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In the event of Amnesia the city will recall…

Denis Beaubois

In the event of Amnesia the city will recall explores the relationship between the individual and the metropolis. These works are not structured events for a traditional audience, they are questions proposed to the site. Open actions which rely on the surrounding dynamics to embellish them. The city as audience, collaborator and performer is emphasised in this piece.  

Twelve sites were selected around the city of Sydney where surveillance cameras are prominently placed. The locations were mapped out and the stage for In the event of Amnesia ... was created. A daily pilgrimage was made to the sites for a period of three days. Upon arrival the performer attempted to engage with the electronic eye. The performers actions were directed to the camera which adopted the role of audience. No permission was sought for the use of these sites. The performer arrived unannounced and carried out his actions. Within this urban context there exists an interplay between what I have termed the ‘primary and secondary audience’. The primary audience is a targeted audience, a person or congregation that is willing to observe and assess.

For Amnesia the primary audience was the surveillance camera (or those who monitor them). Their willingness to observe is not based upon the longing for entertainment. It is ‘order driven’ and stems from a necessity to assess and monitor designated terrain. Imbued with a watchdog consciousness, the primary audience scans the field for suspects, clues and leads. Like many audiences it assesses the scene and attempts to pre-empt the plot. However this audience is extremely discerning, and, ultimately, by assessing and reacting to the event it also adopts the role of performer.                

When both parties (self and surveillance camera) become locked in performance the notion of audience is further expanded. The secondary audience exists because of the location of the action. The sites chosen were courtyards, walkways and thoroughfares. Locations of travel and transience. The secondary audience is a possible audience, a transient audience and an audience of chance. It is an autonomous audience that is self directed in its choice whether to stop and pay attention, or whether to ignore the event. It is also an audience entrenched in the glance as opposed to that of the gaze, quickly flying through the scene and capturing a ‘frame or snapshot’ of the event.


Within this metropolis the walls do not have ears but are equipped with eyes. The city must understand the movements of those who dwell within its domain. To successfully achieve this it must be capable of reading its inhabitants. What can be read can be controlled in theory. Yet the city’s eyes are not content following the narrative provided by its inhabitants. The city weaves its own text within the surface narrative. A paranoid fiction based on foresight.

Using the vehicle of suspicion to create a captive audience 

The surveillance camera as primary audience is selective in what it responds to. It is a preemptive technology relying on observation before the fact. To police the space a directive must be given, the model of the offender suggested, a profile created. In his book The Simulation of Surveillance (1996), William Bogard speaks of the constructed image of the potential offender as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is only a question of time before the suspect appears. He suggests that one could even argue that the suspect already exists before the crime. Largely based on records of past arrests, antisocial activity and criminological simulations, profiles function as preliminaries to surveillance. If one’s race, sex, clothes, movements matches the profile you are the target. This ideology provides ripe ground for the cultivation of an audience. Adopt the basis of their visual code, become a suspect and create a stage with a captive audience.

The profile does not fail or succeed, it guarantees an offender/performer for the observer. This arrangement is reciprocal, and if viewed from the ‘model deviant’s’ perspective, this dynamic provides an ever watchful eye in the guise of a highly critical audience. To willingly confess to the camera is to disempower it. For the camera is no longer in the position of inquisitor. Its discoveries are rendered impotent as they are no longer exclusive and thus powerful. For the camera, exclusive knowledge is power. However, when knowledge becomes public and open its uses as a tool of power are greatly diminished. The action of willingly giving the self to the system, by virtue of its simplicity, raises questions of a hidden agenda. The surface disappears, rendering the action enigmatic, illegible and therefore potentially subversive. A tactical ploy where simulated innocence points to a model deviant. By complying with the system one defies it.

In the event of Amnesia the city will recall ... (Cleveland USA) is a continuation of the Amnesia project. This work explores the performative nature of observation. The act of doing and watching are interchangeable within this project, the theme of the witness as culprit is ever present enforcing the idea where the viewer cannot escape the status of accomplice. An exploration into the structure where the crowd confront itself in the inescapable role of performer.

– Denis Beaubois, 1997

Commonwealth Foundation2-Beaubois, – via Vimeo