Critical Approaches to Mainstream and Consumption II

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Subverting the Power Structure in the Surveillance Assemblage: Blue Sky by Deborah Rachelle Burns/ FOODPOWER by Franca Formenti/ A Case Study of Taiwan's TV Series: Blindness in Womanizer, P.S. Man by Chien-Yu Kao
Friday, 16 September, 2011 - 17:00 - 18:00
Chair Person: 
Igor Stromajer
Deborah Burns
Franca Formenti
Chien-Yu Kao

Subverting the Power Structure in the Surveillance Assemblage: Blue Sky

by Deborah Rachelle Burns

My paper explores the potential of digital media arts technology to disrupt and resist apparatuses of control in surveilled commercial spaces.  Networked technologies create electronic surveillance systems that are used to monitor and track people in commercial spaces.  Although the consumer culture in these spaces appears complicit with the potential power in the surveillance assemblage, the leveraging of digital media arts technologies offers opportunities for the subversion of the power structure in the digitally networked surveillance assemblage.

My paper identifies opportunities for changing consumer culture so that people can challenge the commercial spaces’ potential power in the electronic surveillance assemblage.  I offer examples of digital media art performances that operate in liminal places, moments of disruption, and sites of resistance. However, these opportunities are not bounded by the confines of commercial spaces. The strategies of resistance against power structures in electronic surveillance systems that I identify in my paper can be extended to other private and public spaces.


by Franca Formenti

FOODPOWER –work in progress-

Online recipe project


The world in which we live is an integrated system of information in which we participate as consumers, increasingly unable to experience the immediacy of what we find standing before us. For us, reality is experienced through the media, is constructed by the media, which make events, places and people whom we have never seen or met familiar to us, and compensate their artifice by giving us a feeling of immediacy of that “dramatised” reality. At the same time the media bring about a sense of nostalgia for reality, a need for authenticity, spontaneity, physicality. There is a paradox: the media tell us that they manipulate reality, but the media also spread their accusations of their own falsifications. In other words, we live in a society where even immediacy is a construction.

The case of wikilieaks is exemplary of this double movement of the unveiling and dramatisation, of a staged immediacy by the media: an international not-for-profit organisation, Wikileaks, uses a coded system to receive anonymous and secret documents, to then upload them on a website. In other words, a un-transparent process where unveiling means to cover up something else (the anonymity of information, ways of checking the authenticity of the materials...); but through this website, we can find a “mediate” user with a responsible, ethical and critical identity.

A mediate reality is a reality where modern distinctions between public space and private space have very blurred boundaries, and concepts slip between one and the other, emphasising the need for safeguarding privacy at an institutional level but also as part of the media.

In such a context, secrecy is transformed from an object of desire of our collective imagination into an obsession for those who are more exposed to the media. In this way, privacy becomes a luxury for the few or for those who have the means to protect their own data from the omnivorous indifference with which the media metabolise them.


The project that I am proposing must be understood as a strong metaphor of the analytical and philosophical premise, concentrating on the following aspects: familiarity/difficulty of direct access to media legends; artifice/desire to encapsulate authentic experiences; un-transparency of the dynamic of veiling/unveiling.

In order to emphasise the omnivorous character of information and the necessity to metabolise it in order to acquire an identity, I targeted my research on the body, on food, on the legend. To reduce the body is the first movement of the concretisation of the experience, to feed is the physical expression of vital growth, to elaborate legends is the principal operation of language and communicating in the veiling/unveiling process.

At the core we find the mouth, a bodily organ used for introducing/injecting and consuming, the organ with which we exchange material and spiritual foods, real foods spiritualised in artificial delights and foods with the spirit=ideas that are materialised in recipes, quantities, data. The mouth is the cavity of the tongue and the base of taste, the organ of technology of the word, the first medium that is freed for communication between human individuals,

The tongue maintains the finesses of taste and the omnivorousness of communication.

As an example of familiarity and at the same time unfamiliarty of the legends of the media, I will take the category of chefs, the new demiurges of an increasingly common aesthetic in daily life, who are exemplars for their capability to manipulate food within mediate/experiential contexts.

The idea of identity will be identified through the portraits of the chefs. Every chef will accept the fact that he/she will be photographed in a portrait where they “stick out their tongue”, in other words exposing their tongue to the lens: this is to emphasise the symbolic importance of it, and also to use it as a metaphor for creativity as a ludic activity, irreverent and non-normalised (inspired by the famous portrait of Einstein), but also a reference to the medical test that doctors perform on small children to check their “inner” health. Wisdom and taste.

Every chef will give me an original recipe, written by hand on a piece of paper. Even the request for hand-written materials focuses on identity, as handwriting is a characteristic of every human being, just like finger prints, to the point that it can be part of a scientific inquest through graphology, which is capable of revealing identities and intimate characteristic of the person who is writing.

In order to give a theme to the reliability of the personal experience of what is often easily created on a mediate level, my artistic work will be presented online: the online connection will be the only way to discover and experience the recipes of various chefs who collaborate. On a website the names of the chefs will be put into alphabetical order, and by clicking on each name his/her portrait will appear, seemingly normal, but instead the image will be a steganography.[1]

In order to de-code the image and discover the hidden text underneath, users will have to download a very simple program, which will give the possibility to read the “secret” recipe.

It will be a very simple operation because my objective is not to transform my work into an unnerving code-programming exercise, au contraire! It will be an invitation to reflect on the concept of privacy through games and cuisine.


A concept on the mechanisms of communication would not make sense if it was not accompanied by an adequate use of means of communication and distribution. Therefore the disclosure and modalities will have to be studied carefully, so that it can obtain much visibility, can create interest and stimulate participation.


I want to emphasise that despite the fact that a portrait with a tongue sticking out can perhaps seem unbecoming, and may accentuate physical defects, it will be of utmost importance to me to exalt the aesthetical side of the image, because the concept of beauty is part of my research: “beauty” intended as a form of seduction that takes one back to oneself.

And anyway, as another guarantee for those who are photographed, every image will be chosen with the chef involved each time, so that they can be convinced and satisfied of their photo. I will also give the chef the possibility to decide how they want to show their tongue so that the collection of portraits is not repeated with the same gesture.

[1]“Steganography is a security measure that is normally confused with cryptography. Actually there is a great diffeence between the two. The objective of cryptography is to hide the content of a message, whereas steganography hides its existence. It has come about as in many situations the use of cryptography is insufficient. The example of a soldier who is discovered while exchanging coded messages with a hostile government is clear: indepedently from the content of the message, the sole fact that coded messages are exchanged creates suspicion. The restrictions applied by various governments to coded systems has also pushed for a study of alternative methods for the exchange of rpivate messages, including steganography.”

(Meo Pasquale, Ciardiello Silvestro)

A Case Study of Taiwan's TV Series: Blindness in Womanizer, P.S. Man

by Chien-Yu Kao

Is to love someone good? Or is to be loved better? Is love in the past or at the present passed? Or is love in the past or at the present really existent? Is love of the past better than love of the present? As T.S.Eliot argues, "...a synchronic view of history, where the past is always with us, and diachronic view, where the past is passed" (Eliot, 109). This paper mainly scrutinizes a sense of time over love affairs of four major characters in TV series titled Womanizer, P.S. Man which had been released in Taiwan earlier before long. And, the second part of T.S. Eliot's essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," will be approached to explore a sense of time based on Modernist viewpoints. The issue of love affairs sounds cliche but it does not. Instead, I argue that four major characters, while facing and pursuing their true love in the past, present, and future, keep calculating how they could win over the battle of love. However, calculation, in turn, entraps them. Also, although some critics of TV series in Taiwan have argued that "Xia He-Jie," for example, fits this typical type of man--womanizer--who regards his family, friends, girlfriends as his substitutes and affiliates as his emotional outlet," I find, however, that his strategies of dealing with people does not construct upon self-confidence but his sense of loss on the identity of the self.