My CRP’s beginnings germinated in CLG02 that first day of MAFA in October. Assembling as we all did, newbies meeting Babak,Patti, Brian and Stephen on chairs laid to the order of authority even if only for presentations. A recognisable format control; head member standing opposite a seated civilised and attentive number of art students.
As latecomer I stood at the back of the room and took in what I saw. A fine example of hierarchy, with instructor addressing the group. And in that romantic day dreaming mind of mine, I envisaged how, on this very ground, similar institutions had delivered instruction in the same shape and frame of Foucault’s ‘discipline and punish’. For before Chelsea and Patti, there was RAMC hospital and the King’s anaesthetist Dr Cyril Scurr; and before them the Penitentiary and Governor Wm.Morrish Esq.all standing there confronting a conditioned bunch.
The layers of institutional hierarchies on this geographic site over the centuries – prison – hospital – school, is no mere coincidence. My curiosity to this site growing, I began looking for clues of its former life. I had not heard of philanthropist, philosopher, and social reformer Jeremy Bentham and his model penal institution before Unit 1. However, my observations of disciplined control were acutely in tune in my (unknowing) interest that was to become the focus of this term. It would have been no mere coincidence to Foucault writing Discipline and Punish 40 years ago in 1975 that these types of disciplinary institutions were torn down and rebuilt in a different style but with the same underlying structures evident that allows penetrating surveillance. Our obedience is shaped by these particular types of institutions. The institution becomes an ordered system of people control whose people then become self-monitoring disciplined and docile. Without such a system there would be chaos.Or would we be just fine? Count the number of surveillance cameras in and around Chelsea monitoring you today. Rest assured central control ‘tower’ aka the Porter’s Gate House Lodge is watching. Foucault’s concerns are our similar concerns forty years on; we are all being watched and not just by a central tower, we are being watched by one another.
Over the coming months, I will be considering Bentham’s hypothetical prison to contrast its use and successes today, for our conditioned behaviour is ingrained in the Western world. We allow a controlled existence of greater policing, law and surveillance than intended for punishment within prisons, even.
What’s this? Today I spotted an ENORMOUS newly installed surveillance eye in the lecture theatre. C-R-E-E-P-Y. The spirit of Bentham’s ‘unfreedom’ ever present; the brain-child listens in, the ruling class watches our lectures; steals our privacy-ever more violently.Conditioned effect? We regulate our conduct – We do not nod off; we sit upright. We keep our shoes off the seats, and we do not surf the internet for inappropriate sites (google has the job of tracking and recording). Bentham would delight in his theory was being tested out here on the site of his modelled panopticon, 200 years on and that we haven’t developed an alternative theory of Panoptes, the 100 eyed Greek god.
Experiencing art school in the Twenty First century was a different institution of discipline from that I remember in the Twentieth Century! I am disillusioned that art school adheres to the rules of the panopticon. It’s about centuries-time we pulled those surveillance cameras down throughout the country and peeled off our straight jackets.
Annabel Ludovici Gray