Only the Envelope: Artistic Interpretations of Eye-tracking Imagery

Vahri McKenzie, Neil K Ferguson
Abstract Only the Envelope (OTE) combines several research methodologies to investigate the ways we share personal information in the public sphere. This exposition presents video and video stills as primary artefacts in a discussion about a live artwork that dramatises the act of looking. In a live art installation, a ‘scientist’ invited visitors to be involved in an ‘experiment’ — namely, viewing a film while wearing a wireless eye-tracking device. This surveillance technology generated data about viewing behaviour. However, of greater interest was investigating how engaging with OTE as creative arts research led to unanticipated findings. Also interesting were the new audiovisual documents created through a re-enactment of the visitor’s experience, in which the eye-tracking device was redeployed as a head-mounted camera. In the artistic research context of OTE, the re-enacted videos led to new data being collected and analysed, leading to novel insights. These show that OTE’s ironic performance of science, employing the coercive power of complex technologies, maintained rather than undermined the compliant behaviour of participants. At the same time, the artist’s re-enactment of the visitor’s experience makes it possible to imagine, represent, and discuss such an act of subversion by illuminating the complexity of viewing behaviour when considered within the politics of the gaze and representation. This complexity is a reflection both of the emergent nature of a process-driven creative arts research enquiry, and of the work’s investigation of data retention.