2006 | Color | HD video | 19:00
“Problem. To make what you see be seen, through the intermediary of a machine that does not see it as you see it. And to make what you understand be understood, through the intermediary of a machine that does not understand it as you do.”
Robert Bresson, from Notes on the Cinematographer
Sophisticated surveillance systems blanket public space in London, training watchful eyes and ears on a population that passively complies. The English have long been at the forefront of the willing surrender to this phenomenon. Among the highlights are the Panopticon, the late 18th century brainchild of British philosopher and legal reform theorist Jeremy Bentham. He proposed a new kind of prison in which the guards could observe the prisoners without being seen. The prisoners would be compelled to feel they were always being watched, since they had no way of knowing they weren’t. Though never built, the idea inspired behaviorists to subsequently devise mechanisms for tracking individuals, from physical means of observation such as cameras, to social means such as ID cards. In 1937, the Mass Observation Movement was formed, looking at and listening a bit too closely to everyday life under the rubric of social research. 1949 brought the publication of Orwell’s chillingly prescient “1984” which drew some of its inspiration from Britain’s endemic weakness for prying into the hidden lives of its citizens. The methods and mechanisms for contemporary surveillance practice were further honed from 1969 to 1997, during the years of the Provisional IRA campaign.
Occulted immerses the viewer in the streets of London during the winter of 2006, barely six months after the traumatic subway and bus bombings of 2005. The strategy is to surveil those who are already willingly surveilled, with periodic reminders that cameras are scanning the surroundings. Narrative is forsaken in favor of observational threads in which close and intimate watching takes place. Movement is slowed, as the daily commuting routine is frequently interrupted and punctuated by shopping—obsessive, repetitive, ubiquitous. Dense layers of sound join with the image to enfold the individual being observed, leaving us to ponder what it is that is being thought, felt and lost.