Urban procedural rhetorics — transcript of my TWAB 2008 talk

This is a transcript of my presentation at The Web and Beyond 2008: Mobility in Amsterdam on 22 May. Since the majority of paying attendees were local I presented in Dutch. However, English appears to be the lingua franca of the internet, so here I offer a translation. I have uploaded the slides to SlideShare and hope to be able to share a video recording of the whole thing soon.

Update: I have uploaded a video of the presentation to Vimeo. Many thanks to Almar van der Krogt for recording this.

In 1966 a number of members of Provo took to the streets of Amsterdam carrying blank banners. Provo was a nonviolent anarchist movement. They primarily occupied themselves with provoking the authorities in a “ludic” manner. Nothing was written on their banners because the mayor of Amsterdam had banned the slogans “freedom of speech”, “democracy” and “right to demonstrate”. Regardless, the members were arrested by police, showing that the authorities did not respect their right to demonstrate.1

Good afternoon everyone, my name is Kars Alfrink, I’m a freelance interaction designer. Today I’d like to talk about play in public space. I believe that with the arrival of ubiquitous computing in the city new forms of play will be made possible. The technologies we shape will be used for play wether we want to or not. As William Gibson writes in Burning Chrome:

“…the street finds its own uses for things”

For example: Skateboarding as we now know it — with its emphasis on aerial acrobatics — started in empty pools like this one. That was done without permission, of course…

Only later half-pipes, ramps, verts (which by the way is derived from ‘vertical’) and skateparks arrived — areas where skateboarding is tolerated. Skateboarding would not be what it is today without those first few empty pools.2

Continue reading Urban procedural rhetorics — transcript of my TWAB 2008 talk

  1. The website of Gramschap contains a chronology of the Provo movement in Dutch. []
  2. For a vivid account of the emergence of the vertical style of skateboarding see the documentary film Dogtown and Z-Boys. []

An assortment of weird things in public spaces

I’ve been researching street art and related topics lately, and have come across a range of interesting things people have placed in public spaces. I thought it would be fun (and perhaps enlightening) to collect them here. Each entry follows a similar format, listing what was left, by whom and with what intent, what it was made of, and what the reactions were.

Clearly, ‘playing’ in public spaces is not without risk. Reactions can vary widely and are dependent on such a huge range of things that you can essentially not predict what will happen. If you want to leave things with the aim of changing the public’s attitude, you’d best embrace this unpredictability, make use of it, and not be naive about it.

Photo of Banksy piece on Essex Road, London

Banksy (2008)

World famous street artist Banksy has created many interventions in public space. A recent one in London being a mural showing a girl raising a flag bearing the logo of Tesco’s while two children look on, hands on their harts. The piece is filmed for an hour and the result shows a huge amount of people stopping and looking at it. (Which is interesting in the context of to the next example.)

Photo credit: Ben Bell on Flickr.

Photo of Tuymans piece in Antwerp

Luc Tuymans (2008)

As an experiment, critically acclaimed contemporary painter Luc Tuymans paints a mural on the walls of a busy pedestrian street in Antwerp. Hardly anyone (less than 10%) pays the work any attention, as this video shows. What does this say about people, what does it say about contemporary art?

Photo credit: Pkeyn on Flickr.

The ATHF Mooninite LED display

ATHF Mooninite (2007)

LED displays showing a Mooninite, a character from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force animated show are attached to metal surfaces throughout 10 major cities in the USA. They are part of a guerilla marketing campaign to promote an upcoming ATHF film. After being up for a few weeks, Boston police are alerted to their presence and mistaken for possible bombs, launching a full-on scare. The artists responsible for putting them up (Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28) are arrested but later released.

Photo credit: Emilgh on Flickr.

Mario Question Block placed in Santa Ana by Psticks

Super Mario Bros. Blocks (2006)

Street artist Poster Child publishes instructions for the creation of blocks faced with question marks taken from the game Super Mario Bros. online. Inside the blocks are the traditional power-ups from the game. His intention is to comment on the onslaught of advertising in public space. Many create the blocks and put them up in various public places, some as a statement, other for fun. One group of young women is arrested for doing the same, but are ultimately not charged.

Photo credit: Block by Psticks taken from Poster Child’s site.

Three officers inspecting one of the saucers

British UFOs (1967)

The RAE Rag Committee plants six small-sized saucers at equal distances on a straight line in the south of England. The saucers are made from fiberglass resin, contain electronics to make them bleep when tilted at certain angles and are filled with a mixture of flour and water boiled at high temperature to represent alien life. The resulting reaction is comparable to the War of the Worlds scare of 1938. The intention of the hoaxers: to raise funds for charity. They were not persecuted, although some authorities were less than amused.

Description based on an article by John Keeling in Fortean Times #228 from which the image is taken as well.

Can you think of any other weird things placed in public spaces? Do let me know.

K-141 АПЛ Курск

Sometimes you learn something strange while tagging vacation shots. At least that was the case with this photo I took in Venice:

K-141 АПЛ Курск

Looking for some proper tags I Googled “K-141” and found a Wikipedia article on the Russian submarine Kursk. I pulled out the proper Russian text to use as tags but was puzzled about the reason behind the stencil.

I decided to let my direct colleagues in on the mystery and mailed it around at the office. Soon after, Peter pointed out that the same stencil art was blogged at zombizi zero-six and Wooster Collective.

Quite entertaining, but it gets even weirder. He pointed out this link, which apparently proves the stencil spree was part of Russia’s presence at the 51st Venice Biennale…

Bart rightly pointed out that it’s strange they didn’t get caught doing it. I mean: wouldn’t it be easy for the police to hold the Russians at the Biennale responsible for this blatant act of “vandalism”?

Anyway. You learn something new every day, don’t you?

Paris mashed up

Street art hero Banksy strikes again: he’s spread 500 mashed up copies of Paris Hilton’s new album through 48 record stores in the UK. This excellent video shows how he goes about Photoshopping and pasting up the booklet, inserting a new CD and sneaking it into an HMV shop. The music on the spoof album was created by hip-hop producer Danger Mouse.

Shot of mashed up Paris booklet

Guys like him make life in the 21st century slightly more bearable; Banksy proves ordinary citizens can provide some counterweight to mass media with well-executed and highly targeted actions. HMV doesn’t agree: “It’s not the type of behaviour you’d want to see happening very often”.

Thanks to Bart for the heads-up.

Ondergrond.org – HKU-studenten aan de folksonomy

Via commentaar op een recent artikel op open.info.nl kwam ik op de site Ondergrond – een folksonomy voor / van street art. De site is een EMMA-afstudeerproject van een aantal HKU-studenten. De site daagt bezoekers met behulp van stellingen en vragen uit om bij foto’s van graffiti en stickers tags achter te laten. Een interessante manier om het dilemma “waarom zou een bezoeker taggen” te tackelen – het principe doet me in die zin denken aan Hot or Not. Het plezier zit hem in foto na foto hersenloos te voorzien van metadata. Het risico is natuurlijk dat hiermee het ontstaan van “metacrap” alleen maar in de hand wordt gewerkt! Aan de andere kant zijn de vragen soms wel wat moeilijk, dan moet je goed nadenken, en is het effect van de laagdrempeligheid weg.

Ik weet niet of Maarten en Sjors Interaction Design hebben gestudeerd, maar op dat vlak verdient de site wel nog wat aandacht. Het is flink zoeken geblazen in het ondergrondse, de navigatie is eigenlijk bijna niet aanwezig. Misschien dat dit niet de focus heeft in hun project, maar het zou toch mooi zijn als het de tagger makkelijk wordt gemaakt zijn weg te vinden naar interessante content!