About this Project

The idea of this project came from the irony of having the skeleton of the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (with a wax head and real clothes) – known, among other things, for designing and proposing the panopticon, later explored by the French philosopher Michel Foucault – recording images of passers-by and visitors in one of the rooms in the main building of the University College London (UCL).

Jeremy Bentham's Auto-Icon at UCL. Photo: Rodrigo Firmino.

Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon at UCL. Photo: Rodrigo Firmino.

In his will, Bentham requested that after his death, his body be displayed in public, in what he called the “Auto-Icon”. At the UCL now, it is possible to see what is left from his body in a glass case. As part of a research project called PanoptiCam, from UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial AnalysisUCL Centre for Digital HumanitiesUCL Public and Cultural Engagement, and UCL’s Bentham Project, a webcam was installed on the top of the Auto-Icon watching the reaction of passers-by looking at Jeremy’s remains, and broadcasts the images live online via twitter and youtube.

I wanted to play with this ironic scene. Of course, there is the interesting issue of cameras being used to watch public spaces, which is a theme that motivates part of my academic work too (see this paper on the subject). So, since I am currently working at UCL, I decided to pay Jeremy a visit, every weekday, so that we could “talk” about surveillance. Every time, I show Jeremy a different sentence while he watches me watching him. I guess, in the end, I am “watching Jeremy watching me watching Jeremy”! Just to add to the confusion, I realise that in doing this, I am, myself, also becoming part of the object of study of the PanoptiCam project (a sort of lab rat). I am already asking myself, who is watching whom, and who is studying whom?

The Panopticam project. Photo: Rodrigo Firmino.

The Panopticam project. Photo: Rodrigo Firmino.

But this is not all… I want people to contribute. Anyone can suggest sentences in the text box at “Send Your Message to Jeremy“, and I will select some of them to be shown online with the help of Jeremy Bentham! [as the Panopticam project has ceased working, this has also stopped, but the text was kept for the records]

There are a few rules, though:

1) Sentences can only have 6 to 10 words in English (I will reject any sentence bigger than this, or in other languages).

2) I will not accept sentences that are offensive to other people or institutions (yes, I will judge what offensive means in this case).

3) The idea is to play with surveillance topics, so please, restrict your suggestions to this theme (which is quite broad, by the way).

4) I have the right to select and use any sentence suggested, as well as I have the right not to use them.

5) A discrete credit will be given to the original creators of the sentences, with their initials right next to the picture posted in this website.

More information…

Bentham’s Panopticon

Panopticon and digital surveillance (The Guardian)

UCL PanoptiCam project

Bentham’s project

UCL Transcribe Bentham project


Images are from myself, generated by the PanoptiCam project and broadcasted online, so I reckon I can use them without any permission. I don’t have any kind of involvement with the team responsible for the PanoptiCam project, nor with the Auto-Icon initiative. Visitors to the website can freely suggest sentences (as long as it doesn’t represent any harm or offence to other people and institutions), and by doing so, they are aware I have the right to use these sentences for free in this project. Sentences or the website itself will not be used for any commercial purpose, but I can use any sentence to advocate things I believe. Although some sentences are suggested by visitors of this website, I am the one responsible to select and use them, so ideas are pretty much my own. I do not authorise the use of any material from this website for commercial purposes. For any other use, please ask nicely.