February 03, 2006

Thoughts On The Junction's "Bins and Benches"

Over the last couple of days I've been brainstorming ideas for a new name for PeerBackup. On Monday I decided that it might help to get out of the house for a bit - change of scenery... remove the distraction of the Internet...

As it was a bright sunny day, I thought the square at the Cambridge Leisure retail park would be a suitable location and would let me see what the Bins and Benches public art installation from the Junction is like. Only seven months or so after saying I'd report back with my thoughts on them.

I'd been a bit underwhelmed by the looks of the when I first saw them - there's a definite home-made look to them, but then they have been hand made, and are definitely sturdy enough to survive out on the streets. I was quite surprised to find that, on the bench I sat on for my lunch at least, they haven't been vandalised at all. I'd have thought a wooden bench would have had initials carved into it, or written on in marker pen, but they were surprisingly clean and tidy.

That seems to sum up my feeling overall with this artwork. What should be a playful piece, encouraging interaction with its surroundings and its fellow inhabitants somehow falls so short. All the promise and enthusiasm for the work has seeped away - the area of the Junction website about the art is out of date and the artist's website is unavailable as I write.

The bins and benches themselves are also rather inert. In the hour that I was sat for my lunch, only one bin made any movement; lurching amusingly across the cobbles like an unstable Dalek. As they seem to be solar-powered, maybe a sunny winter day isn't good enough for them. Hopefully they become more animated in the summer months, when there will be more people lingering in the piazza.

What they lacked in movement, they made up in noise. They are very chatty objects, for the first half-hour or so calling to each other in morse; and then the singing started. Either that or my bench was fed up of me sitting on it and wanted to voice its disapproval... I managed to catch some of the performance on my mobile phone, so if you've got Real Player (or something that can cope with .3gp files) you can have a listen here.

Overall, I still like the idea of the "bins and benches", but I think the implementation could benefit from a bit more work. How about sticking a webcam on the Junction somewhere, and providing time-lapse movies of the installation? Encourage people to discuss their experiences of the work on the website, and print the URL onto the benches so people can find one from the other. Let local artists customise the looks, or just give them each a different coat of paint so people notice their movements more easily.

Or better still, include some technology in the benches themselves to let people interact with them. With a bluetooth module they could appear as "RedBench", "BlueBench" if you searched for Bluetooth devices on your phone... and then people could send them messages, or pictures, which could then be relayed to the website. Or fed into some Eliza-like software so they could talk back.

Click here to see a few photos I took of the artwork.

Posted by Adrian at February 3, 2006 09:43 AM | TrackBack

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