It has been four years since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. If the anti-secrecy campaigner walks out the embassy's front doors, he could be sent to Sweden on a warrant for rape charges from 2010, and then potentially the US to face the death penalty for releasing thousands of secret military files on WikiLeaks.
For those who can't step into the embassy, which is pretty much everyone, one art collective from Zurich have an alternative—they have re-created a life-size reproduction of Assange's embassy office which is now on show at Zoo Galerie in Nantes, France. Their exhibition is called Welcome to Ecuador.
In their artist statement, the artists from !Mediengruppe Bitnik call it "inviting you to enter the closed world which Julian Assange has been living in for these past four years of 'voluntary' reclusion."
The life-size replica, which looks a lot like a movie set, is a peek into Assange's world. It's filled with posh, governmental curtains, a fireplace and a wooden round table. There are binders, computers and piles of paper, as Assange's day-to-day life is shared in a 43-square-foot room with a "counter-purrveilance" cat which has their own Twitter account, a treadmill, shower, microwave and lamps.
The artists behind the art project, Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo, first contacted Assange through email to give him a heads up they were mailing him a parcel as part of an art project back in 2013. A video camera peeking out of a cardboard box followed the package through the Royal Mail and into the high-security embassy to Assange, where he offered a slideshow of handwritten placards that read "Free Bradley Manning" and "Welcome to Ecuador." It was uploaded it live to the artists' Twitter feed every 10-seconds.
The artists also visited Assange at the embassy in 2013, when it was still surrounded by British police. They weren't allowed to take any photos due to embassy rules.
"We found ourselves standing in the middle of a diplomatic crisis," said Weisskopf. "The immediate surroundings of the embassy strongly resembled a war zone—quite a surreal setting."
Here at the gallery, they wanted to recreate this reproduction of Assange's embassy study, which is where he has lived and worked since being granted political asylum in 2012. "The room is not re-created from detailed photographs or plans, but purely from our memory," said Smoljo.
By showing what's inside the somewhat banal embassy, it reveals the bigger problem–what's directly outside of the embassy. Weisskopf calls it "the ongoing crisis between the powers that be and the internet freedom aficionados."
To contrast Assange's limited freedom, the artists have created a space where visitors can walk freely in and out of. In a way, it's a symbolic gesture for freedom.
"Due to the cordon of British police, Julian Assange has no access to the outside and is confined to the highly regulated interior of the embassy," said Weisskopf.
"Visitors can't enter or exit the building without checks documentation, and security processes; very few people are permitted to either enter or leave, or actually know what it looks like—yet this is the space from which WikiLeaks still operates and reaches millions of people worldwide. Thanks to an internet connection and an expert understanding of both technological and political networks, WikiLeaks remains fully operational from the confines of a 43-square-foot space."
Welcome to Ecuador runs at Zoo Galerie in Nantes, France until October 29, 2016.