All Watched Over by Machines of Love and Grace

A Meditation on the Creation of Artificial Deities By Turkish Visual Artist Memo Akten

Hypnotic, calming, yet somewhat unnerving, the moving image of an “All Seeing Eye” has always been a favourite of London, UK- based, Turkish artist, Memo Akten. His recent work, All Watched Over by Machines of Love and Grace, is based on his previous work titled The All Seeing Eye (2007). The video features a Google Earth shot of GCHQ, Britain’s intelligence and security organisation.

Memo’s obsession with science, and trying to understand the world and human nature, leads him to create works that reflect on things that society generally takes for granted. He modified quotes by quantum mechanics pioneers such as Werner Heisenberg, and Erwin Schrödinger for the script of his latest video. Here he ponders about the increasing deification of technology:

Man-made Deities
“Traditionally the act of being ‘watched over by an almighty power’ was the realm of religions. Historically, that lack of privacy in religion was a good thing, it was enviable (apparently). With the meditative sounds I wanted to create a hypnotic mood which draws that connection with a religious experience. Being one with, and creating a personal connection to he who is watching over you. Hearing his comforting voice.

Computer in the sky
I think we’re edging closer and closer to an artificial man-made deity. It was first in religion that we had omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent powers watching over us, protecting us, judging us. A myth invented by man to control the masses. Now as the power of religion is subsiding, man is inventing the real thing; a digital god for a digital culture.

Eye have seen you before
I was reading a recent article on GCHQ (specifically, that its activities in regards to bulk access to email and phone records between 2007 and 2014 was recently declared unlawful by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal), and I realized how the GCHQ building looks like a giant eye. Not just any eye, but very much like HAL from Kubrick’s 2001. All of the little cars, roads, buildings etc. look like electronic circuitry feeding the giant robotic eye. I thought that this was poetically ironic, as we aren’t talking about a human surveillance, but a computerized surveillance.

Eyeing Up
It’s not humans watching over us, reading our emails, logging our phone records; but its algorithms, software designed by humans, housed in machines built by humans. I wanted to show GCHQ framed in a way to draw attention to these similarities with HAL. It also reminds me of a close-up of the eye of the T800 Terminator from James Cameron’s Terminator movies (which was perhaps also inspired by HAL). Finally, the birds-eye view introduces religious or ‘other worldly’ connotations, which compliment the angle I was mentioning above.”