Heat Signature is a culmination of Tali Keren’s ongoing research into Judeo-Christian ideology and the military-industrial complex. Juxtaposing a design for the Great Seal of the United States unsuccessfully proposed to Congress by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin in 1776 with a FLIR Systems Inc. FC-R military-grade thermal camera, Keren underscores the inherent relations between American national myths, religious belief, and the quest for power and control.
The recreation and manipulation of Jefferson and Franklin’s rejected design—which depicts the biblical story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, with America serving as the ‘New Zion’—through a heat-based performative sculpture, allows Keren to explore the effects of thermal surveillance methods on bodies and mediascapes. These conjured imageries lie at the heart of the exhibition. Jefferson and Franklin’s phantasmic vision is brought to life with an infrared camera and electric heaters. Temperature shifts translate into focus shifts in the monochromatic live video feed, as the heaters turn on and off and the image of the Seal, which is embedded in the ceiling—unseen to the eye—heats and cools. Yet, it is in the constant appearance and disappearance of the projected image, in the tension between the visible and the invisible, that the viewer is asked to ponder the relation between militarized media perception and the meaning of ‘temperature seeing’—even as their own body heat is registered by the thermal camera. In Heat Signature, Keren turns the FC-R camera, designed to make human body heat visible, away from the viewers, whose collective temperature alters the background hue of the live-projected image of the Seal.
Testimonies by a drone sensor operator, a criminal defense attorney and a media scholar, voices reflecting on the new temperature-based visual regime, are presented by Keren in three audio-recorded interviews. Attorney Kenneth Lerner discusses the Fourth Amendment and thermal technology’s threat to privacy. Brandon Bryant, who served in the US Air Force, shares his daunting military experience using infrared cameras. Between infrared’s black-hot and white-hot polarities, Bryant describes humans transforming into targets, as if in shadow puppetry. MIT theorist Lisa Parks argues that a transition is taking place in which a visual regime based on visible light is shifting into a regime based on temperature, and considers how temperature-based optics affect conceptions of racial and ethnic difference and the registration and perception of violence and death.
The exhibition is supported by Artis and the Friends of Goethe-Institut New York; Commissioned and organized by The Agency for Legal Imagination operating throughout 2018 at MINI/Goethe-Institut Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38.