alex mackenzie : mediaworks

somber, 1999

interactive installation
peepshow booth, video surveillance
The peep-show booth is typically found in sex shops, arcades and storefronts devoted to the porn industry. In the Vancouver area, the booths maintain a consistent and distinct style and aesthetic. Constructed of a fake wood-grain panelling ("Panolam") and pasted with cheap signage, these booths are drab, uninviting and ugly. Their seat is cushioned vinyl and when the door is closed the interior is very dark. Each booth is officially registered as a distinct one-person theatre and requires a BC Film Classification certificate.

Somber repositions the peep show booth into a gallery environment, wrenching it from its natural habitat and incorporating the viewer into the viewed to comment on the very concept of the peep show booth, the porn industry, viewer expectation and the gallery environment.

The installation consists of an exact replica of a peep show booth built by the artist and positioned in the center of the room. To the left is a stack of videotapes. On the rear wall is a projected 16mm loop. Inside the booth, where we would normally find numerous channels of pornography on video, we discover four moving image sources displayed on a black and white monitor in a five second progressive cycle:

1. A live long shot of the booth through a surveillance camera in the corner of the gallery.

2. A live close-up image of the interior of the booth recorded on a surveillance camera from within the booth.

3. A prerecorded image of the same interior as #2 but recorded the previous day.

4. A 16mm loop of found footage. The image is interrupted at its base by the booth's shadow.

The 16mm loop source is a film entitled "Man: The Incredible Machine." The footage is presented slightly out of focus and has a magenta tint. The images consist of extreme close-ups of human skin, facial contours, and lips. As this is found footage and of a brittle quality, the image quickly degrades, eventually tearing in the 16mm mechanism, and promptly replaced by the next "segment" in the found footage. In this manner, the exhibit is constantly rejuvenated while the "skin" footage is slowly destroyed over the life of the exhibit.

Surveillance cameras are positioned inside the booth, both as a study of the booth's environment as well as implicating the viewer into the experience. By presenting the previous day's footage within the piece, the viewer may recognize their incorporation into the exhibit as both voyeur and subject of voyeurism/archive. The moment they are seated they cannot extract themselves from the piece as they have already been visually accounted in that day's recording.

On the left side of the booth are a stack of videotapes with the date of recording marked on the face of each cassette. This is the archived material of previous recordings.

As the days pass, the stack of videocassettes grows as an archive of the life of the booth. Meanwhile, the projected 16mm images wear thinner, get scratched and eventually break and are repeatedly replaced.

The only sound in the room comes from the 16mm projector motor.