‘Sousveillance’ is the recording of an activity by a participant, the moment in which the camera is turned on oneself and the subject activates their own documentation. It was a word coined by inventor Steve Mann over a decade before the current era of social media and implies a subject taking ownership over their actions, capturing personal experience for their own storage, retrieval and transmission. Today as the boundaries between the personal and public are so murky, sousveillance is both a form of protection and an act of surrendering personal identity to corporate data banks. The act itself caught between an effort to control and shape one’s image and a helpless compulsion to either hand over aspects of private life or deliver an expected idea of self to an imagined audience.
Keelin Montzingo’s paintings reflect on this grey area, neither criticising nor celebrating but rather trying to decode the way we have turned the camera on ourselves and use digital space to reclaim ownership of the female form and redefine the gaze. Referencing 20th Century male painters, Montzingo uses the image of the cutout female nude, weaving compositions of layered bodies which appear in nondescript digital spaces. Figures float over pixelated backgrounds, washes of colour and digital glitch in a non-physical realm of disruption and static.
These figures are based on images of nudes Montzingo finds trawling Instagram. They are a combination of women posing for professional photoshoots and women reconstructing this visual language in domestic settings. In an endless loop women capture themselves emulating models and models are positioned by photographers in poses which evoke historic ideas of how the feminine should be portrayed. Many of the women Montzingo finds on Instagram are not however trying to sell products or even pose for men as may be assumed, their sousveillance is frequently for themselves or for other women, an act of independence and defiance, celebration of the body for their own pleasure and expression rather than for someone else. There exists an ongoing process of reclaiming the pose and extracting it from a conversation about the male gaze, asking how these presentations of the body can exist to fortify female solidarity and freedom of expression without reinforcing the historic paradigm. This is an extremely complicated act for it is impossible to extract the gaze from its history and further still the redefining of the gaze comes with a multitude of complications and issues.
Montzingo uses the figure as an algorithm; cutouts employed over and over again arranged in different formations, tessellation of composition tackling this complex act almost mathematically, presenting formulas reflecting the chaos of her subject matter which is a wormhole of endless questions.
In this present era of lock down and isolation the need to express individuality and seek community through digital space is intensified with the vastly increased use of social media. People are becoming more invested in their online avatars which may result in the refined articulation of identity or the division from self and reinforcement of collective fiction. Painting in isolation in New York, Montzingo’s work unfolds in that liminal place within and outside of the loop of sousveillance.