SELF-SURVEILLANCE Richmond’s Alone In Public.

Wendy Richmond’s video installation Alone in Public, which is part of her “Navigating the Personal Bubble” exhibit at the RISD Museum (through November 4), comes out of spending lots of time traveling by airplane and noticing how even in crowded airports most everyone curls into the privacy of their laptop or smartphone or iPod. Richmond, who co-founded the Design Lab at Boston’s WGBH and developed media courses at Harvard, asked RISD students last January to make one-minute videos of themselves working in public places. The results prompted the installation here, in which she asked friends to do the same.

It takes a minute or two to recognize what the videos, projected onto three abutting gallery walls, are showing. Three separate women, apparently in cafes, stare intently just below our gaze. New people appear — a blonde woman, a bearded guy, a lady in beret — and we realize that they’re being recorded by their computers’ cameras as they gaze, brows furrowed, into their screens.

“Found” webcam portraits seem like an interesting phenomenon to investigate, but actually watching them is dull, perhaps because we’re so familiar with ubiquitous, monotonous surveillance footage these days.

Fine artists are racing — and stumbling — as they try to figure out how to make art about our increasingly pervasive technology. Richmond’s project might just be a boring example of the “New Aesthetic,” the too-generic term for “seeing like digital devices.” The style is most fascinating when the digital perfection wobbles a bit, becoming pixilated graphics or glitches in Google Street Views or angel of doom views from military drones, and giving us a glimpse of the soul of the new machines.

Read Greg Cook’s blog at  gregcookland.com/journal.

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