Feng Shui Panopticon

In the summer of 2008 I shared a brief residency at PROGRAM initiative for art + architecture in Berlin with the LA-based artists Katie Herzog. Katie is a painter but works in multiple media, including public librarianship. Also, she’s my cousin; but I don’t think that’s part of her art practice.

Projective Imprisonment

Our project in Berlin was a meditation on two unlikely concepts: Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison design and the art of Feng Shui. Although they may seem to be wildly divergent ideas, they are connected by a thread of geomancy. By combining the practice of Feng Shui with the spatial logic of the Panopticon we found unlikely allies. These opposites share a deep commitment to the corrective, rehabilitative, or restorative capacity of geometry itself.

But could they be rectified into a single thing? Could one single object satisfy Feng Shui’s rules for avoiding evil and Bentham’s attempt to eliminate it?

Pure Qi

As you might suspect, the answer was elusive. We consulted a coterie of Feng Shui specialists from Berlin to New Zealand but each conversation ended in inspired gridlock. Not to be deterred, the outcome of this collaboration was a mirrored prototype panopticon. Using Bentham’s original drawings and sheets of adhesive mirror, we built a small scale structure that gobbles up the geometry of the world around it and reflects back a carefully shattered view. It’s the rhetorical product of 18th century and ancient wisdoms combined, but the physical progeny of a disco ball. The Feng Shui Panopticon is incapable of dispensing with evil, but equally unable to prevent joy.

Katie has since been working on a book of art and essays around this theme which is due out later this year. But in the meantime, if you’re in LA you can stop by the Cirrus Gallery to see the model that we produced while in Berlin. It’s on display as part of the Once Emerging, Now Emerging group show that is up till May 5, 2012.

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