See The Tower Hamlets Sculpture That Spies On Citizens

By M@ Last edited 99 months ago

Last Updated 01 April 2016

See The Tower Hamlets Sculpture That Spies On Citizens

It's often noted that Britain is the CCTV capital of Europe. Tower Hamlets council takes this proud distinction one stage further, by incorporating security cameras into its public art.

This is the Weaving Identities sculpture, installed in Weavers Fields, Bethnal Green in 2003. Tower Hamlets Council commissioned the piece to celebrate the area's sporting culture, and a quartet of athletic figures duly share its plinth. A helical band twists up through the central axis, representing the silk-weaving trade that once flourished hereabouts. The base is built from 400 bricks, crafted by school children. All good local stuff, for good local people.

The sculpture, by Peter Dunn, cost £70,000. The price tag was well worth it, for the assemblage serves double-duty as London's most elegant CCTV mast.

At its summit, a balletic footballer engages in a lunging tackle while blatantly using his hand to support a surveillance camera. Another camera climbs above him, like a watchful corner flag.

All a bit crass, you might think. But wait. This is actually art of the highest calibre. Turn your head 90 degrees and the sculpture takes on a remarkable resemblance to the God-Adam bit of the Sistine Chapel.

Tower Hamlets Council, no doubt, is critiquing the human pursuit of divinity through technology, and contrasting its futility with the origin myths of the Abrahamic religions. In the beginning was God. God created man in his own image, and saw that he was good. Then man created CCTV. CCTV captured the image of man. It saw that he was bad, and issued him with a fixed penalty notice for dropping litter.

(Tower Hamlets Council is a very intellectual council. You might think the potholes in Vallance Road are a consequence of a funding deficit. Not a bit of it. That's conceptual art in the manner of Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth.)

But wait. The work conceals further depths. When viewed from an alternative angle, the sculpture recreates yet another famous 'hand of god'.

Not only is this sculpture a monument to local history and grassroots sporting culture, it also combines the poise of Michelangelo with the deep theological thinking of Aquinas, the anti-establishment pasquinade of Banksy, and the deft touch of a footballing legend. All while capturing grainy footage of a minor drug deal beside the Kelsey Street recreation area.

Far from being an awkward and glaring compromise between public art and security, we choose to believe that the Weavers Fields sculpture is a work of subtle genius. Well played, Tower Hamlets.

Weaving Identities can be further misinterpreted in Weavers Fields, next to Bethnal Green Overground station.