Street With a View: manipulating and reflecting reality

Friday, January 15, 2010 17:30

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Street With A View, 2008, image taken from CCCS, Florence, Courtesy Ben Kinsley & Robin Hewlett ©Google, Inc.

Manipulating Reality: How Images Redefine the World
If you visit the Street View section of Google Maps and type in “Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh” you’re in for a big surprise, because who would have guessed that this one-way alley on the North side of the post-industrial city of Pittsburgh is one of the most exciting streets in the world.

On every block there is something going on; there’s a live garage band performance, a mad scientist’s laboratory, confetti, people in costumes, an escape from a bedroom window, a marionette parade, firemen rescuing a cat, crowds, a sword fight and to top it off a giant chicken sculpture. But do not be deceived! What you are looking at on Google Street View is not real but staged.

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Street With A View, 2008, image taken from Street With a View

Street with a View is a project by two US artists Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley, that made its debut in November 2008 as the first artistic intervention on Google Maps.

Fascinated by users’ reactions to Google Street View, which since its launch has raised questions concerning the violation of privacy, Kinsley and Hewlett contacted Google with their idea of staging collective performances on the same day that the Google Car was scheduled to drive through the street. Google agreed.

The artists then orchestrated a series of diverse performances along Sampsonia Way, involving local talents, retailers, artists and the whole community and taking place as the Google Documentation Crew drove down the street equipped with a panoramic camera on the roof.

What Google Street View users see of Sampsonia Way is a false representation of reality, a pseudo-street life of an otherwise quiet but charming one-way alley of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Street With A View, 2008, image taken from Street With a View

Street with a View is currently showing Manipulation of Reality: How Images Redefine the World hosted by the CCCS in Florence (the exhibition closes January 17), here’s a snippet from the exhibition text:

The Street With A View is an ironic comment by the two young artists on the idea of access to reality through mass-media images. Users of Google Maps can have the impression that they have seen (and therefore know) the streets of Paris, New York or Pittsburgh without ever having set foot there. With their series of collective performances and actions, Kinsley and Hewlett create an analogy between their carefully planned and coordinated artistic events and the equally fictitious reality presented by Google. As images cannot replace direct, physical experience, they always constitute a reconstruction, if not indeed manipulation, of the real world, but one that we are led to regard as real in today’s media-driven society.”

Reflecting Reality: How Artistic Imagination Redefines Urban Space

Moving away from the exhibition theme, let’s look at ‘Street With A View’ from another angle: the power of the artistic imagination in redefining urban space.

Citizen engagement and public space have become critical needs for the future of cities, social economies and urban lifestyles, and while Street With a View, on one hand, artfully manipulates the reality of Sampsonia Way, on the other, the reality it does reflect is the power of the artistic imagination in fulfilling these needs. What Hewlett and Kinsley so subtly succeed in doing is creating a collective community experience, where the participants interact willingly, are inspired, and use their creative skills to shape the image of a space – albeit a false one – and to turn the street into a laboratory, a studio, a club and a gallery: a new temporary urban landscape.

What city officials, urban planners and developers need to understand when addressing public space and civic engagement is the role of artists and the power of the artistic imagination. After all, how else could we have discovered the hidden talents of a Pittsburgh neighbourhood? Or the diversity of life contained within the walls of the town’s homes, offices, schools and shopping malls?

Maybe the time has come to account for artistic intervention in urban space.

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2 Responses to “Street With a View: manipulating and reflecting reality”

  1. Manu Fernández says:

    January 18th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    Street With a View: manipulating and reflecting reality http://bit.ly/5cdgbt And the project here: http://bit.ly/19tZmp

  2. Manu Fernández says:

    January 18th, 2010 at %I:%M %p

    Street With a View: manipulating and reflecting reality http://bit.ly/5cdgbt And the project here: http://bit.ly/19tZmp

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