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Insecurity Office

By Maria Loks-Thompson

Insecurity Office was an event specific multimedia installation. A remote corner at the very back of the gallery was transformed into the surveillance centre, strongly resembling a room occupied by security personnel. Generic furniture and a dated desktop computer gave the installation the authentic feel of a temporarily abandoned workspace where a monitor placed on the top of the plain desk was continuously displaying a live stream captured from four CCTV devices located within the main exhibition area. Individually, members of the audience were encouraged to take a seat in the empty chair, put on the headphones and in doing so replace the missing security officer. As soon as a viewer was seated, an incoming call notification appeared on the screen and once answered, a pre-recorded voice message began playing, expressing disappointment, anger and worry concerning the precarious future facing the artists who took part in the event. In parallel to the monologue, the feed received from the cameras was gradually distorted up to the point of complete illegibility in the final moments, and once the call ended it immediately returned to its regular appearance.  



Installation View, Audience Interaction.

Built in C++ and OpenFrameworks library, Insecurity Office heavily depended on the use of several extensions. Kyle McDonald’s ofxCcv face detection add-on allowed for the calls to be determined by the viewer's presence. Christopher Baker’s ofxPS3EyeGrabber facilitated the utilisation of the external webcam and his ofxIpVideoGrabber allowed for the connection between the program and CCTV cameras. The first complication encountered during the build of the installation was a result of the latter extension providing the support only for the mjpeg stream, which severely restricted the choice of commercially available devices, as the majority of the modern IP cameras operate within the h.264 compression mode. Another difficulty arose due to the lack of the reliable internet connection within the exhibition space. The problem was solved by the use of a 100 meter roll of ethernet cable, crimped and cut by hand to cover the distance between each camera, a switch, a router and finally the installation itself. The last obstacle was only discovered two days before the event, when upon the connection of the mouse, monitor, four IP devices and webcam, the system dramatically slowed down causing the program to skip frames and occasionally omit a command, resulting in the unpredictable behaviour of the calling application. This was helped by replacing the OpenFrameworks’s ofGetMousePressed() boolean variable with a function, but unfortunately, due to time restrictions, it was never fully resolved.


Work in progress, First sketch 

Last year’s research showed that one out of four people currently studying in the UK struggles with mental health issues. Depression and anxiety are the most prominent problems on the list concerning over 70 percent of the cases. Insecurity Office was an attempt to look for reasons behind this state of affairs. Strongly influenced by Mark Fisher’s concept of the lost futures and Franco Berardi’s analysis of the cognitariat classes and informational labour, the installation aimed at drawing the connection between the current political and economical situation in the United Kingdom and its influence on the younger generation’s psychological well being. Additionally subjects like social polarisation, the migration crisis and climate change are listed by the UN report on global risks as some of the most dominant threats humanity might face in the near future and are employed in the artwork to further emphasize the insecurity facing the student body. Insecurity Office hopes to pose the audience with a question of whether it is really young people who are battling with their personal troubles, or are they a result of the malfunctioning reality they’re continuously exposed to.  

Screen recording made during the exhibition [fragment]


The form of the security office booth taken by the installation was intended as a metaphor of the safe environment provided by the institution of the university. Students oftentimes refer to their future lives outside the academia as the “real world”, at the same time equating the present with a secure time spent on developing their skills in the anticipation of what’s coming. The use of the real-time CCTV footage allows the viewers to distance themselves from the gallery  environment and take the position of the unbiased observer witnessing young artists in one of their first attempts to merge the work produced under the protection of the university with the response of the outside world materialised in the form of the audience. The visual distortions accompanying the phone message can be seen as the allusion to the way in which the issues mentioned within the call disturb and possibly destroy the future of those seen on the monitor screen.


Installation view

Insecurity Office required an emotional and psychological engagement from the audience raising a varying range of reactions. Some viewers laughed uncomfortably, some experienced the work in sombre silence, others commented on how horrible it made them feel, and rushley walked away. One person cried. One of the most prominent features of the artwork was its universal accessibility. Even though the work was difficult to take in and engaged with controversial matters, it didn’t prioritise any specific type of viewer successfully avoiding the danger of elitism so often associated with contemporary art. It would be an interesting idea to imagine this installation taken outside the gallery and placed instead within the public space. Another compelling aspect of the work was its ability to change viewer’s perception of the role of interaction especially within the context of computational arts. The interactive element of the Insecurity Office shifted away from the provision of the enjoyable entertainment and instead was employed to facilitate critical analysis of the surrounding world.

Source Code:

OpenFrameworks Add-ons:

Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Althernative? (2009), Zero Books, Winchester, UK
Franco Berardi, Essays on, One in four students suffer from mental health problems
World Economic Forum, The Global Risks Report 2017