In a room lit dimly by projections on four sides, Kjær Skau places her viewer at the centre of her world. We become the all-seeing eye of her very own panopticon.
The accumulated videos and gifs in ‘United We/I Stand etc.’ show the artist performing minimal movements in front of a laptop webcam. Kjær Skau bobs up and down, rolls her shoulders and twists her hands, in an understated homage to pop and hip-hop dances.
These short performances take place against patently ordinary backdrops: the cramped kitchen; the cluttered bedroom. Kitsch video effects make for a comical antidote to Kjær Skau’s serious, distracted expression. She shakes glitter from her hair in the gif ‘Hair_Drizzled’ (2013) and white orbs float skywards in ‘Me_France’ (2014).
The digital projectors sit, bizarrely, on pieces of colourful hand-knitting. Present vogue connects craft and code, using knitting (and weaving) as a model for electronic communication and social networks. But knitting also claims a residual association with the domestic sphere. Perhaps we are supposed to feel as if we have intruded in a private space.
It’s true that ‘United We/I Stand etc.’ grants the viewer an uneasy voyeurism. The installation recalls Moa Karlberg’s series ‘Watching You Watching Me’ (2009), in which he photographed passers-by glancing in a one way mirror. His simple surveillance technique captured a peculiar introspection in his unwary subjects. They appear, literally, haunted by their own gaze; unaware of the recording device beyond their vision.
Similarly, Kjær Skau certainly isn’t looking at the camera. Her tilted eyeline is directed at the live recording onscreen: she addresses herself, not us. Once, the cutting and pasting of the family album enabled the deliberate construction of a cohesive domestic life, excluding all that was perceived as detrimental to that myth. Kjær Skau reminds us that this practice of self-representation is usurped today in favour of a continual process of self-presentation, of showing and being in the world all at once.
In a thoughtful text commissioned for the exhibition, Morgan Quaintance rightly problematises the presumed emancipation of the self-presenting subject: the ‘Camgirl’. Of course, Kjær Skau does not play up the sexual rhetoric of the dance moves: her gestures are somewhat inane and robotic; her baggy jumpers and poker face are fairly ‘unsexy’. As the videos continually loop, there is a notion of practice here, of relentless preparation for some other performance, one that takes place outside the world of the bedroom and the camera. Which leaves the uncomfortable sense that Kjær Skau is performing the obedient self: a compliant body; surely an equally oppressive position.
In reality, a true one-way mirror cannot exist. It is merely the variation of light and dark that separates viewer from the viewed, and allows for a masquerade of power imbalance. And so Kjær Skau presents us with a mirrored cage in which we already function, factious, with tousled hair and unmade bed, carefully constructing messages for an ever watchful world wide web.
Digital technologies that facilitate personal liberty are clearly, in one sense, democratising. But in a self-monitoring space where the interests of consumerism collide and collude with those of the individual, can this ever be described as empowerment’
Perhaps there is something critical about the unfinished state of those knitted garments: their perilous position of being almost, but not yet a functional item. Behind the facade, at the end of a flawless stitch, the yarn runs loose: quietly unkempt; hopefully unravelling.