Contribution to the 25th Biennial of São Paulo

by Roberto Cabot

Context: the perception of urban space

Far distant events can be of more relevance to the existence of an individual or a community than events that take place in their immediate surroundings. On the other hand, major events in a megalopolis are often only perceivable by its inhabitants through the media. One of the strongest recent examples of this is the fact that most New Yorkers followed the tragedy of September 11th on their TV screens, just like billions of citizen around the world, who experienced the collapse of the Twin Towers in NY as if it was happening in their own town.

The portion of reality that is relevant to our existences has been expanded by the globalisation process to such an extent that it is no longer perceivable to the naked eye. The future polis has no physical location, becomes almost an immaterial space, only perceivable through the media screens.

Further, this media (and the technical devices it avails of) increasingly takes on the double function of informing as well as of surveilling and controlling the citizen. The same devices produce the content of the daily news, and at the same time monitor the movements and actions of the population. The media (including the internet) also becomes an instrument of information and of manipulation and control.

Description of the project

Mediamorphose is an installation that combines the means and traditions of painting and contemporary digital network techniques. It reveals the contradictions of the mechanisms through which we perceive our immediate surroundings, the urban context. In the installation, constructed in the frame of a simple architectural structure, the visitor is confronted with the impossibility of decoding a painted wall-image from direct observation. This image can only be interpreted through the intervention of a digital camera installed at the right perspective angle. With this construction, the viewer is brought into the double situation of depending on the camera eye to be able to interpret what he/she sees, and being registered and observed by this same device. In this way, a situation is made visible which we are confronted with on a daily basis and are theoretically aware of, but are unable to experience as a conscious fact. Surveillance and information manipulation are per se covert activities.

From the perspective of the visitor, the wall painting appears strongly deformed so that the representation in it is not visible. The camera is pointed from a viewpoint that re-establishes the current perspective in the image so that it is possible to decode it. At the moment that the visitor passes by the painting, the camera captures a frame, which is projected in the next room. In this projected image, the visitor sees him/herself standing in front of the now comprehensible image. These images are sent in parallel to an internet server and archived in a database which is accessible to everyone through the web.


a – Architectural structure

b – Wall painting

c – Webcam-server-projector system

d – Web archive