Mixed media artist Stef Will works at the interface of art & science, exploring the sense of self and identity in relation to embodied experience. Her background as a doctor is influencing the work, which is informed by an interdisciplinary practice, being immersed in the two worlds of art and medicine, which creates an opportunity for developing concepts that may otherwise remain hidden. Her medical background is also the basis for an interest in perception, including exploration of visible versus invisible aspects of embodied experience – matter versus energy, particle versus wave.
She often exploits medical imaging or medical imaging like techniques in her work, where the body’s boundaries are breached by the clinical or algorithmic gaze. Her works may integrate found medical objects such as surgical blades, syringes and medicine capsules, as well as the abject (as evident in her recurrent work with blood and blood like matter), as reminders of the finite nature of the physical body, inviting the viewer to look beyond Newtonian materiality, towards a concept of reality where consciousness exists separate from our fleeting cloak.
‘Untitled (111 Subjects)’ explores the algorithmic gaze in relation to power and control. British people are amongst the most surveilled (‘sur’: French for from above; ‘veiller’: to watch) citizens in the world, as the UK has more surveillance cameras and facials recognition systems per capita than most other states. However, this has been taken to a new level during the past two years, with people being asked to surveille each other (eg reporting people who break covid rules to the authorities), termed ‘peerveillance’ by the artist.
The work investigates peerveillance as a means of interrogating power structures. 111 people unintentionally encountered in public spaces were secretly being observed, indexed, and archived, following a set of self-imposed rules of engagement. In addition to being photographed using a far-infrared, thermal lens, surveillance data about each subject was documented, and their body temperature was measured (non-contact). Far-infrared photography, as a quasi-clinical imaging technique, is of interest as it not only facilitates visualisation of invisible aspects of the other, but also alludes to surveillance by appropriating surveillance tools used by powers-that-be.
Hidden within each thermal image are three words, which encode the geolocation each subject was encountered in. These codes as well as the surveillance data, are covering an entire wall in the installation.
The installation blurs the line between watching and being watched, as the viewer may step behind a double wall into a small observation room, where they can surreptitiously watch other visitors through a one-way-mirror. To allow the observer to get an even more comprehensive look, visitors are guided towards the one-way-mirror via a blood pool on the floor, which also is a symbol for physical embodiment and serves as a meditation on what it means to be alive and in body. As the viewers are being watched while watching -an experience shared with other strangers in the space- the question arises: who are the real subjects in this work?
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