"Hello Lamp Post!" is a £30,000 project which won Bristol's first Playable Awards several days ago and claims to bring out the ubiquitous secrets of the city by encouraging pedestrians to engage digitally with local touchpoints consequently merging technology and art. Having read into it further, I share my thoughts and feelings on this unique city installation and decipher just how effective it will be...
The project taps into pre-existing codes which the city council use for basic maintenance on replacing light bulbs or repairing something. The aim of the project is that passers by will text a special number with their message + name of the object + code, which will wake up the letter box and trigger a text response and begins a lovely dialogue between said object and self. This is ideal for the chatty sort, unphased by the fact that's no-one listening or the fact that you are texting a machine. Automated responses never really fuel much excitement so it will be interesting to see how intelligent the responses are.
There will also be a installation within the city centre which brings these texting dialogues to life, by converting text to sound there will be a number of conversations played out loud and thirdly there will be a website which will show the various conversations that have happened throughout the city. The premise of this social experiment is that it brings out the secrets and whispers of the city. The "Hello Lamp Post!" were successful candidates in the Playable City Awards shortlist, Tom Uglow of Google said "Hello Lamp Post! stood out with a potential for both art and play using existing urban furniture. It filled me with childish delight"1. I was hopeful that when you texted a bus stand, a gruff sounding voice would project from the speakers telling you to walk onto the next bus stop because the number 17 has been held up... again. The project will be heavily supported by the Watershed in Bristol followed by support from both local and corporate businesses, Toshiba, Aardman and Bristol City Council - no doubt, it will be a success on a technical level.
I feel like glorifying inanimate 'everyday objects' is so cliché, even the word cliché doesn't do it justice. I view it with apprehension as, like anything that relies on human input to be injected into a project there needs to be some great, original, witty input contributed in the first place. Often automated responses are tested with a whole load of expletives or mad suggestions, take Siri as a tried and tested experiment (there's even a website devoted to stupid questions to ask Siri). When people are asked to do something unusual, like texting a letterbox, it isn't really an organic process and so I think it's a bold statement to claim that Hello Lamp Post! will tap into the secrets of the city. I feel that Bristol is a very 'aware' city (see Nick's blog post on city life), a city used to spotting Banksy's, pop up restaurants and other such happenings around the city, so to presume that a project like this will help us pay more attention to our surroundings completely ignores the collective Bristol consciousness. On the other hand, Bristol is a hospital environment for such art city installations and will inevitably generate a huge response to open minded and willing participants. There is a whole host of opportunity for development, this could just be a stepping stone in playing games or parting with interesting historical facts for example.
As an artwork, the concept doesn't feel strong enough (this is a quick judgement just on the material I've read, but will no doubt be retracted when I actually experience it all) but the digital and technical setups involved within it emphasise the invisible infrastructure of the world we live in. It ties the internet, mobile communication and events and activity within city life into a huge spiderweb of information.
Hello Lamp Post! will come to Bristol in July.
1 Verity McIntosh (http://www.watershed.co.uk/playablecity/news/announcing-hello-lamp-post)