In August 2004 as the Home Office prepared to test the efficiency of the electronic tagging systems developed by major UK security companies, Bowville was presented as a 3-day live event starring Marion Manesta Forrester who was electronically tagged and had to earn her citizenship to Bowville.
The locative media performance used off-the -shelf purpose built equipment that simulated the official electronic tagging system to create a fictional game during which people were allowed to vote for and follow the movements of Marian Manesta Forrester to become a citizen of Bowville.
Commissioned by SPACE for Bow Wireless
History is full of examples of the surveillance, scrutiny, persecution, and involuntary exposure of ethnic and sexual minorities specifically and women in general. This continues in the present, now with the use of new, overlapping technologies for tagging, tracking and mapping.
British sufragettes, who fought for women’s right to vote in the early twentieth century, were regarded as revolutionary subversives and many of them were placed under surveillance, arrested and forcibly photographed by the police. Evelyn Manesta is one such example. She resisted being photographed by moving her head and body so much that a prison guard had to restrain her by the neck. This is the story paula roush reminds us of in her performance work Bowville whose main character – Marion Manesta Forrester – is named after three sufragettes. The work unites the past and the present as Marion Manesta Forrester is electronically tagged using a method tested by the British Home Office and developed by major UK security companies. She has three days to earn her citizenship of the fictional Bowvile. In roush’s work, the literal long arm of the law, which was erased from the ID photograph of Evelyn Manesta taken by the police, is symbolically represented by the tagging device around Marion Manesta Forrester’s neck. Punishment control ad biopolitics are thus united in automated technologies, which, whilst they might be new, are clearly historically rooted in police photography and registration by the authorities to marginalize undesirables and new arrivals.
Watching Europe and Beyond: Surveillance, Art and Photography in the New Millenium
Watched! Surveillance, Art and Photography
Hasselblad Foundation, C/O Berlin, Galleri Image, Kunsthal Harhus, Valand Academi
Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig
International artists such as Bangladeshi-American Hasan Elahi and London based Portuguese artist paula roush have been pushing the boundaries between fixed definitions of technology and art by creating tracking/ tagging devices, that bear an uncanny resemblance to the mandatory “bracelets” worn by high risk criminals or those on parole so that law enforcement officers can keep track of their whereabouts.
roush has created a semi fictional alter-ego Marion Manesta Forrester, who first surfaced at London’s Bow Festival in 2004. Manesta Forrester was electronically tagged and was given a period of three days to earn her citizenship to Bowville. Bowville functioned as a fictional urban cityscape whose inhabitants were actively invited to partake in the countdown by voting for or against the protagonist. The networked performance undoubtedly resembled the reality television show “Big Brother,” which created quite an addictive storm in the UK, where 10 housemates lived in the same house and members of the public weekly eliminated a member until there was only one: the winner.
Simultaneously, the piece also referred to the real and actual notion of elimination and in-voluntary deportation of immigrants, asylum seekers and political refugees. Furthermore, the fact that the performance was staged for an urban setting additionally gave voice to the city as a site of investigation, which is an on going theme interwoven into roush’s practice whereby, she actively works with the dual concept of politics and public space.
Incidentally, this practice is based on a long series of performative works that examine the notion of emergency, public time and space and is a continuation of the “Exercise SOS: OK (save our souls: zero killings),” 2004 an ongoing project that looks at decontamination and consumption as politically charged armaments against institutional power formations. Ultimately, roush’s strategies re-appropriate the strategies of 1970s feminist artists, however, roush’s version has traded the issue of housework with security work. Nonetheless, the body under siege remains a feature from which one is able to trace a lineage with roush’s feminist predecessors.
Art in Security and Security in Art
The KISSS Project: Kinship International Strategy on Surveillance and Suppression, Elastic residence, London
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Bowville, commissioned by Space (London, 2004) to be part of their platform on wireless public technologies (…) was extended research on the political economies of photography as a means of identification. This work brought together the history of photographic surveillance and its present implications for social stigma and deportation, such as polices use of electronic tagging to keep non-European immigrants under surveillance.
Photography served as one of the main vehicles for this project but the medium was questioned, and integrated in the form of converging multi-layered mechanisms of new and old technologies (geo-locative media, wireless video stream, archival photography, fictional biography, performance with characters) that make the unitary identification of the work’s physical support impossible. The confrontation of photography and technologies of fear was made manifest in the work’s structure, bringing together a timed performance, a publicly sited investigation bureau, a detective story sometimes mimicking the police’s own investigation methods and the participation of the public.
Bowville’s extraordinary ability to elicit complex histories and experiences from the local community through dialogue with the artist and the performers was in part due to its enduring topicality, partly its extended presence on the site of Bow, to some extent its reactivation of local histories and a continuation of past projects in the same contact zone but primarily due to an increasing sense of community through ‘labour in the field’. One could easily displace the notion of ‘site’ within the confines of this project for an intervention that tended towards ‘community-specific,’ ‘issue-specific,’ ‘audience-specific’ and was indeed all of these things and countless others but such easy dismissals would undermine the enormously complex issue at hand which is that the site is the interrelation of all of these. Bowville’s reactivation of local histories associated with the suffragette movement, its relation to current topics surrounding diaspora, surveillance and territories and the subsequent real-time involvement of the community that added a further layer of interpretation, all produced a functional site that elicited individual histories. The respondent’s reactions varied over the duration of the project from “it’s not Bowville, it’s Bow; you’re going to have to understand that if you want to stay here” to the uncovering of one Muslim man’s story of his migration from New York to the East End of London and his accounts of the local community’s projection of the notion of ‘Muslim’ onto him during the current climate of terror and fear. The project’s strength was located in its articulation of the clashing of psychic subjectivities and material conditions without occupying a moral high ground.
Hattie Spires, The crisis of interpretation: An investigation into the dynamics of engagement with site-specific art in the age of squanto, Goldsmiths College.
Embodying the concept of a grassroot ‘street version of the Internet’ , locative media interventions have often followed an ocular-dominated technological perspective that moves the point of interaction from the desktop PC in a private environment into the physical realm of public space. Further, continuing the trajectory of Happenings, Fluxus, and the Situationists from the 1950s onwards – whose interests in direct public participation were also pursued by early Internet art – locative media practices have aimed to engage the participation of individual, whether it is the artist, collaborator, targeted audience or anonymous public.
(…) The participatory and collaborative aspects of locative media foreground participants’ site-specific experience in local context, while encouraging them to be performers within the activity. Through their practices of walking, listening, conversation, game-playing, or living an everyday life, an individual partakes in different roles: gardener, composer, choreographer, cartographer, walker, tattooist, spectator, data-collector, storyteller, decision-maker, archaeologist, explorer; Or, simply but importantly, just an other within public environment. (…) Complex and ethical questions also arise. How do these technologies invite participation? Will the technologies be a ‘restrictive collar around the neck’ as in roush’s Bowville, which control accessibility and communal decision-making process? Then, where and who is the community voice?
In August 2004, paula roush –author of the Arphid Recordings performances in London– got herself electronically tagged. She created a semi fictional alter-ego Marion Manesta Forrester, who was electronically tagged and given a period of three days to earn her citizenship to Bowville, a fictional urban cityscape whose inhabitants were invited to follow her movements and vote for or against the protagonist.
roush chose the name Marion Manesta Forrester, as a partial homage to the suffragettes- the first women to undergo and rebel against photographic surveillance, the work is also a partial reaction to the announcement of electronic tagging for asylum seekers in the UK, and a reference to Lars Von Triers’ Dogville.