place: Palo Alto City Hall CA
2017 Public Art Year in Review
Americans for the Arts
Best Public Art of 2016
2016 CODA Merit Award Winner
CONVERSATION is a media arts representation of democracy unfolding in realtime just inside the doors of Palo Alto City Hall. It imagines an environment where individual thoughts are given form and the means to respond and evolve within a stream of live content from the internet. Assigned behaviors allow the parts to morph and merge, creating an ongoing dance fueled by public participation and expression within a responsive virtual environment.
We were intrigued with the idea that we could use public participation to form new, malleable shapes and patterns in real time and found that using fluid dynamics gave the artwork the levels of complexity and the variations in behaviors that we were seeking. The result is a coupling between realtime and non realtime elements.
The custom interface scans and posts social media and global, national and local news feeds and allows users to respond with comments and upload photos through either the internet or an on-site touchscreen display. All of the elements are mapped to complex behaviors allowing for a continually evolving artwork, uncensored, alive, never the same.
The City of Palo Alto asked that this artwork in their City Hall represent and encourage an open, transparent and creative style of governance, aware of the risks. CONVERSATION took that on and in fact the piece relies on it. It extends the idea that media arts can not only add beauty or interest to a public space, but can be a medium for expression, community and meaning.
“I have called CONVERSATION an experiment. I think we all - meaning the people that worked on creating it and the city that encouraged it - knew that there was an element of risk in an artwork whose meaning relies on public collaboration.
But so does democracy.
As for the artwork, we designed it to be welcoming, even playful, and yet Conversation raises fundamental questions about public participation, accountability and community.
When I first began working on this project, I imagined something that offered the spontaneity and integrity of a person raising a hand in a public meeting. I imagined a new representation of that meeting, with all issues up for public discussion, and then all that discussion, forming new, malleable shapes and patterns in real time.
I wanted the project to show that democracy is something we make together, and that it changes moment by moment.
I hope that when people see it, or use it, they will think, “This is a place where people are aware of their surroundings. This is a place where we can be heard, a place where we do listen to what others have to say.”
Susan Narduli, Palo Alto City Hall 03.02.16
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