Free as a bird

This project is based on the 18th century panopticon design of the former Millbank prison in London. This iconic shape was conceived by Jeremy Bentham as a way to allow continuous surveillance of inmates from a single location that made them unsure whether they were being observed or not.

Since it was devised, the panopticon has become a metaphor for surveillance in modern society, be that via CCTV or the Internet. The watchtower at the heart of the panopticon is a precursor to the cameras fastened to our buildings – purposely visible machines with human eyes hidden from view.

The project is called ‘Free as a bird’ and is a panopticon motif bird feeder. A camera has captured the random comings and goings of birds. Time lapse images taken over a day show the contents being removed to reveal the sinister shape within and the sky above.

Date: 01-02-2020
Time period: 0700-1700
Food: RSPB bird seed
Species: House sparrow, Dunnock, Blue tit, Great tit, Wood pigeon

This piece questions the concept of ownership of information in society (both past and future). The panopticon is the all seeing eye of big brother but the bird is completely ignorant of technology, boundaries and the rule of law. Despite continuous surveillance, a bird epitomises absolute freedom so we question how the collection of our information influences our own lives in reality – are we as free as birds or are we living in a new technological panopticon?

The full 10 hour time lapse video is below (one image taken every 10 seconds).