Robert Glas

For his artistic practice Robert Glas (1986) uses cinematography, photography, scientific literature and fiction to investigate technologies nation-states deploy to enforce the law.

1986 Or A Sphinx’s Interior (2022) - In 1986, Norwegian prison abolitionist Thomas Mathiesen said: ‘There is a clear and strong tendency towards the expansion of the prison system throughout the Western world. Even in Holland, traditionally the country with the lowest prison rate in Europe, the flagship telling the world that it is possible to have a complex industrialized society with very few prisoners, there is now a noticeable expansion in the making.’ That same year, renowned architect Carel Weeber drew up his design for a prison complex in Rotterdam, one of the many Dutch prisons built in the 1980s, in use to this day. As part of his design process Weeber had a 1:1 scale test built of a single prison cell. While there are conflicting accounts on how his test went about, one thing is certain: such a test demands the imagination of how the space will be used, by whom, and in what condition this person is. For this film, Weeber’s test set up was rebuilt. Working with actor Ali-Ben Horsting, Carel Weeber himself, and a former detainee of the prison, various versions of Weeber’s visit to the test setup are constructed and reconstructed. The result orbits around imagining how a life and a body are affected by confinement, this sentence we talk about so often and know so little about.
Afwezigheid van alle schuld (2020) - From an ever-increasing political emphasis on prevention and security, ‘risk assessment instruments’ such as ‘OxRec’ have acquired a permanent place in Dutch probation practice. OxRec calculates the risk of committing a criminal offence by combining factual data about the person in question—home address, criminal record, drinking behaviour, relational status, etc.—with known correlations between these factors and the risk to criminal behaviour. Following the intuition that predictable behaviour can never be the product of free will, the project ‘Afwezigheid van alle schuld’ uses fiction to examine the legal implications of the ambition to master the prediction of criminal behaviour. Central to the project is a short film. A lawyer tries to exonerate a man charged with the assault of a police officer, using the prediction of his violent behaviour as evidence of his incapacitated willpower.
2020 (2019) - This film is a fictional interview based on real interviews Robert Glas held with several biometric engineers. In the film a consultant working for the real-life company Iridian Technologies (Nadia Amin) is interviewed by an independent filmmaker much like Glas (Daniël Cornelissen). Founded in 1990 by the inventors of the first automated system for iris recognition, Iridian played a seminal role in the advance of biometric identification, leading to the technology’s current omnipresence. Touching upon key events that Iridian was involved in, the filmmaker tries to get a hold on the world view and politics of the corporation. How is the concept of legal identity intertwined with the project of the nation state? How has science fiction affected our stance towards high-tech identification technologies? What would a politicized defense of biometrics look like? The film is shot with two Time-of-Flight sensors, a type of camera often used in biometric systems which generates thirty depth-mapped pixel clouds per second. A weightless eye scans their faces—represented in coarse pixels—which contort more and more as the conversation slowly turns into an interrogation. A film about the end of faith in strangers.
How to Motivate Someone to Leave Voluntarily (2016) - In a letter to parliament dated 6 October 2015, State Secretary for Security and Justice Klaas Dijkhoff wrote: “By employing ‘motivational interviewing’ and building a working relationship, the motivation of the foreign national is influenced. […] Using this methodology, the departure supervisor [of the Repatriation and Departure Service, RG] is shown how to balance most effectively making contact with the foreign national and exercising control and force in order to ensure their departure. […] This method will be applied starting in 2016.” In this film a trainer in motivational interviewing, a director and two stage actors attempt to construct a realistic dialogue scene between ‘foreign national’ and departure supervisor, by combining an existing case with improvisation.
Jurisdiction — A Hundred Years Before the Law (2015) - In 1915 Franz Kafka wrote ‘Before the Law,’ a one-page story about a man who comes to the gate of the law and begs for permission to enter. In his later novel ‘The Trial’, the story reappears when a priest tells it to Joseph K. For his film adaptation of ‘The Trial’, Orson Welles invited the animator Alexandre Alexeïeff to illustrate the short fiction with a device he was the inventor of: the pinscreen. In doing so, Alexeïeff became one of the many to interpret ‘Before the Law’. For ‘Jurisdiction’ Glas rebuilt Alexeïeff’s invention and used it to display a series of x-rays of people hiding in vehicles, images made by border guards. A camera slowly scans the surface of the pinscreen while a voice-over reads a narrative consisting of ‘Before the Law’, interwoven with commentaries on the story. These different actors collide continuously throughout the film. Time and again the movement is inwards: the man tries to enter the law; the scholars Kafka’s work; the x-rays the vehicles; the pins the screen; and the bodies the jurisdiction. But no matter how long one takes to study the story and the history of its interpretation, the conclusion remains inevitable: access is impossible.