There’s a lot of talk these days of surveillance, but not so much about sousveillance. “Sousveillance means watching from below, whereas surveillance denotes seeing from above,” says Kim Yong Hun, a member of the Seoul-based artist group that created this security camera-bedecked blazer. Just like surveillance cameras protect goods in stores from above, this jacket protects its wearer with watchful eyes from below.
To make the jacket, Kim Yong Hun and Shin Seung Back, who together make up Shinseungback Kimyonghun, stitched over a dozen cameras into a standard business blazer. Four of them work; the rest are decoys. If the wearer is in danger, or even just in a sketchy situation, a push of a discrete button in the sleeve switches those four cameras on to capture a panoramic video of the user’s surroundings. The video transmits over Wi-Fi to a public website, holding anyone and everyone nearby accountable. In some ways, the jacket enables a more streamlined version of something we’re already doing, which is constantly recording the world around us with our smartphones. The button simply deletes a step in the process.
The Aposematic Jacket moniker comes from aposematism, the group of organisms, like poisonous frogs, that flamboyantly advertise the harm they could inflict on a predator should they dare to attack. Whereas frogs are venomous, the wearer of jacket can ruin an assailant with information. “The ones who ignore the warning will taste toxicity of the recorded images,” Kim says. In concept, the jacket isn’t just relying on surveillance for safety; it’s relying on the threat of surveillance.
In their art, Kim and Shin explore how technology shapes human behavior, and vice versa. (One of their recent projects is a collection of pictures of clouds that facial-recognition software tags as people.) In the case of the Aposematic Jacket, they’re looking at how people might treat others when there are handful of camera lenses staring them dead in the face. “Cameras make people act ‘properly,’ ” Kim says. “Once someone’s behavior is recorded, it will exist beyond time and space so that will have the possibility of being ‘judged’ by others anytime and anywhere.” This helps explain the jacket’s, erm, inconspicuous look. It doesn’t subtly incorporate the cameras into its design, because broadcasting the possibility of being recorded is the whole point.