Public spaces are no longer democratic spaces, a place for the collective memory of a nation. For private commerce but center of surveillance and police control. Ultimately, public spaces are one of the last democratic forums for public dissent in civil society Without these significant central public spaces, individuals cannot directly participate in conflict resolution._ Setha M.Low The politics of public space
Artist in Residency Cairo Mondriaan Fund 2014
During the Arab Spring in 2011, the massive public use of social media under surveillance and scrutiny was only a significant factor in the revolt, leading to the lack of knowledge of autocratic regimes to stop information. The insight into control and manipulation of information flow with technology was of much greater significance. Every day, unhindered by (inter) national legislation, the social networks put the learning moment into practice as the catalyst for fake news, alternative facts, twitter storms with the aim of collecting data. Data privacy is an illusion for the big data algorithm in the revenue model of surveillance capitalism.
Winter 2014 I stayed as Artist in Resident in Cairo, invited by Townhouse Residence to work on new concepts. Due to the declared state of emergency (curfew) and the continuing violence against Western media in particular, Townhouse chose to postpone the stay in autumn 2013 for all resident artists. In the hot summer before, Cairo again became the scene of mass demonstrations with extremely bloody results. Both my apartment and Townhouse Residency were a stone’s throw from Tahrir; the central square in Cairo played a major role during the 2011 revolution and subsequent demonstrations. On the day of my arrival, Tahrir Square was released by accident but the metro station in the square remained closed for fear of mass demonstrations in the square. Since the revolution of 2011, the residential area where the government resides, east of Tahrir Square, has been hermetically sealed. Armored vehicles were lined with very young soldiers on every corner. Plainclothes police were nervous around with Kalashnikovs.” ‘After a long total absence, the police were again represented in the streets of Downtown Cairo. In practice, this meant an almost impossible work situation for foreign and local journalists, photographers, bloggers, artist etc.
Weeks before the official candidates of the fist presidential elections after depose of Morsi were announced huge billboards with the portrait of el-Sisi were placed at the streets and squares. The series of photos shows Cairo in the period before the final elections; a state of emergency.
After a long period of violence Egyptian authorities and the people only want peace and stability. During launching of the election campaign in early 2014 blockades around the governments seat at the residential area near Tahrir Square were still there including the military posts and checkpoints. Fear of terrorist attacks made foreigners stay away. International media was restricted.
While a massive police force was taken over the streets after their longtime absence the threat of terrorism against the Egyptian state seated in the peoples mind and became a theme of the elections.
In May 2014 the candidate of the army, the former general, director of the intelligence military apartment, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi won 97% of the votes.
However, Egyptian law only prohibits photography of locations designated as strategic by the authorities; in the effort to reaffirm the police state that Egypt is factual, the concept of location had been stretched to the absurd; informal areas situated near government buildings turned out to be difficult to access. Even photographing graffiti was not without the risk of rushing in civilians, soldiers or police. In response, I started a series taken from the balcony of an apartment block in an attempt to shape this experience of public space that are no longer democratic spaces.