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July 30, 2010

From VR/Urban, the self-proclaimed “public media interventionists”, comes SMSlingshot.  They consider the project digital intervention activism, which my fellow Crisis City colleague, Stephen Klimek, may discuss in his design activism blog.  The intervention/installation involves a handheld digital “slingshot” used to shoot text messages onto a public screen.

SMSlingshot attempts to link digital data with people acting in real space.  An overarching goal of VR/Urban is to claim back urban space and allow inhabitants to occupy, for example, an empty lot.  Other urbanist/architects, such as Interboro Partners (Lent Space) and Srjdan Weiss (Repurpose Philadelphia!) have created a reason to occupy empty urban spaces.  As a tangent, these interventions seem particularly suited for Shrinking Cities considering the number of empty lots and buildings.  However, that topic will not be fully examined on this blog just yet.  The common link between these projects is the event, or in archispeak, program.  It proves that a clever juxtaposition or singular idea of action(s) in a space is just as crucial as the idea which governs the design of that space.  I like to connect the idea of event or program to the abstract concept of theatre.  Providing a sphere of enactment causes social ramifications.

SMSlingshot is taking cyberurbanism to the streets and placing a positive on it by saying “cyberspace is not such a bad thing and can even work well in realspace”.  This world of hyper information and data flow can transform into a physical entity.  Anda French, faculty member at Syracuse University School of Architecture, introduced the Sibylline TXT Syracuse and What If project over the last 2 years.  Both projects involved text messaging as an urban action.   Posters were placed on abandoned storefronts throughout Syracuse, NY that asked people to text their opinions to the question “what if”.  The responses were meant to engage inhabitants in imagining new or enhanced spaces for the future of the city.  This blog, social networking sites like Facebook, and especially Twitter are examples of our desire and habit to comment on things.  Have you ever noticed on MTV the rolling “shout-outs”?  People like to make their opinion known in cyberspace, however, they like it even better when it is known in physical space.  Somehow, it gives people more validation or perhaps it is more tangible.  Some believe that the urban condition has shifted from a Metropolis to a Metapolis, or Saskia Sassen’s Global City.  For example, Manhattan’s socioeconomic status can potentially have a direct effect globally through cyberurbanism.  I think VR/Urban believes that all of the above can happen in tandem and may help support each other.

As cliche as it may sound, SMSlingshot is returning our voices to the physical world.  Maybe you have a voice in cyberspace, but what about realspace?  VR/Urban made a few interesting observations regarding the social effect during the slingshot event:

Our intervention took four hours and people loved it. It was very nice to see how people handled the artifact. It was a mixture of familiarity, intimacy and expressiveness. The act of occupying a part of the facade with your personal virtual message produced a lot of joy for most of the people. Also the act of getting the device, typing a message, pulling and releasing the slingshot and watching the impact of the splash followed a development of suspense like one might find in a story of a book. Even twists and turns were observed.

Check out this project and others in the book Urban Interventions – Personal Projects in Public Space or VR/Urban’s SMSlingshot Document.

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