Friday, February 13, 2009

Leaving Traces

An Urban Experiment

The public works of Phoenix Arizona are required to have an art element that goes along with it. It is written into law. These have been controversial in the past, since some the art that the tax payers have paid for has been less than 'artistic'.

This art is supposed to be interactive and representative of the community. Since the public works have changed the landscape of the city or the neighborhood, the art is supposed to soften the blow.

Everywhere we go we effect the things around us. We leave traces of where we have been and test any environment we find ourselves in.

Animals in the wild purposefully leave no trace that is discernibly to most humans. They don't carve their initials on trees or leave sign posts to find the way back. They are for the most part, stealthy in their environment.

Humans on the other hand tend to want to make their presence known. They build things, they leave behind all manner of refuge and garbage. They often times leave their mark for no discernible reason.

At the Metro platform at Encanto and Central near downtown Phoenix, where I catch the light-rail every morning, there is a public art installation. It is somewhat odd and without an obvious theme, unless you look closely at it.

Unless it is 'tested', that is to say touched, it does not appear movable. But indeed, the unique blocks mounted on the horizontal bars can be turned, and in fact are meant to be turned to expose each side.

This got me wondering one cold, dark morning about whether this sort of interactive art was ever really noticed by anyone, so I decided to perform a little social experiment. I went down the platform and arranged all the rotating blocks in order so that they all formed a straight line. The next morning I would return and see if anyone had rotated the blocks.

The next day I was surprised to find that most of the blocks had been moved. People waiting for the trains had laid hands on them, either out of curiosity, boredom or accident and moved almost all of them.

Which got me thinking. We are a touchie-feelie sort of society. Everywhere we go, we have to touch, to move, to re-arrange. We can never seem to leave well enough alone. Sometimes I wonder if we aren't all cursed with the mindset that the world is one big "Pandora's Box".