Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Hi there, everyone. So I saw this exhibit by Huang Yong Ping when I was living in Vancouver, BC last year. His work deals a lot with power & dynamics, within people, society, cultures etc... It just struck me that this particular work is quite the representation of the panopticon, primarily in structure, but also because it contains live insects that are aware they are being observed, but not of the meaning/consequences/idea of the observation... because, you know, they're insects! There was a huge controversy over this showing - the Humane Society was concerned re. its ethical validity, if correct care being taken of the insects, etc. These images should give an idea of what it looked like:

Huang Yong Ping, Theater of the World, from Theater of the World--Bridge Is Theater of the World an insect zoo? A test site where various species of the natural world devour one another? A space for observing the activity of “insects”? An architectural form as a closed system? A cross between a panopticon and the shamanistic practice of keeping insects? A metaphor for the conflicts among different peoples and cultures? Or, rather, a modern representation of the ancient Chinese character gu1? —HYP

1. Composed of three insects superimposed upon a plate, the character gu means vicious things or evil spells.

Also: Huang’s Theater of the World (1993) takes one of its clear references from Bentham’s panopticon, its radial arrangement of cells strikingly resembling Bentham’s description. (See also BESTIARY, GU, and XUANWU.) There is, however, no central observation tower. The main space [where the observer stands], in fact, more closely resembles that of a coliseum or an amphitheater. The activation of the work—living animals and insects left to a gladiatorial relationship of slay or die—indeed resembles the theater of spectacle of a Roman or Neoclassical kind rather than the disciplinary institutions of modern society. One possible closer representation may be Coup d’oeil du Théâtre de Besançon by French Neoclassical architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1804). Thus, Huang’s own panopticon may very well be an inverse of Foucault’s contention of the modernity of our social experience: “We are much less Greeks than we believe. We are neither in the amphitheatre, nor on the stage, but in the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power, which we bring to ourselves since we are part of its mechanism...Huang sees the expansive, simultaneously modern and antimodern potential of this metaphor when he reads his own work as “a cross between a panopticon and the shamanistic practice of keeping insects.” (See http://visualarts.walkerart.org/oracles/details.wac?id=2229&title=Lexicon for further references to Panopticon, Foucault, etc).

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