I took this video of a bird in benign captivity, during which I was undergoing a self-analysis of the ethics of representation. I was mindful of the circumstances through which this creature found itself inside a box, inside a house, inside the camera and now inside this video. At every step in the aesthetification process I made decisions to distance myself from the subjective position of the bird so as to capture it and represent it as a text inviting interpretation. This is what others have termed the artist’s “objective gaze”.
Although the bird was not intentionally captured for the purpose of making video art, the incidental features of this video-making and its representation and ongoing proliferation are intentional. I was experiencing “aesthetic pleasure” in the act of capturing the distressed experience of a bird in captivity.
During the filming I imagined how this video could be screened on loop inside a gallery. I imagined a flat screen or projected inside a dark room behind thick black curtains. I also imagined the video being projected in the same dark room with a large photograph of Dylan Voller illuminated by a light-box on the adjacent wall.
The depiction of violence in art is not without concern. The depiction of suffering contains the assumption that at the very least "aesthetic pleasure" can be gained from it. To illustrate the ethical conflict of interest this raises, consider this question: is it ethical for me to re/textualise and re/present the image of Dylan Voller strapped and hooded, the very same image that started a Royal Commission.
The freedom from responsibility offered by the “objective gaze” is not limited to artists. The de-contextualized representation, absent of horror, encourages passive consumption in the audience. The image and the passive act of looking make it easier to digest the culture that gave rise to it.
In my view ( and I am mindful I am an active agent in the administration of criminal justice) it is time to confront the logic of the prison and recognize the similarities this logic has with the logic of art.
Although not free from a giant logical leap, the camera I used to achieve the "aesthetic pleasure" afforded by the “objective gaze” in making the bird video above, is the same camera which captured the image of Dylan Voller. Incidentally and as an aside the presence of a cctv camera did not prevent a human being from being violated by being stripped, strapped and hooded. Such is the result of re-presentation dependent on the quality of an indifference nourished by the “objective gaze”, I am mindful of the interplay between digital art, cctv footage and Bentham's panopticon.
If my use of a bird in captivity to make art is morally dubious, and if my use of Dylan Voller’s pain and humiliation is ethically unsustainable as material for art making, is it time to accept art's inherent inability to articulate rage or affect change free of it's own self-referential hypocrisy?
As an artist in the digital age of image proliferation and saturation, I want to demystify art-practices and re- present art for the artifice it is. I want to avoid perpetuating whimsical "artistic irony", and highlight the artist's singular inability to change anything. I want to show art for what it is- as an active agent generative of a lethargic objective gaze which is inherently unable to hold power to account.