Author - Vito Willems
Technical assistance - Jan-Pieter van Kesteren
Custom and Software, Hypercardioid Microphones, Audio Interface, Speakers, Computer
Sound processing in Max/MSP, Dante
Haarlem, a city close to Amsterdam, is a town where I grew up and have been living the most time of my life. Since I was young I was always have been fascinated by one of its most characteristic buildings: ‘De Koepel’ in Haarlem. The former prison has been built between 1899 and 1901 by architect Willem Metzelaar and is one of three panopticon-style buildings situated in the country. The dome-shaped construction contains four stacked cell-rings with 400 cells in total. After the prison’s closure (2016) the building was used to house asylum seekers. Since 2018 it is empty and open for guided tours., and in preparation for new discussed functions.
The idea of ‘the Panopticon’ was created by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The design allows that all prisoners of the institutional building can be observed by a single watchman. Although it is impossible to watch all the inmates’ cells at once, the fact that the prisoners can’t see the watchman motivates them to act as though they are being watched all the time. This is the reason the design of Bentham’s became an ultra-efficient structure that regulates the prisoners’ own behaviour. Later it became a metaphor for power structures coined by French philosopher Michel Foucault.
The theory and philosophical perspectives which are hidden behind this panoptic architecture are quite interesting to me. Although in ‘Panoptic Emissions’ I wanted to explore how the human body reacts to this multimodal construction. I was very curious about how far I can go to transform the physiological relation between me and the architectural surrounding into more abstract and gestural forms. By working with the captured spatial dimensions of the panopticon, re-interpret it into new more abstract material, reconstructed the space in a personal way. Embracing the complexities of the panoptic acoustics and exploring its boundaries was the starting point of this project.