It's an understatement to say that the world we live in now is more fast-paced and image centered than ever before. In an article by Forbes magazine from 2017 it was estimated the average American sees between 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day, a number we can only assume has raised since . Of course, advertisement, whilst a big donor of images, is far from the only one. There is constant bombardment from all sides, social media being one of the most dominant and never-ending sources.
One of the most central and talked about pieces of literature when reflecting upon the cultural state of our society and the basis of its exchange and connectedness (or lack thereof), even if published some thirty three years ago is Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle (1967) – a work of philosophy even more true and relevant today than at the time it was published. Another stream of thought which has been dominant in the discourse of our society, especially in the past decades, is surveillance. Debord's Society of the Spectacle (1967) frames our society as obsessed with appearances and images, explaining the spectacle as "a social relationship between people that is mediated by images" [1, p. 4].
This paper will use Debord's Society of the Spectacle  and Michel Foucault's The Eye of Power,  which re-examines Betham's 18th century prison concept of the Panopticon, as its philosophical basis and a prism through which to examine today's fast-paced, image driven society, as well as the role that the individual plays in it. It will raise the question of what does it mean for one to know they are being constantly watched and not only be aware of that but actively participate in it, and take that as an opportunity to perform their own individual spectacle?
The Panopticon itself, presents the design of a prison building in which it is possible to see each cell from a tower in the center of the building. It replaces the shadow and darkness of prison cells with light and visibility, making it so that at any given moment prisoners know that they might be watched, even if they're not. Thus, this creates a feeling of constant visibility with the idea that prisoners will then self regulate, knowing they could be being watched at any point. The Panopticon, of course, is not the first nor last embodiment of this philosophy. A well known version of this is the Big Brother model, Orwell's 1984. The idea that we are being constantly watched, kept tabs on and surveilled is a popular one in dystopian literature and film. In a similar train of thought, Dave Eggers" The Circle (2013) which proposes a dystopian future where an internet company monopolizes society, pushing for maximum visibility with the same philosophy that visibility leads to self-regulation and better behaviour. These are of course matters which have only become more prominent over the years, but for the body of this paper when discussing surveillance and Panopticism I won't be focusing on the collection of data or ethical questions. This paper will focus on a more individual approach to the Society of the Spectacle, questioning the role of performance in an image driven society. For this I will look at performance theory and the work of American conceptual artists Jill Magid, specifically her project/piece Evidence Locker (2004) . Hence, there are, so to speak, three lines of theory which all converge here – panopticism, an image driven, viewer society and the individual in that society who willingly partakes in performance. If the spectacle itself has been turned into a source of power as well as a tool of it, how can we gain agency through performance?
For one, the individual in today's society is hyper aware they are being watched as well as that they are partaking in a viewer society. In reality, there has been a significant body of images ("memes", for one) which has been generated to poke fun at advertisements popping up "coincidentally" after one has spoken of a product, of FBI agents behind laptop cameras or how performative social media sites such as instagram (arguably the most image driven one) are. There has been more and more acknowledgment of the selectiveness of the images we portray online and how these are, in fact, a carefully curated series of portraits of our lives, which may or may not be in accordance with the actual reality. An entire "job" has been born out of the image fueled lives that are being led online – namely being an "influencer". building, curating a desirable enough image of yourself and maintaining that image has become a skill for profit of its own. So much so that it is backed by corporations, fueled by advertisements, and has, all in all, been turned into a business of its own. If anything but this is proof of not only how much we enjoy watching somebody else's image, something that used to be reserved for celebrities and famous people, but has since been so desired that anybody now can become a celebrity – as long as they know how to curate an image interesting enough, desirable enough. Once more, social media will not be the central study of this paper, but it is important to understand its relation to performance. Generations which have grown up with it already present have learned to perform, curate and mediate their "look" early on. In Bo Burnham's 2016 Netflix comedy special "Make Happy" he finishes his performance by a monologue, ironically, about performance, where he states, "They say it's like the "me" generation. It's not. The arrogance is taught, or it was cultivated. It's self conscious. That's what it is. It's conscious of the self. Social media – it's just the market's answer to a generation that demanded to perform so the market said, here – perform. Perform everything to each other, all the time for no reason. It's prison – it's horrific. It's performer and audience melted together" .
The relevance of this is twofold; for one, it makes the important statement of a developed consciousness of the self in a culturally speaking prison state much like the Panopticon in which we voluntarily enter, to a degree, and in which knowing that we are being watched we choose to perform. Secondly, it bridges the way to Magid's work.
Panopticism and the viewed society
Jill Magid is an American conceptual artist, writer and filmmaker. An important focus of her work and performances as an artist is to explore the relationship between the individual and the power structure in society, as well as the tensions between said individual and the institutions which uphold said power structure. She has explored different interactions with physical representations of that power, such as CCTV cameras. "I seek intimate relationships with impersonal structures. The systems I choose to work with function at a distance […] equalizing everyone and erasing the individual" [8, p. 2]. She has bedazzled them, drawing attention to them, questioned their personality and attempted to humanize them, a project made possible by working with the Amsterdam Police Department. She has also worked with the Dutch secret services for a project called "I can burn your face", one she was commissioned by the secret services themselves to do in an attempt to find a human face of the organization and yet ended up being confiscated by that same organization for being too revealing. In a way it could be said that Magid's work tries to humanize the "Eye of Power", to find its face.
The work of hers which will be explored in this paper is her 2004 project titled "Evidence Locker" in which she receives cooperation from the Liverpool Police Department. Upon finding out that, at the time, Liverpool was the city with the highest number of CCTV cameras, Magid was intrigued. She found out that the footage of said cameras can be saved up to 31 days in what is called an "evidence locker" if it is considered to be footage of an "incident" – a broad definition. She then contacted the Liverpool Police Department and they agreed to cooperate with her on her project – for 31 days Magid walked the city of Liverpool. She knew where the surveillance cameras were placed and she wore a signature bright, red coat to make herself more easily noticeable. Throughout the experience she developed a close relationship with Citywatch, the actual, lived bodies behind the surveillance cameras. She often spoke to these men through an earpiece. For example, as part of her project can be found a video titled Trust in which for 3 to 5 minutes she walks through Liverpool with her eyes closed, only navigated by those watching through the CCTV camera and speaking into her earpiece.
But the communication all along was an exchange. Every day Magid would send the Liverpool Police Department letters; almost love letters, with detailed accounts of where she was and at what time, what she wore and what she thought of, how she felt that day. Here can be seen an example of one such letter.
In her paper "Performativity"  Kita Hall references J.L. Austin's concept of performative utterances and speech-act theory. When observing these letters through the prism of said theory one could argue that through the process of writing these letters in such a personal way, through the mere utterances Magid transforms a typically unilateral relationship (that of viewer and subject) into a two-way street. The words "Dear Observer" by themselves breach an important barrier, a feeling almost similar to that of breaking the fourth wall.
When discussing speech-act theory in this context, there is another detail I would like to underline. Typically, when describing speech acts there is always a reference "to THE speaker and THE hearer, and questions of intention and interference are always formulated in terms of only these two presences" [9, p. 61]. The same goes for writer/reader. In this case, however, Magid is not writing these letters to the specific individual person who is receiving and reading them. If she were, they would start with "Dear [insert name]" instead of "Dear Observer". However, she is writing them to an individual. Here, already touching upon an important detail. A truth Krzystof Wodicko , Professor in residence art, design and public domain at the University of Harvard presents in a conference with Magid in 2011 – that in the process of her art she "realized there is no Eye of Power to be found in there. The system is made to be operated by humans". What is meant to bring with this statement is that in and throughout the project that is "Evidence Locker" Magid forms a personal relationship with this imaginary "Eye of Power". The impersonal and technical CCTV camera on the street is in fact operated by someone, a person. The footage reviewed by a human. It is not an invisible power. The Panopticon has guards. And when they look at Magid, she looks back.
In her projects she asks herself, "Are CCTV cameras" tools to observe and survey, or are they images: representations of an authority" [8, p. 3]? The answer is most likely that they are both, in different ways. But what's important and crucial about the relationship that she forms is that she forms it with the individual behind the tool as well as behind the image. She decomposes the structure of power by peeling back the distance between the viewer and the viewed. In a way the individual operating behind the surveillance camera is a middle man between the civilian and "authority" – he merely represents it. When she was walking with her eyes closed down a crowded street it was a human being on the other end of her earpiece directing her, calculating how much space she has to move freely, making a decision where to direct her to. It wasn't the camera itself and it wasn't the "Liverpool Police Department" directing her, because that is a concept. The mechanism is not living and breathing, with a mind of its own – it's made up of human particles.
Here I would like to make my way to another aspect of this relationship. Whilst "the individual in a panoptic society incorporates the mechanics of control, modifying their behaviour as if they were being watched, regardless of whether they actually are" [3, p. 296], here Magid takes that awareness one step further. She willingly enters on "stage", so to speak. She knows where the cameras are, she knows where the searchlight of the Panapticon hits brightest and not only does she place herself right at its center but she does something else entirely; she turns it into a spotlight.