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!