James Coupe (UK/US)


James Coupe examines the power and meaning of surveillance in our everyday life. His four-storey wooden watchtower, A Machine for Living, occupies the main atrium at FACT, and hires online workers to perform tasks that reveal the shifting nature of our relationship with observational structures.

A Machine for Living, 2017

Mixed media. Dimensions variable


Through a modular network of screens, the watchtower embeds the living rooms, bedrooms and workplaces of hundreds of crowd- workers into its structure. The installation’s surveilling (and surveilled) agents are members of mTurk (or Mechanical Turk). This on-demand scalable workforce, or crowdsourcing Internet ‘marketplace’, enables individuals and businesses to employ workers remotely to do tasks that computers are currently unable to. Coupe has commissioned crowd-workers to complete unusual tasks that require them to reflect, document, dream, plan, and consume all forms of observation - illustrating a very human approach to what we normally consider a machinic, computer-led, process.

Through the crowdsourcing of these tasks to an ‘unseen’ workforce, surveillance today is revealed as something bidirectional and dispersed. By bringing the normally outdoor watchtower structure into a gallery context, the work creates a strange kind of monument to observation and in an act of subversion, grants us a rare opportunity to consider who is watching whom. 


Courtesy of the artist. Commissioned by FACT with support from DXARTS (University of Washing ton) and American Hardwood Export Council. This is the premiere of the work.