Bound Subjectivity

Patrick LeMieux

Bound Subjectivity

Single channel color video, stereo sound

640 x 480 pixels


Based on the introductory chapter of The Order of Things (1966) in which Foucault performs a close reading of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1956), I would like to propose a piece of responsive architecture for Duke's DIVE environment.

Foucault suggests that Las Meninas is not a figurative illustration of the court of Spanish monarch King Philip IV but is instead a painting of representation itself--representation in its pure form. This reading hinges on the fact that the artist, his audience, and the subject being painted all paradoxically occupy the same physical space in front of the canvas.

For a short time this conflation was historically contingent, centered around the figure of the king. The painting originally occupied Philip IV's personal chambers, thus the only audience to the painting was the subject himself. Then four years after Velazquez's death, the king knighted the painter and personally applied the Cross of Santiago to the representation of Velazquez in Las Meninas, becoming an artistic collaborator in this historic work. So in the case of Las Meninas, Foucault's theory of pure representation moves not only from the logic of sovereignty to that of discipline but also extends discipline into practical terrain by embedding an imperative call to action within the conflated subject position of pure representation. Bound thus, the King had no choice but to paint.

Today this logic is taken up by the Museo del Prado and by Google. In 2008 Google featured a logo redesign or "Google Doodle" by Dennis Hwang which embedded the company's iconic logo within Las Meninas ( ). Based on the position of the two "o" characters (the red "o" in the mirror, and yellow "o" off the screen) it is clear that Hwang (and Google) understands the complicated representational structure Foucault discusses. Furthermore, the imperative call to action is highlighted in the logo's functionality as an clickable Google search which instantly queries "Diego Velazquez." In essence, Google reenscribes the power dynamic operating in Las Meninas. Adjusting Google Image Search to query only the "large" photographs of Las Meninas, one will find an unedited collection of all the tourist photos taken in front of the painting at the Museo del Prado. Because most tourist photographs are taken on cellphones (with a "tall screen" aspect ratio), the picture plane of many of these images align with the frame of Las Meninas and reinscribe Foucault's artist/audience/subject who looks, makes, and models simultaneously.

For my project, I have built an image scraper to gather all "large" tourist photographs of Las Meninas. After being collected from across the network, these images were resized and sequenced into a video of the painting. Then, once this ecstatic, quaking image was rendered, I used motion tracking software to determine exactly where each individual photographer's camera was located in 3D space at the time of the photograph. Using these positions and a three dimensional model of the Prado (taken from Google Earth), I generated a map, in plan view, which shows where the spectator was standing at the time of the photograph. With this analytic strategy tested and working, it should not be difficult to build a responsive architecture.

With either two projectors and an infrared tracking system or the DIVE, the next step is to project the map rendered here onto the floor in order to direct audience members. By standing on the footsteps, visitors will orient themselves to the specific subject position of each photograph. Wearing 3D goggles equipped with infrared LEDs, a user could then stand near a projection of the Prado and the perspective would shift accordingly. The final effect of this installation would not be to just allow user's the ability to replicate the subject positions of the tourists photographing Las Meninas (simply reinscribing the work done here), but also to allow an audience to watch as the painting bends and tilts to the perspective of a single person (via the goggles which not only render 3D imagery, but motion track a viewer's angle to a virtual space.)

The production of this dispersed or externalized subjectivity rereads Foucault's argument as an attempt to locate thought outside of the cartesian subject. From "bound subject" to "subjectivity unbound," pure representation becomes a structure for extending proprioceptive capacities and beginning to think, feel, see, and be architecturally. Perspectival image making is the exception, not the rule, and in this framework Velázquez’s Las Meninas begins to look more like smeared, undermining skull of Holbein's The Ambassadors (1533) than a rendering of sovereignty.