Work Type : #Installation #Interaction #SocialCriticism #Collaborative
Developer Tools : TouchDesigner/python
Designer tools : Sketch/fabrication/public-ip camera

Exhibited at:
Currents New Media Festival 2019, New Mexico
CultureHub Re-fest 2019, New York

Awards and Reviews:
Communication Arts 2019, Interactive shortlist [link]
Panopticon on NYU CONNECT [link]
Panopticon on ZuiBiShe semester-end show critique [link]

PANOPTICON is a surveilling installation that confronts the audience with the panopticon of the digital age

Made in collaboration by Tong Wu and Barak Chamo


In the age of mass surveillance and commoditized information, we are all, willingly or not, constantly watched. Our devices, online presence, transaction history, and even physical presence have become an asset for the social network, world governments, and corporations to own - we live in a digital panopticon devoid of consent and, in many cases, even awareness. As in Bentham’s architecture, the watchman’s all-seeing eye keeps us from misstepping and policing ourselves. The all-seeing eyes of the machine are now hiding inside the digital system, unconsciously monitoring and disciplining its life-long prisoners - the internet users.

Inspired by the system of control of the same name, we created the project “Panopticon”, an interactive media sculpture that breaks the illusions of privacy and control of our digital identity and physical presence. Multiple camera rigs monitor audience throughout the exhibition space, tracking and capturing faces, and collecting their facial data to be projected on a semi-torus sculpture.

Through the interactive video sculpture, Panopticon, we create an experience for audience to be both the "observed" and the "observer" - it’s an alienated moment for them to be both themselves, a real person in real life, and the others, a bunch of data in the database, at the same time.

It is a critique and a wakeup call to the alarming prevalence of mass surveillance all around us, to how tracking and surveillance devices have become largely invisible to us, and to how insensitive we have become toward privacy invasion. 


Artist Talk

Design / Methodology

Panopticon is made up of two parts, the tracker sets, and the identifier.

TRACKERs are installed around the exhibiting space to collect facial data of audience walking around, and transmit the data to the central server for IDENTIFIER, which is installed with the main installation, to recognize the specific audience in front of the installation and then fetch their facial data from the server.


/ Tracker

A tracker set is a mac mini pairing with two webcams.

They are intentionally installed in different places inside an exhibiting place, where it attracts audience population and with good lighting conditions, such as the main entrances and exits, besides the performing stage, hallway to restrooms.

With good lighting, the tracker takes less than 2 second to capture, process and upload the facial data of a human passing by.

Panopticon/Tracker Images

/ Identifier

The identifier is a mac mini pairing with a webcam and a projector.

The identifier webcam is placed underneath or above the half-dome installation, constantly capturing and recognizing the specific audience faces in front of it.

Audience could simply activate PANOPTICON from rest mode to awake mode by standing still in front of it.

*Rest Mode - If there’s no one in front of the half-dome, the projector would project live surveillance footage feed of 24 public ip cameras, which are placed in public parks, tourist attractions, restaurants, bars or even someone’s private spaces.

*Awake Mode - If the identifier webcam has detected human faces in front of it, it starts to compare the facial data with what’s been stored in the central server, and randomly selected up to 10 grids and replace the surveillance footage with the audience’s facial images captured earlier.

Panopticon Identifier-100.jpg

Design / Fabrication

The installation Panopticon is half-dome shaped with 24 grids on it, each having different surveillance footages projected on it.

The shape is inspired by the “all-seeing” idea from panopticon theory, and the look of a modern monitor room with walls of TV screens.

ITP Spring Show_CC.jpg

We created the 3D model of the half dome, and flattened the model and modified it into six small pieces, which could be laser cut onto foam boards, and later be glued back to a 3D installation.


He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication.

—— Michel Foucault on the Panopticon Effect