Back in January, I was approached by Art Public and asked to build an application and website as part of their Bus-Tops project. This has just gone live over at http://bus-tops.com/shelters/, so it seems like a good time to talk about the project.
Bus-Tops is part of the Cultural Olympiad, and benefited from a grant from Artists Taking The Lead, a nationwide series of arts projects sponsored by the Arts Council and London 2012. In short, we’re putting screens on the top of bus stops across London, and we’re going to let people play with them.
One part of the first stage of the project has been choosing where to put these screens, so I designed and built the Shelters site at http://bus-tops.com/shelters/, which lets Londoners register and comment on all the (2-bay) stops in the capital, and pick a top 3 they’d like to see screens installed on. The visual design of the site has been significantly enhanced by Nicolas Myers and the rest of the Bus-Tops team.
I’m incredibly excited about this project, because it brings together so many of my interests, particularly in the possibilities of networked storytelling, and in the city itself. If, as many futures admit, the city will soon be infested with screens (see writings by Chris Heathcote and Adam Greenfield) then I think we’re in a wonderful position to get some out early and say to the public: you have a right to this space too. To talk about the city, the environment, about surveillance and social history—about a huge range of things, in unexpected and delightful ways.
Over the last few months of the project, my role has been slowly changing from a primarily technical one to something more creative. I’m now the Narrative Lead, an odd title which means I’m looking at ways to wrap all the aspects of this project into a single, coherent narrative, that both explains itself, and excites and guides the public into participating. I’m wary of the clichés of “public art”, which I haven’t been shy of attacking in the past, but I believe there are aspects of this project which enable us to overcome them. The other folk on the project are brilliant and uncompromising, and we’re all going to do our best to make it extraordinary.
There are 33 boroughs in London—I’ve lived here all my life and I didn’t realise that. There’s going to be at least one screen in every borough, a multi-headed networked beast emerging all over the city, outwith individual or governmental control. It’s going to be fun.