press release

October 19, 2019–February 23, 2020

From October 19, 2019, Fotomuseum Winterthur presents the newest cluster Deviant as part of its ongoing exhibition format SITUATIONS. The artistic positions by Mitra Azar, Daniele Buetti, Esther Hovers, Simone C. Niquille, Carrie Mae Weems and Mushon Zer-Aviv examine the mechanisms of socio-cultural normalisation and deviation in the age of digital surveillance systems, algorithmic classification tools and preemptive technologies.

Photographic images capture and freeze moments: they fragment bodies, arrest movement and render our behaviours observable. Through photography, we can detect and categorise even the slightest deviations from the norm. In turn, photographs not only reinforce these norms, but can be instrumental in spawning new or deviating forms of behaviour: we may adapt to photographic models or tailor behaviours and appearances to the camera.

The works by Mitra Azar, Daniele Buetti, Esther Hovers, Simone C. Niquille, Carrie Mae Weems and Mushon Zer-Aviv all revolve around the normative logics and effects of photographic images and the visualisation as well as reinforcement of (social) difference. For her project False Positives (2015–2016), Dutch artist Esther Hovers worked with intelligent surveillance system experts and based her project on a total of eight diagnosed "anomalies" in public space: Deviations from the usual behavioural norms, expressed through the body language and the movements of pedestrians. These deviations, tracked with visual technologies, are translated into data and fed into the algorithms of surveillance cameras. Intelligent surveillance systems reverse the temporal logic of surveillance: rather than just providing image material for the retrospective analysis of crimes, they are able to detect deviant, potentially criminal behaviour based on specific corporeal behaviours and can thus initiate an intervention even before a crime has occurred. Hovers’ photographs are imbued with the analytical gaze of the camera, while the tension between documentation and staging raises a discomforting concern: when is the preemptive intervention, i.e. the active and anticipatory intervention in a potentially imminent event, justified—and at what point do these technologies start producing their own reality?

The Normalizing Machine (2018), an interactive installation developed by Israeli artist Mushon Zer-Aviv in collaboration with the software developers Dan Stavy and Eran Weissenstern, deals with visual notions of "normality" and the ways in which bias is inscribed into and reinforced by algorithms and machine learning systems. While being captured on camera, visitors have to decide from a collection of previously photographed visitor portraits which ones seem more "normal" to them. The data sets assembled in this way are evaluated in order to generate an algorithmic image of "normality." Zer-Aviv thus tracks face recognition techniques of the 21st century back to practices of facial measurement misused for propagandistic purposes under the Nazi regime as well as to the forensic image practices emerging as early as the 19th century. The Normalizing Machine examines how we perceive "normality" today, questioning whether we can do so beyond subjective categories—and the role of photographic technologies as supposedly "objective" techniques with regard to mechanisms of normalisation.

SITUATIONS is an experimental exhibition format that reacts dynamically to current photographic and cultural developments. A SITUATION may take the form of a photographic image, a video or a performance, an essay or quote aimed at an in-depth exploration of a topic. Numbered consecutively, SITUATIONS are presented as thematic clusters in the physical space and online at