshall campus, to be viewed remotely via multi-screen video feeds. Although most of these rooms appear generic and interchangeable, each is designed for a specific function: the installation layout includes a waiting room, a psychology testing room, the director's office, a control room, a screening room, a chapel, a classroom, and four corridors; whereas the cross-campus locations include a dining room, a computer lab, a holding cell, a library reading area, and a dorm room. The exhibition's maze-like layering of real and virtual spaces creates a kind of image echo-chamber, where the events seen on-screen appear at once familiar, routine, contained, and yet uncanny, erratic, and modular: a seemingly infinite regress of people and places.

Installed in each of the gallery rooms are cylindrical rings of high definition cameras affixed to ceiling-mounted steel poles, which have been configured to perpetually monitor a 360-degree view of their surroundings. The captured footage is then shown on the adjoining panels of computer monitors, which display panoramic yet spatially and temporally inconsistent video representations of each room and its visitors. Inconsistent, because computers process the video footage in real time, using facial recognition software to detect each visitor's presence, and custom algorithms to determine the exact quantity of people and the duration for which their image will be visible on screen. Processed, recombined, displayed and then re-displayed, the video feeds exhibit a circuit of selves, others, and resolute emptiness - the effect is a paradoxical sense of delayed immediacy, or perhaps, intimate estrangement, oscillating between past and present, near and distant, ordinary and strange." 

- Excerpt from catalogue essay, "Waiting To Be Seen" 

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