For Taiwan’s collateral presentation at the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Cheang will create a new work inspired by the history of the exhibition venue, Palazzo delle Prigioni, which first served as a prison in the sixteenth century. The work’s title 3x3x6 refers to today’s standardized architecture of industrial imprisonment: a 3 x 3 square-meter cell constantly monitored by 6 cameras. 3x3x6 speaks to the realities of imprisonment constructed physically and by the presence of digital surveillance mechanisms. The artist transforms the Prigioni into a high-tech surveillance system to rethink how contemporary technologies of communication and surveillance are shaping identities. Related to ten cases of imprisonment due to gender, sexual, and racial nonconformity, both past and present, 3x3x6questions the legal and visual regimes that have formed sexual and gender norms over time. Specifically, Cheang’s exhibition looks to the conditions of incarceration that are becoming increasingly omnipresent in today’s world: for example, the inescapable big data used in technological surveillance and the application of facial identification for social control. She uses the site of Venice’s old prison to create a glitch in its histories via a real-time interface that the visitor is invited to join.
3x3x6 spans four rooms of the Prigioni with an immersive, multidimensional installation. Departing from the architecture of the panopticon invented by Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century, Cheang constructs the exhibition around a rotating and inverted surveillance tower: her panopticon is a newly developed 3-D camera surveillance system that simultaneously projects the portraits of the ten case studies. The exhibition challenges the usual positions of observer/observed. From the moment the visitor elects to enter the exhibition they become implicated within the system—their faces are scanned and their image later modified. Connected to the Internet, 3x3x6 in turn allows visitors (physical and virtual) to send selfies and images to the exhibition system. The exhibition visitors are thus inside the total surveillance apparatus.
What unfolds next is a succession of ten short trans punk fiction films. Normative notions of gender, race, and sexual identity are also challenged—the actors have attributes that differ greatly from the characters and so question preconceived biases and existing conventions. At the end of the exhibition visitors are directed into a control room where imagery and data converge. By revealing the mechanisms behind the work, Cheang asks us to examine the distance between surveillance and desire—when an individual experiences pleasure and voluntarily participates in observing another, are they not too being exposed to surveillance?