art projects
Watchtower (A Machine for Living)
Categories: Art

Image by Gareth Jones

Commission: Commissioned by FACT
Created with support from DXARTS. Original tower design by Paul Aiello.
Exhibition: Exhibited at FACT, 88 Wood Street, Liverpool
June 22 – October 1, 2017
Materials: Wood, Monitors, computers, code
Description: Watchtower (A Machine for Living) is a four-storey wooden tower, modeled after the fire lookout towers found in the rural areas surrounding the artist’s home in Seattle. Most of those towers are now tourist attractions, symbolic of the shifting nature of observation. Today, observation happens over the network, with cameras, algorithms and sensors replacing the human eye.

Rather than a human occupant, Watchtower’s cabin contains a bank of computers that manage an Amazon Mechanical Turk (mTurk) account. MTurk is an on-demand scalable workforce that is employed remotely to do tasks that computers are currently unable to. Amazon refers to its mTurk service as “artificial artificial intelligence”, i.e. humans invisibly performing microtasks as if they were machines. The watchtower’s account posts tasks for the workers, processes the videos that they upload, and pays them.

Sixteen monitors on the tower display videos, from a growing database of thousands, which are being uploaded by the workers. In the videos, workers document their dreams, plans, reflections, meals, and exercise routines. The watchtower becomes a kind of clock, as the videos are organized by the time at which they are recorded.

Credits: Programming: James Coupe and Zhebin Zhang
Tower design: Paul Aiello
With thanks to the Center for Digital Art and Experimental Media (DXARTS), University of Washington
Wood sponsorship from the American Hardwood Export Council.
Photography: Gareth Jones, Louise Robson.
Technical: Watchtower (A Machine for Living) uses Python, Raspberry Pi and MySQL.
Reviews/News: The New Observatory at FACT
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VIDEO:  Watchtower

Categories: Art -