(...)Rather, each locality received an instruction to erect a clock in whatever style they wanted, says Mokhtar Hammami, who worked in the department of local affairs at the time. ‘It was to tell people, “You need to respect the time,”’ he says. ‘I don’t know if there was something political behind it, I am apolitical, I am an administrator.’ It is perhaps the perfect comment for a monument and a politics that is saying absolutely nothing. Iheb Guermazi, an architectural historian, sees the prevalence of clock monuments across the country as a ‘manifestation of a whole era’ that goes far beyond Tunisia. He points to the Turkmen president’s recent statue of a golden dog as being in the same category. ‘It’s a post-ideological world and a post-political world. There is nothing to be declared. Solutions are given to you by banks and the IMF [as if politicians] are not really here,’ he says, adding that a clock may have been a symbol of progress and technology some 100 years earlier, when people didn’t have watches. A clock in 2001, however, is not amazing, it’s mute.
After the revolution of 2011, there were discussions about whether Ben Ali’s big clock should be removed from the main avenue. During one protest in 2012, Salafists climbed the clock tower and covered it with black flags. Drawing on the situationist idea of reclaiming public space through play, Nidhal Chamekh’s The Anti-Clock Project, imagined a contraption that could have been inspired by the game Mouse Trap. In this work presented at the Venice Biennale in 2015, the clock tower is destroyed by the big sphere atop the nearby Cité de la Culture building (another Ben Ali project). The latter rolls along a slide like a giant marble and crushes the clock. ‘It is a ball, like this memory of the snowball [uprising] that happened in Tunisia and destroyed a very vertical dictatorship,’ Chamekh says.(...)
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