Foucault, Staples, and Ai Wei Wei (pt1)

Reading Observations

Foucault, in the 3rd chapter of his book Discipline and Punish, describes a “carceral continuum” or a sort of cyclical spectrum of punishment, confinement, and institutional disciple in prisons. The Carceral Continuum is meant to act as a sort of rehabilitation for incarcerated persons so that they can return to the norm.

In Staples’ article “Surveillance and Social Control in Postmodern Life,” he discusses the different ways that in our current society we are controlled both through physical surveillance and through the fear of surveillance. He insinuates that the lines between private and public have been blurred due to the constant surveillance we receive through data collection.

This idea of constant surveillance as means of social control works well with Ai Wei Wei’s art installation S.A.C.R.E.D. (Supper, Accusation, Cleansing, Ritual, Entropy, Doubt) Ai Wei Wei’s sculptures depict him going through different daily routines (eating, bathing, using the restroom, sleeping, etc.) but all the while being watched by blank-faced, uniformed, guards. Ai Wei Wei’s sculptural counterpart also appears to be blank-faced and emotionless, but he never truly makes eye contact with the guards. He seems more focused on the task at hand than the men staring at them. However, there also seems to be a sort of grave understanding that these men will never leave his side. This gives the appearance that the guards are both there psychically, but also in a sort of psychologically-haunting sense. Though the installation is representative of the literal surveillance Wei Wei received while in prison, the physical facial features of the sculptures in all but Accused could be interpreted as a psychologically tormenting pressure that is placed on WeiWei while in prison.


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