Jezreel's Tower
360º video

Commissioned by Cement Fields.
Estuary Festival 22 May - 13 June 2021. Exeter Phoenix 20 Nov 2021 - 30 Jan 2022. Hardwick Gallery 7 Feb - 11 Mar 2022

Jezreel’s Tower tells the story of James Jershom Jezreel, his apocalyptic Victorian cult, and the building of their headquarters in Medway. The project uses the story of the cult to allegorise the spread of memes. It demonstrates how viruses of the mind can get a free ride on the back of art, music, and architecture in order to gain a selective advantage in the war for our attention. Jezreel’s Tower takes my interest in ‘shonky’ production values to a new level of complexity. The video combines narrative film strategies with a new repertoire of video collage made possible by my use of Virtual Reality drawing and gaming engines.

Photos: Dom Moore

Background to the project:

Jezreel’s Tower is the companion piece to my 2019 VR game Southcottian, which narrates the life of Southcott, her box and the belief that she was pregnant with the new Messiah.

I had the idea for Jezreel’s Tower in the summer of 2018. While reading Jonathan Meades’ Museum Without Walls I came across a reference to Joanna Southcott’s box, which sent me down a rabbit hole of cults and prophecies that eventually lead me to the Jezreelite Sanctuary in Gillingham. I had known about the building from when my parents lived in Chatham, but I had never paid it much attention. Visits to The Panacea Society in Bedford and Medway Archives in Strood furnished me with a greater understanding of the history and context of the cult alongside reading P.G. Rogers’ book The Sixth Trumpeter: The Story of Jezreel and his Tower and Frances Brown’s Joanna Southcott: The Woman Clothed with the Sun. Concurrently I was watching Wild Wild Country on Netflix, a documentary about a more recent cult. I began to think that Jezreel’s story was not far off that of Osho’s and the adventures at Rajneeshpuram in Oregan. Further reading of Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Religion as a Natural Phenomenon has clarified for me that there is a pattern at work in the rise and fall of cults, which is universal and ongoing.

Here's a short documentary I made about the tower to accompany the exhibition at Exeter Phoenix:

The film is available to watch in 360º online as well:

About production:

Jezreel’s Tower builds on my commission for Look Again Festival in Aberdeen, The Fourth Wall, but it combines live action with animation in 360° for the first time. Lasting 18’22” Jezreel’s Tower pushes the limits of long-form narrative 360° video and the capacity of audiences to endure wearing a VR headset for a prolonged period, although for this initial outing of the work it will be largely seen on Vimeo because of COVID-19 restrictions. I have edited the film with this in mind. There are lots of cartoon-like wipes and quick cuts, which help keep the pace up. The production of the film shifted considerably because of lockdown. Initially I had intended for the parts to be played by actors, but the duty fell to me to take on all 31 roles. I designed and printed the fabrics for the costumes in 2019 and I am indebted to Vivien Eldred, Sian Fowler and Susan Williamson for collectively sewing the 31 outfits between them. The quality of their work is incredible, and I intend to exhibit the clothes alongside the video in the future. I built the sets during lockdown 1 in Spring 2020. They are drawn in Tilt Brush. Video footage shot in the VR is then rendered as 360° video and composited together with live action, which was shot on blue screen in my studio during the most recent lockdown in March 2021. The production of Jezreel’s Tower has endured many pauses and changes of direction, but these have informed the outcome of the final film, which has been arrived at through dual a process of top-down design (script) and bottom-up design (tinkering).

Read my blog entry on the Whitstable Biennale Journal about research for the project.