CCI Professor Examines Youth Incarceration, Systems of Power, Through Exhibit on Display at Design Innovation Hub
Assistant Professor Abraham Avnisan is an interdisciplinary artist whose work is found at the intersection of image, text and code, often centering on culture and justice. He teaches on the faculty of the School of Media and Journalism and the School of Emerging Media and Technology at Kent State. His latest artistic development, created in collaboration with Dan Paz and currently on display at the Kent State Design Innovation Hub, examines the incarceration business in the United States, specifically related to youth incarceration.
“the seeing machine as 440,918,749 points – the view from the Ingham County Youth Detention Center, Lansing, Michigan.” is a 28.5 foot-long and 44-inches tall panoramic image that theoretically places the viewer inside the youth detention center.
“Essentially, you’re walking into the center of the image, which is the perspective you would have from the center of the facility looking out,” Avnisan said.
“But that’s an impossible perspective because we weren’t able to go inside of the fence. So, it’s a kind of illusion that’s very meaningful, because you’re thinking about being on the inside versus being on the outside, what you can know and what you cannot know about the experiences of these people.”
The exhibit image was created by using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, which scans an area with a laser and gathers the image by the amount of time it takes for the laser’s reflection to return to the receiver. Avnisan has centered his work around this technology for the past five years. The scan was then developed into a gigapixel panoramic image using software developed by Avnisan, and fully put together with the help of Design Innovation Hub team and student employees.
Alongside the illusion the exhibit creates, Avnisan says it also appeals to the panopticon design of many prisons — a watch tower in the center of the cell facility in which a guard can watch all prisoners at all times.
“The idea is that prisoners don’t know if they’re being watched, but they could be being watched at any time,” Avnisan said. “So it’s the psychology of surveillance and of discipline, which obviously has many, many resonances in the contemporary digital landscape of constant surveillance.”
The full exhibit premiered at Michigan State University and will travel to Tennessee and Seattle for future showings. Avnisan’s piece was on display at Kent State's Design Innovation Hub during the month of April.
“We want to invite viewers to think about something that’s often invisible unless you have a direct connection to the carceral system,” Avnisan said. “I think for those people who do have a direct connection to the carceral system, we want to make their concerns more visible, make them feel like people care.
It’s not only making what’s invisible visible, but it’s also an invitation to really grapple with what it means to incarcerate youth, to think critically about the school-to-prison pipeline, to think critically about the larger systemic structures rooted in white supremacy that are such an integral part of the prison industrial complex, including the youth incarceration component.”
Avnisan teaches in the Schools of Emerging Media and Technology, and Media and Journalism, within the College of Communication and Information. This piece is a window into a different type of storytelling. An artistic piece like this, he said, complements news stories about incarceration that are meant to educate and inform people through accurate reporting and narratives.
“What we’re trying to do is create an aesthetic experience that moves people in an emotional and intellectual way,” he said. “We want people to feel this in their bodies. ... There’s something deeper, there’s something more embodied, that can happen in the space of art.”