Designed by the participatory art platform Febrik and presented at the Mosaic Rooms, both of which have a central focus on work from the Middle East, the Watchtower is a comment on surveillance, liberation, and ‘new spatial and social experiences’ – a glorified climbing frame?
The Watchtower has an interesting premise – but it remains to be seen whether it translates to the smoothly conditioned confines of the Mosaic Rooms’ Kensington townhouse. Through the single interactive installation of the watchtower, the exhibition claims to explore the unique practices that demonstrators employed to occupy public spaces during the Arab Spring, and how film and photography acted as witnesses to such innovation. When the different vantage points on offer amount to: wall + wall + ceiling + Other Landscapes of Occupation (the aptly named pop-up shop), I wonder if the experience of the Watchtower is too conceptual for its own good.
Bravely, perhaps, Febrik points out the playfulness of initial structures of occupation and rebellion – the business of practical invention, of ‘homemaking’ in a wide-open, hostile space. For instance, interactive activities include creating makeshift helmets from recycled materials; presumably to protect visitors from raindrops and pigeon mishaps on their return to the city streets.
Experiencing for themselves the revolutionary power of photography, visitors are invited to climb on the structure, to take photos of themselves in front of a choice of three large-scale images of the demonstrations, which will subsequently be shared online to ‘encourage further interaction’. The idea seems strangely close to those painted boards you get at the seaside, where you stick your neck into a head-shaped hole above the painted curves of a buxom beach-babe or knobble-kneed Victorian bather. ‘Imagine you took part in the Arab Spring! – Wish you were here!’.
The exhibition’s claim to turn visitors into ‘unintentional activists’ through their interactions with the installation hints at the terrifying passivity we are sometimes encouraged to adopt in experiencing artworks – and the strange muting process that art can sometimes impose upon real events. The experience is unashamedly touristic. But it might be worth a visit for the sake of some maverick Facebook photos, or to wander through the wastes of Other Landscapes of Occupation, buying a nice Persian doormat for your own little occupation.
The Watchtower of Happiness and Other Landscapes of Occupation will be on show from 26 November – 8 December 2012, at The Mosaic Rooms, Tower House, 226 Cromwell Road, London SW5 0SW