Day 146: Big City Lights

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May 25, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra

I think there’s a part of me that really is a city boy.  Despite the fact that I spent almost my whole life in suburbia, my stints in big cities left big impressions on me.  I love the city.  New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston – they’re remarkable, especially next to the relative equilibrium of suburban life.  Cities bring differences together – in religion, politics, ethnicity, cuisine, and creativity.  Another thing that strikes me is the pervasiveness of the urbanophobic myth that cities are less conducive to a sense of community, and that the suburbs are a much better place to get along with your neighbors.  I’d say look again, because the last time I checked, waving to your neighbors while they mow their lawn as you drive by doesn’t win a lot of points in the “sense of community” game.  (And face it suburbanites, you complain about your neighbors as much as anyone else.)  Cities are fertile ground for the coming together of people, and with such an abundance of so many types, the interaction between city folk goes so far beyond bumping into one another on the sidewalk.  Today’s project knows a thing or two about the community spirit of a city.

Touch began last summer as a public art installation on the streets of Brooklyn.  Brooklyn’s a town with a few dark corners, but the project aimed to bring light to the shadows with an interactive display that brought out people’s lighter side.  Last summer was such a hit that they’ve decided to revive the touch project this year with a more permanent and sustainable installation.

Touch (Off the Grid) is part of an evolving series of participatory public street installations designed to engage the public in a contemporary, interactive art experience in the context of everyday life. Through the use of ordinary battery operated touchlights converted to run off solar power, PaperJAM aims to transform the everyday into something new, sustainable and creatively engaging. Formations of touchlights are adhered as temporary sites of interaction along public walkways, activating and illuminating paths otherwise obstructed, dormant, or poorly lit. Participants press the lights, turning them on and off to create patterns of illumination. Thus, the piece works by activating play and undergoes constant change at the hands of visitors.

There’s a number of things I like about this project, not least of which is the seamless conjoining of function and form.  It’s an unprecedented project of beautification, participation, and illumination, and a testament to the special sense of community reserved for big cities (where you might not know your millions of neighbors, but where little spurts of interaction add up to a magnificent network).  Help this project bring people together under big city lights by backing it on Kickstarter before June 1.


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