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National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts
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Today's Date:2020/02/23
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Anxiety of Images (Review) Appreciation
Exhibition Banner - Anxiety of Images
Exhibition Dates: 2019/07/20 ~ 2019/09/22
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  The emergence of photography was intrinsically linked to the advancement of technology. By dint of the viewing apparatus, people have not only shaped diverse landscapes with images, but also transcended the physical confines of human eye with the assistance from technological media and imaging techniques. Consequently, the definitions of time, space, reality and boundary changed, and our horizons stretched beyond the state of Dasein (i.e. being present here and now). Our relations to photography have been changing as technology improves every day. Galvanized by digital imaging technology that serves as the interface, we crave seeing broader, deeper, farther and clearer, only to find that we are in a land of surveillance, from which escape is nowhere on the horizon.

Two main themes run through Anxiety of Images, an elaborately organized exhibition on the relation between imaging technology and photography as well as the yearning and anxiety for gazing and being gazed. Giving prominence to the photographic works in the museum’s collection, the theme “Portrait and Landscape” addresses the question as to how the unprecedented digital images have impacted the visual discourse of conventional photography since digital technology intervened in this field. Digital imaging technology renders the free maneuver of time and space possible. Nonetheless, the multimedia environment and the capitalist consumerism have gained greater control over images today, which complicates the visual reading, comprehension and communication of images like never before. Photography thus metamorphosed from the position of objective documentary into an action of subjective creation. The power relation between seeing and seen has also been altered with the introduction of interpretive and critical viewpoints. It implies that the immutable reality based on the principle of “seeing is perceiving” is gradually replaced by new ways of viewing. Therefore, photographic portraits transmute into new totems, and world landscapes become countless programmable narrative scenes and texts under digital modification and manipulation. When photography is no longer about what but how we see, in what way can we rediscover and reimagine its possibility?

As another theme of this exhibition, “Surveillance and Governance” tackles not only the conflict between seeing and seen but also the question as to how contemporary people employ self-discipline (viewing and reviewing) to respond to the ubiquitous surveillance technology and the ensuing anxiety for images. The artists cope with a riotous profusion of issues concerning surveillance and ethics, including the traffic control and management system that has long been widely deployed, the data collection and border imagination that satellite imagery involves, the generation system of criminal suspects’ portraits and their circulation, the private narratives based on endoscopic images, and even the dramatic transformation of border control scenes that savor of military solemnity and sternness. Surveillance and governance are by no means novel issues. However, as digital technology improves every day (particularly the quantum leap of artificial intelligence and network communication), surveillance and governance have become not only more subtle and undetectable but also more reasonable and political correct. It has something to do with the disappearance of camera lens/viewing. No sooner did the camera lens as intimidating as a weapon no longer exist, people would forget its “archiving power” (which carries the implications of governance and surveillance)—archiving refers to being registered in the state apparatus’ governance network. In terms of technology, this theme illustrates the fact that photography and surveillance are two sides of the same coin: “photography” reflects the anxiety over oblivion, and “surveillance” harbors the misgivings over omission. To apply the terms that approximate their intrinsic nature, photography refers to the paraphernalia employed to “expose” things, while surveillance is a technology adopted to “oversee” the contemporary society.

We’re exposed unreservedly to the eye of surveillance, and we can easily access image “evidence” everywhere. These developments were inconceivable to us previously. Today, artistic creation may help us grasp this brand new yet paradoxical issue of image that mirrors our state of mind: we fear to be watched on the one hand, and hope to stay in people’s line of sight on the other. At the time when the spectacle of digital images gradually veils the appearance of the physical world, photography has become an indispensable log-in technology. All types of identity recognition, be it by iris, face or fingerprint, are based on comprehensive photography. In addition, photography is extensively used in looking after human beings’ health and lives. These developments make individual privacy seem pretty picayune. Perhaps, in the contemporary society, people fear not so much excessive exposure as insufficient disclosure of themselves.

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