By JoSeph Moore
2. a. The action of overseeing something; supervision, inspection, authority, management …
3. b. An accidental omission; a mistake made through inadvertence or negligence. Also: a person or thing which is passed over.
Oversight/The Animals is a series of videos I began in 2014. These works are made using unsecured web cameras that feature the lives of non-human animals in their environments. Utilizing a variety of techniques to discover these feeds, I then record the video streams using software I developed. Each recording is done for 24 hours at 1 frame every 10 seconds. This amounts to approximately 8600 images. From these images I create a time-lapse video, compressing 24 hours into 5 minutes and 45 seconds. Through this work I wish to foreground the non-human animal and its historical relationship to photography, cinema, and certain methods of camera assisted analysis and control in development since the 19th century. My interest in aspects of sequence, temporality, and medium specificity also figure heavily in the work.
Taken in the context of IP cameras or “netcams,” the auto-antonym oversight in the title of the series describes an important contradiction in this technology. These cameras are found in domestic settings such houses and apartment buildings; in places of work such as restaurants and shops; settings of industrial production; and in environments of leisure, such as parks, etc. The cameras work within a disciplinary system of oversight, inspection, authority, and management that applies to both human and non-human laborers; a tool within the standardization of work and leisure time. At the same time these often poorly secured, unsecured, or incorrectly secured devices inadvertently allow an unintended audience to view their transmissions, an oversight that undoes the imagined security associated with theses devices when they are marketed as “security cameras.” Here, in this breakdown of security and privacy, there is an opportunity to access a small part of the lives of non-humans and of an occluded co-existence between the human and non-human, one normally hidden from view: hidden because the images are often intended for a select audience, but also hidden by the different temporalities through which a world can unfold. While this backdoor does not give us direct access to the world of the other, it potentially reveals some of the techniques by which life becomes systematized and observed.
The part of the definition for oversight that reads: “A person or thing which is passed over,” brings to mind other reasons for not seeing, a passing over due to forgetting, disavowal, or lack of recognition. Cheap labor is cheap enough to forget or unrecognized because culturally and historically bound practices of seeing are tuned in ways to perpetuate capital’s systemic violence. The video feeds I find picture many such instances of under and unrecognized human and non-human animal labor. These expand beyond the most obvious places of non-human labor, such as the farm, and include domestic spaces of affective labor in the family home, the non-human animal performers at zoos and carnivals, and the animals engaged in scientific inquiry as subjects in a laboratory.
The mise-en-scène found in the human-built environments designed to house these non-human animal laborers often reveal certain discursive practices at work particularly in notions of nature and culture, and a dialectical relationship between preservation and destruction. While related to early photography and pre-cinema, many of the images from Oversight/The Animals appear quite different from images of motion studies, particularly those of the 19th and most of the 20th century. Early motion studies positioned the subject set against a monochrome background of black or white, or painted with a series of grid lines. Outside of the laboratory recordings, zoos are one place where painted backgrounds persist. These painted backgrounds make the space seem more expansive and less constricting, often employing trompe-l’oeil effects. Additionally, the backgrounds deliver images of a given animal’s natural habitat, e.g. flora and fauna not found in the area of a given performance venue. Particularly in zoos, the setting of the scene corresponds to an aesthetics that attempts to reconcile Naturalism and the laboratory. The more elaborated re-creation of an African landscape in one video feed of a zoo housing giraffes stands in perceived contradistinction to an “osprey cam,” another feed in which an osprey’s nest is seen with advertising for an energy supply company; the blatant commodification of life in the latter, the more subtle in the former. These two images share an ideology of instrumentalized nature and with it the idea that capitalist industry and mechanisms based around private property will ultimately, in some fashion, preserve the “natural” world while nonetheless reducing it to plastic recreations and images.
Other instances expose something different about the use of environment. Such is the case when the focus of the feed is a mechanism regulating temperature, movement, and so forth. The shot in this case often assists in the functioning of some technology, for example, by helping a supervisor check for breakdowns. In another case, the camera highlights a technology within the environment in order to valorize it. This second case is seen when the primary object being sold is equipment, e.g. milking stations, chicken feed dispensaries, systems of gates and cages, etc. These spaces are regularly “hosed down” and cleaned to keep excrement from accumulating too much where it would draw attention to bodily functions rather than their management. Here, the non-human animal is a prop character, interchangeable with tokens of the same type, and most obviously a part overwhelmed within the whole.
While the above text articulates some of my thoughts regarding scenes in Oversight/The Animals, there is much that slips outside these brief notes, just as in a simplified description, video records a series of frames and not what falls between them; a discreet system that relies on perceptual phenomena to give the impression of continuous motion. There is always some amount of time that is unaccounted for. This time unaccounted for is even more present when the record of a day is compressed down to minutes. In this compression the shape of a day with its various changes and repetitions is made visible, and something hidden is seen. I often feel a sense of awe and mystery alongside revulsion when viewing these recordings. I wish to see a site of resistance in these missing moments and the potential for a re-enchantment of life though these feelings. But this unaccounted for time also speaks to a system of exploitation whose logic works though concealment as much as disclosure, through surplus as much as much as lack.