Paranoid is a Lynchian look at surveillance culture. Set in a cheap hotel room, the video loop plays with ambiguities of space, gaze and power, distorting and inverting relationships between eye, camera, lens and window while highlighting the ambivalent position of hotel rooms and hotel culture in society.
Defined by Foucault as heterotopic, a space outside ‘place’, a non-place outside time, hotel rooms are public: anyone can enter and occupy the space for a fee; but also intensely private: a place of honeymoons and trysts, secret meetings, hedonistic abandon, suicide. In popular culture hotel rooms are a classic backdrop for out-of-the–ordinary activities, the films of Hitchcock (Psycho) and Lynch (Blue Velvet) are well known examples with a similar, sinister mood. The beige blandness of the hotel allows a temporary divesting of identity, a de-humanising environment where anything can happen, and, in ‘Paranoid’, an environment subject to the de-humanising gaze of surveillance.
As we gaze into the empty (recently vacated?) room in ‘Paranoia’, we wonder about the identity and whereabouts of the occupant(s), and our attention is drawn both to the recursive act of watching an empty public/private room on a screen in the public/private (and equally heterotopic) space of the cinema/gallery; and to the act of voyeurism - we are pushed into a position of surveillance of, and following Foucault’s panoptic model, a position of power over the occupant(s). But the relationship is not clear in either case. The identity of the cameraman is unknown, the room, although seemingly unoccupied by humans is also occupied by a large and roving ‘eye’. Who is watching whom?
The distorting effects of the inverted relationships in the video hint at the limitations of Foucault’s Benthamite Panopticon model in a world of digital surveillance. The idea of self-regulation under the gaze where,
“There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorising to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over, and against, himself. A supurb formula: power exercised continuously and for what turns out to be a minimal cost.” (Foucault, 1980:155)
It becomes immediately obvious when watching ‘Paranoid’ that there are many more complex strands operating in the political and technological climate of today, the gaze as a metaphor and a real tool is not durable enough for the multiplicity of forms of watching, listening, monitoring and tracking in operation, in particular since 9/11. ‘Paranoid’ evinces and almost cold-war, Get Smart! out-of-date-ness with it’s surface concerns – looking and watching – becoming a parody of itself and it’s conspiracy theory atmosphere. It short-circuits the Panopticon model of power with it’s inverting recursiveness, while suggesting there are more sinister, unseen modes of power in operation over both the watched and the watcher.