“Surveillance” by Richard Proffitt. University of the West of England. BA Art & Social Context
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Surveillance. Developing Artwork, part 2

Contextualised Practice: Evaluation Report. Module: A842S3

by Richard Proffitt September 1997.
Updated in May-July 2015

Video Mandala

Context & Development
  • construction
  • host organisations
  • intentions
  • The Installation ‘Video Mandala’

    By manipulating the feed-back between a television and a video camera - the video mandala structure can be constructed.

    Simple Feed-Back Loop Set Up Using RF (Arial) Lead

    How does it work? is usually the first question on anybody’s lips. The best answer that I have for this, is that essentially the equipment becomes an analogy to a fractal equation. Like all fractals, a highly complex structure emerges from a relatively simple initial equation and feed-back loop. The nature of the structure is not predictable - as it depends on initial conditions such as light source in the vicinity, type of technology, shutter speed, distance between lens and screen and angle of camera tilt.

    Take for example a tilt in the camera of 30 degrees. As each image of the screen is progressively fed back - it retains this degree of tilt, as well as a progressive diminuation due to the distance between the camera and screen being multiplied. So the second image will be at a 60 degree angle and be seen as if twice the distance away.

    (It is interesting to note that this is an example of a geometric progression, which is of great importance in the study of sacred geometry)

    A 30° Tilt Produces A Spiraling Double-Helix

    This spiralling principle is the seed of the video mandala proper. From this perspective it is easy to see how a minor change in the feed-back (through interaction) can lead to a dramatic series of transformations within the image itself.


    The video mandala fits the criteria as outlined by Hashimoto as to what constitutes a ‘universal’ mandala image. The video mandala is also fundamentally an interactive piece of artwork. Interaction is achieved by making a movement in the space between the lens and the screen. By interrupting and ‘shaping’ the light in this space - a whole array of kaliescopic patterns can be produced on the screen.

    In order to place the work in a public site, I contacted approximately 25 different organisations/companies over the central Bristol area. Telephoning first, I explained a little of my intention and requested a contact name within the company. I then drafted a letter containing more details. Locations included shops and shopping centres, empty shop fronts and the Science Museum. The response was typically poor - just two positive responses and one refusal - the others failed to respond to the letter.

    Ideally the installation should be placed within an area that operated its own CCTV system. My intention is to connect the feedback from the work intermittently with the usual CCTV or advertising images. For the public to participate, the position of the camera and video should be fairly central.

    Whether there should be any signage or explanation would depend on the site operators, but I feel that the piece - standing alone - should generate interest enough for people to spontaneously interact with it.

    Another option is to position the piece (which consists of two units - see diagrams above and picture below) to stand either side of a doorway. In this way, anybody passing through the door or entrance way will trigger a reaction - rather like an alarm, this also mirrors the covert nature of surveillance.

    The intention of the work is to transform the power relationship that is inherent within the CCTV system. From being a passive, monitored subject, those who participate in the work become procreative, active and unbound.

    Essentially, very little has changed - people’s movements are still being recorded by the CCTV system and then projected on to a series of monitors. The difference now is that images are vast abstractions of people - distortions where we may see only an occasional hand or finger for brief moment.

    The televisual eye, normally so cold, is turned on itself. It reveals a hidden image that has far greater meaning than its usual unfeeling catalogue images.


    Host Organisations

    Tesco Metro, Broadmed, Bristol

    Tesco Metro, Broadmead, BRISTOL.

    Placing the artwork within a CCTV system appeared to be a feasible project when Tesco Metro in Broadmead, Bristol, showed and interest in hosting the work. The shop, located in the commercial centre of Bristol, has all the necessary requirements for the project. There’s a CCTV system, a number of monitors publicly displayed and a continual flow of patrons.

    Following an initial interview with the deputy manager, I was given a verbal agreement to carry out the project. I was surprised with the initial acceptance. I expected to have had to suggest many compromises - as the work would ideally involve ‘unplugging’ the CCTV system - even for a brief time.

    I began to develop a proposal - offering alternatives to the CCTV black-out problem. After sending a short list of questions and waiting for a couple of weeks, I received a 180 degree turn around without an invitation to further discuss the work.

    I was obviously a disappointed at this set-back - but having faith in the project, I decided to turn to the other host who had shown interest - Bristol Exchange Market.


    The Exchange Market, Bristol

    Front entrance to the Exchange Market, BRISTOL.

    Addressing Steve Morris, the manager of the Exchange market (see letter, appendices) I was greeted with much greater enthusiasm about the project. He seemed genuinely excited at the proposal of placing the installation (albeit in a compromised way) in the entrance way to the market. Practically, this would mean that I could not connect to a CCTV system as there is not one operating in the market hall; but I could at least gage the public response to the work, and gather opinions and reactions to the work.

    After making a proposal document and a couple of discussions with Mr Morris - the work was installed on the 25th and 26th of February 1997 in the front entrance to the market. At first, the camera and TV were concealed with only black cotton cloth - and later were encased in large boxes - giving the work a more obviously sculptural quality.

    The Screen and Camera were set up at either side of the front doorway.

    As people came through the doorway of the Exchange Market, sure enough, the feedback between the video and camera was interrupted. The responses were varied, ranging from surprise, curiosity to complete disregard.

    The people who chose to interact with the work, found that they could experiment with the image on the screen and create their own patterns. The fact that there was always someone present with the installation does beg the question, Would people have interacted more or less if the installation wasn’t being guarded? There had to be someone present with the work at all times due to safety and security issues.

    Being present at the site did facilitate some interesting discussions. A number of people suggested that there was a similarity with the patterns and with Celtic design. Others commented on how they were reminded of fractal geometry and Chaos images. The notion of the relationships with CCTV were lost - the reason for this was the context and the ‘look’ of the equipment. I could have given the equipment a more ‘security’ aesthetic, ie. making a mock surveillance camera etc.

    Due to its location at this time - however - I thought that this would have been inappropriate, that the point would have been lost. The feedback had been positive in terms of promoting interest, and in generating a desire by many to interact with the work. It had been the project’s first placement, and so it was a good time to iron out technical problems and make clearer proposals.


    The Watershed Media Centre, Bristol

    The Watershed Media Centre

    Having felt some initial success, I decided to enquire at the Watershed to see if the work could be included in the gallery selection. The Watershed, having a network of television monitors for the purpose of broadcasting production information, could make possible the transmission aspect of the instillation. Again an initial proposal was sent to the Watershed’s exhibition’s manager. This time I was able to accompany the proposal with a short documentation of the Exchange Market installation.

    Ms Puzey, the exhibition’s manager, was interested in the work and we did have a couple of meetings to discuss it further. However, as the gallery submissions for the current year are fully booked - I await to see how the proposal is received in the year to come.

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