Is this person gay?
… Is s/he British? Is this person happy? Intelligent? These are some of the strong questions participants were asked to cast their vote about when faced with the anonymous picture of a stranger in latest Christian Nold‘s provocative installation. Over 14,000 people in one month cast their vote in the ‘Community Metrics’ in Nottingham (UK) and decide ‘live’ who of the volunteers should be deported: a sort of ‘friendly fascism’, a dystopian version of Facebook, a tease out of many reality TV shows.
The installation prompted me to read again (that’s what is good about radical art!) Emmanuel Levinas’ ideas on ethics: for the French philosopher, whose family was wiped out by the Holocaust, ethics begins with the direct encounter with the face of the Other. This action is ethical because, rather than knowing, and hence objectifying the other, by way of static representation, in the face-to-face encounter, ‘The face of the Other at each moment destroys and overflows the plastic image it leaves in me…the Other signals but does not present themselves’.
This opens a big problem for representation, especially visual, to the extent that the object of representation ‘always falls under the power of thought’. There is a sense in which, by making an image of this overflowing, by reducing the Other to a set of conventions, a-priori categories, and image-repertoire, we might be perpetrating a form of violence, which hence deny the alterity expressed by the face of the Other.