Lynn Beavis on «Private Property»
Text for the exhibition «Acting Between», FOFA Gallery, Montréal, 2007
ACTING BETWEEN | BODY SPACE TIME
Thomas Kneubühler's photographic projects often look at those spaces we tend to take for granted, those of only passing interest to most people, unpopulated sites of exchange such as office blocks or airports. The current series Private Property/Propriété Privée (2006) presents images viewers are familiar with: deserted parking lots, brightly illuminated facades and vacated spaces.
An image in the front window of the FOFA Gallery shows the exterior of a building, blinds drawn, lit from both inside and out. The space in the photo is limited to the extreme foreground, much like the shallow space in which the photo itself is situated. The only human presence appears in another work; a security guard, half-swallowed by the night in his dark uniform, confronts the viewer and enforces order. Close-by a photograph shows an empty parking lot, while another displays a surveillance room, filled with monitors focused on empty spaces(1). At the base of all these images is the unseen presence of those who watch - the security personnel whose job it is to monitor this emptiness, the artist who transgresses the codes of private property, and the gallery visitor who acts as witness. Foucault's theories of surveillance have a resonance here; order, visuality and power fall into a natural equation. What becomes apparent in looking at these photos is that the lights, fences, cameras and guards are there to maintain emptiness. However, Kneubühler's presence behind the lens troubles this vigilance. In seeking these images the photographer performs an intervention, testing the penetrable nature of boundaries, and calling into question the authority that inscribes the line between public and private. Kneubühler, coming from Europe, sees this "preoccupation with security [and] the idea of private property...as a distinctive part of North America's society." As he states it, our history is to an extent based on land grabbing and the act of enclosing spaces to designate ownership, a condition that necessitates security to enforce and maintain it.
(1) When the panel was installed in the FOFA Gallery it appeared on the campus's security monitor - an event that must have been visually confusing as it prompted a curious security officer to visit the gallery and question the intent of the artwork.