The Watchtower of Happiness

   
Date: 2012
Location: London
Collaborative Team: Ramsey Yassa and Mari Reijnders
photograph for backdrop courtesy Matthew Cassel 
Partners: Mosaics Room and Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)
    

Project Context

   
Perspectives of resistance through the camera:
 
The work analyses the role of the camera in narrating these three particular perspectives: defiance (the collective discovery in Tunisia), liberation (the comic drama as portrait in Egypt) and censorship (the unexpected photographer in Syria).
 
To activate a perspective, align the screen with one of the markings on the ground, take the role of the photographer or the photographed as per the text on the seats and Xs’ on the ground. Pictures of activating and interacting with the tower and its cameras can be viewed  here
 
The perspective of defiance (the collective discovery in Tunisia):
This first instance was filmed by the hand held smart phone of Ali Bouazizi, a cousin of Mohamed Bouazizi, the unemployed graduate turned vegetable seller who set himself on fire when his stall and its contents were confiscated by police claiming he worked without permit. Ali films the peaceful protests, lead by Mohamed’s mother outside the municipality building. His camera panoramically spans the space, with collective protestors looking into the camera, holding up fruits to make their point. Ali posted the video on facebook, discovering that it was the only social networking site not censored by the government. The perspective of defiance is about the invention and discovery of loopholes to defy government censorship.
 
The perspective of liberation (the comic drama as portrait in Egypt)
Thousands of Egyptians walked the streets heading towards a tweeted and face-booked meeting in Tahrir Square. As they walked, all telecommunication was cut across Cairo, all social networks, phones and internet were disabled. Upon arrival, the masses occupied the square making    
themselves at home by constructing beds, prayer rooms and market stall.  Footage marked great happiness as the protestors posed to the cameras often comically, writing satirical songs and sketches. They looked straight into camera lenses, liberated and excited by what is to come. The Egyptian humour in dealing with crisis was paramount and protestor invented and documented all sorts of props to remain rooted in Tahrir Square (such as the makeshift helmet).  
 
 
The perspective of censorship (the unexpected photographer in Syria)
 
Events were prompted in Daraa after the arrests of at least 15 children for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of a school. The provincial-driven uprising began with their families approaching authorities for their release. The people in Daraa didn't yet make claims against the regime, but it sparked new series of sit-ins that took over the streets across different Syrian cities. The meetings were consistent, quiet yet stern. Recordings were tentative with people filming from their balconies or from behind the backs of crowds, inventing unexpected and limited vantage points. As protests began to rise, the government arrested and tortured protestors collected from the public spaces and those seen on posted footage. The footage continued to attempt to show the masses without revealing the individuals.
The towering perspective
The tower alludes to apparatus of surveillance, those at checkpoints, at illegal settlements, at swimming pools or at playgrounds; this tower is stripped of some of its powers, yet still offering the fruits of its physical advantage.  Those playing at the lower levels engage with others, with the screen and in turn with the different stories of resistance. However, only one can climb to the top, slowly revealing the meaning of the scenarios below as notations and geographic locations are uncoded. The tower in itself is playful as you are hidden from above, peeking at those playing below from different openings and setting up a new type of interaction and discovery.
 
        
 
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Project Brief

The Watchtower of Happiness acclaims the inventive, culturally specific and unique practices and props of resistance that demonstrators employed to occupy public spaces of resistance in 3 Arab cities during the early days of the Arab Uprising in 2011/12. These first instances of confrontation were equally defiant and gentle, serious and playful.
 
The camera and recording device’s (such as smart phones) continued formal and informal records allowed for a multiplicity of representation across many channels, finding loop holes of dissemination despite censorship. Mass demonstrators began to contribute to the story telling of the events, often from spaces not accessible by or represented by official press or the media. These diverse records and the physical mass participation of the people (more numbers than every before and representing all sectors of society) began to redefine the term ‘activists’ to include all demonstrators, any person taking part rather than noted by organized parties with long term political agendas. In turn the products of these recording devices became pertinent to this project’s reading and analyzing of the subtext of the stories of the uprising. Through them we identified difference in the camera language, from what they frame to the captured content such as the body language of the demonstrators, their attitudes towards ruling governments, their culturally specific inventions, props and spatial practices; these are an elaborate take on self expression, occupation, protection, signage and types of gatherings.    
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