Xida Li

"Thermal Traces"

Section MS3, Ariel Caine

Keywords: photogrammetry, moving image, body, warfare

My project tries to mediate between colour, temperature and violence.

As a starting point, I looked at a recent human-smuggling event, in which 39 people were frozen to death inside a lorry set to -42 degrees in order to pass infrared scan at the UK border control. Here, the thermal imaging camera, a technology of surveillance that can detect infrared radiation from heat sources, especially the human body, has been put to use as a security device or a defensive weaponry. The tragedy which happened inside the lorry could never be captured through a normal lens but was fully recorded by the thermal camera. Here, the human body has been stripped away its cultural, ethnical and gender identity, becoming a pure form of representation of its biological dimension.

The breakout of coronavirus has allowed this tool to be massively used at different borders. Through the lens of thermal cameras, the human body has been reduced to a temperature gradient which is directly related to the act of quarantine and protection.

Military grade infrared cameras have become the means of further reducing the identity of the human body whilst becoming a more aggressive means of violence. In the US, 2018, Stephen Clark, an unarmed 23-year old black man who was shot to death by the police in his grandmotherā€™s backyard in Sacramento, California. As the shooting happened in a private backyard in the evening, there was hardly any recording of the event, except the footage taken by a night vision camera from the point of view of a surveillance helicopter.

In 2008, the Pentagon released its first drone porn clip on YouTube. This clip, along with many others, allows us to see behind the drones hovering over a group of men, who are sometimes referred to as criminals or Taliban. The next moment is them being blown up to pieces before knowing what attacked them. Then the drone continued to eliminate the remaining enemies who ran for their life in despair.

Subject to the camera lens, the human body is reduced to its most ā€˜basic corporeal reality: that of heat and blood circulationā€™(p22. Downey, Athony. (2017). Richard Mosse. London: Barbican.). A form of lethal pornography, these videos show emotionally detached acts of simulation containing violent, potentially sexual impulse of possession and destruction. Anonymous and fuzzy dark shapes moving on the screen are shadows of individuals quantified as code and threats, but otherwise valueless and expendable in the cameraā€™s crosshairs.

In order to investigate the question, I started constructing 3d models of the scenes captured by thermal camera using found footage and photogrammetric software such as Metashape. In a sense, I wish to bring a layer of realism and corporeality into the detached thermal recording.