Enhancing Our Outdoor Spaces Through Interactive Public Art

An increasing number of places are creating interactive public spaces through public art, sculptures, fountains and multimedia screen usage to enhance community gathering by attracting people to cluster around in open spaces.

Interactive work produced in a public space is usually based on “implicitly or explicitly shared meanings between the artist and the community, and consists of actions or works executed on behalf of the community as a whole,” according to a report by Marquette University. This gives an opportunity for the public to create symbols associated to their spaces, facilitating an enjoyable and valuable outdoor experience for the people usually free of cost. Sculptures for instance, have a different type of connotation associated with them today than they did decades ago.

“Today, sculpture embraces many new forms representing new technologies and materials resulting in installation sculptures, light-based sculptures, and other forms of sculptural expression,” notes the Marquette University study. “In at least some of its manifestations, public sculpture offers a bridge between cultural particulars and the universal, which can be appreciated by all persons irrespective of their cultural origin.”

The study is particularly relevant to the way we perceive interactive public spaces in today’s world.

Some examples of public art in cities which have prominently gained importance over the years include:

The Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park

Cloud Gate (Photo: Craig, Flickr)

Cloud gate is a reputed interactive art (sculpture) located in Millennium Park’s public space created by Anish Kapoor. It is a mirror in the shape of a Jelly Bean and is thus colloquially known as “The Bean.” It provides a distorted reflection of the city and offers an opportunity for visitors to capture their own reflection. It is a good example of cities providing an interactive space in a public park, attracting many tourists and locals alike.

Water Light Graffiti in Poitiers (France)

Water Light Graffiti in Poitiers (Photo: Digitalarti, Flickr)

Antonin Fourneau’s installation called Water Light Graffiti in Poitiers has recently gained popularity with many other countries such as Dubai following by example. This interactive structure contains numerous LED lights which illuminate and brighten when sprayed with water. As an article states, “it’s completely safe to touch — you can use a paintbrush, a spray bottle, a bucket, or even just damp fingers to draw on the wall, without having to worry about being electrocuted.” A brilliant model that is safe and an enjoyable for everyone to experiment in an open public space!

The video below shows how the Water Light Graffiti is used:

High Line Park in New York City

The Highline Park in New York City which is a public park built on a freight rail line above the streets of Manhattan is an interactive park with fountains located in the park. It also schedules many public events and interactive programmes such as Rainbow City. Visit the Highline Park Website for more details.

Nanas in Hanover (Germany)

Nanas in Hanover (Photo: Wikipedia)

Nanas are public art sculptures created by Niki de Saint Phalle displayed in the public space of Germany and many other European nations. Although they are not as interactive as the latest sculptures, it was the first of this kind and instigated debates of appropriate public art work during the artist’s time. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to appreciate as they bring an aesthetic feel to the public landscape, where people can pose around them and interact with the Nana sculptures in their own unique way.

Light Drift in Philadelphia

Light Drift (Photo: dameetch, Flickr)

Light Drift was a temporary night-time riverfront public art display on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. “The 90 floating, neon orbs were lit by sensors on land that detected viewers every movement. People were able to transform the grid of patterns and colors that acted as a visual, conceptual documentary of the surrounding activity” confirms Ted Scheid.

Increase in multimedia tools such as screens in public spaces have also been growing rapidly in the recent years consequently changing the way we perceive and interact with our open space. Although initially the main objective of screen usage was advertising, the conception has expanded to many other elements, as stated in the publication Beyond Advertising: Large Displays for Supporting Needs and Activities in Public Space, based on their research of “more than two hundred screen applications worldwide, eight categories of applications could be distinguished: (1) Advertising, (2) Information, (3) Art, culture and aesthetics, (4) Entertainment, (5) Influencing (atmosphere, mood or behavior), (6) Improving customer experience, (7) Communication, (8) Participation.”

Some examples of screen usage for public art include:

Every Passing Moment in Liverpool’s Clayton Square UK

Every Passing Moment (Photo: Flavorwire)

A screen was displayed in the Liverpool Clayton Square where anyone with a Bluetooth device saw a few pictures of landscapes being projected onto a screen. Chris Canes explains:

“As people walk across the Clayton Square in front of the Liverpool BBC big screen (UK), anyone with an active Bluetooth device automatically seeds a flower in the virtual landscape. Depending on the public’s path, a red, blue or yellow flower is generated in one of three virtual garden patches. The colour of a flower depends on their proximity to gardeners (i.e. three performers carrying the blu_box system) wearing corresponding colour T-shirts. If the MAC ID (which every Bluetooth active device emits) responsible for seeding a flower is recorded by blu_box only once, the flower will slowly start to fade away. Alternatively, any passer-by who directly approaches a gardener and becomes the gardener’s team member, will generate a larger flower assigned to the colour code of the chosen gardener. This project emerges from my PhD research into mobile and wireless networks as public art.”

This was an interactive project which facilitated community engagement as the flowers grew bigger when people spoke to one another. I personally feel that such interactive screen techniques should be used more often in our cities.

New Library in Almere — BiebBeep System

The Bieb Beep System provides an interactive touch screen experience to the general public as well as library personal who visit the New Library in Almere. People can add additional information on the screen themselves through social media tools, supporting the technological ways people interact with one another on a daily basis. As this research suggests: “BiebBeep has been based on an application called Buzzcuit that has been built to experiment in (semi) public spaces such as in neighbourhoods, shops and office buildings.”

These are some examples of the expanding new innovative ways interactive art is being utilized in our public spaces. As evident, such art in public spaces nurtures an active engagement and interface between people and the space they live in. It brings enormous value to the citizens while promoting a more creative environment. Therefore, sculptures, fountains, on screen visuals and other forms of public displays of art should continue to be encouraged and recognised to enhance our public spaces in the years that follow.

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