The Orwellian times that we live in have piqued the interest of the Colorado art collective iMiNiMi, which is made up of Roger Rapp, Kent Smith, Rick Visser and the artist known as Bug. For the exhibit Panopticon 21: You Are Being Watched, now at the Cordell Taylor gallery (2350 Lawrence Street, 303-296-0927), iMiNiMi created an ambitious multimedia installation (detail above) that looks at the issue of personal privacy in an increasingly security-conscious world.
Visitors to the show enter through a metal detector that lets out a repeated, unbelievably annoying, ear-splitting electronic whistle. The installation is defined by four tall structures that in form and finish suggest guard towers from a Nazi concentration camp. They are equipped with audio components in which repeated commands on the order of 'Stay there!' are run on continuous loops of tape.
In the middle of the main space, surrounded by the towers, is an enormous black cube set slightly at an angle, which allows it to hover just above the floor. On each side of the cube is a grid of metal circles surrounding peepholes through which visitors can view video monitors playing surveillance tapes of various settings, including the show's opening a few weeks ago. (Speaking of the opening, a commotion erupted during the festivities when a denizen of the Art Bus -- a mobile happening filled with the art world's version of club kids -- set a bonfire on top of the vehicle. Luckily -- and ironically -- official eyes were watching, but not with cameras. You see, the Denver Firefighters Protective Association is right next door to Cordell Taylor, and a slew of fire trucks and emergency vehicles arrived on the scene within minutes.)
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The installation ends in the back space, where a bank of video monitors displays live feed from hidden cameras throughout the gallery that record the activities of every person coming in.
The show's title, Panopticon 21, refers to an experimental prison designed by eighteenth-century social theorist and reformer Jeremy Bentham. In a panopticon prison, all cells are fully visible from a central guard tower or viewing platform. The "21" in the title refers to the 21st century. IMiNiMi's point is clear: Whether at the shopping mall, on the street or in the gallery, the 21st century is one big panopticon. But as that episode with the Art Bus demonstrates, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Panopticon 21 closes May 3.