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Note: This is an early version of a paper published in the Winter '98 Issue of YLEM Magazine

The Live Live Project: Public Art and Technology

Abstract: Contemporary communications technology has changed the nature of public interaction and the notion of public space. These changes have also changed the practice of the artist creating work for public spaces. In this article, the author discusses and describes the use of technology in a large scale community public art project designed in, around, and about an urban public transportation system. Introduction: In the fall of 1997, I began working on a collaboration between the Robert Morris College Institute of Design (RMC), the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), and the Grillo Group. The project began with a desire to find an appropriate metaphor for the process of interaction design, and a desire to create an public interactive artwork which related to artwork created for the physical world. The Graphic Design, Computer-Aided Design and Drafting, and Multimedia Students at Robert Morris would make this project their focus for a year long real-world design project.

"The term 'communication' has had an extensive use in connection with roads and bridges, sea routes, rivers, and canals, even before it became transformed into 'information movement' in the electronic age. Perhaps there is not a more suitable way of defining the character of the electric age then by first studying the rise of the idea of transportation as communication, and then the transition of the idea from transport to information by means of electricity. The word 'metaphor' is from the Greek 'meta' plus 'pherein' to carry across or transport." 1

The MCA became involved through the RMC Cultural Partners project, a project initially intended to give students the opportunity to tour the museum and participate in its many activities. I was fortunate to find Georgina Valverde, the newly appointed Coordinator of Education Outreach, and we decided to expand upon the program by bringing in a group of ten high school students, part of the Art & Soul Teen Apprentice team to approach the project from a conceptual, performative level. Maria Grillo, Lead Graphic Designer of the Grillo Group was invited into the project to help create a logo, a unified presentation of the designs at the station, and any related print material. A subway station was selected for the physical site and conceptual focus of the project.

This station was the Clark and Lake subway and elevated train station. This station was chosen because it is the meeting place for several trains from various parts of the city. The Blue line (to O'Hare Airport) the Orange line (to Midway Airport) the Green Line (Englewood), the Brown Line (Ravenswood), the Purple line (Evanston). The station also connects to both the airports of the city The student and artist participants respresented the diverse communities of the city: Pilsen, Englewood, Logan Square, the South Side, the North Side; and were native speakers of not only English, but Spanish, Polish, Thai, and Hindi. "They (urban systems) are global systems whose structure, functioning, and growth dynamics are manufactured out of the innumerable different points of view from which they can be seen."

"The Live Live project explores ways to open communication amongst people by introducing elements for consideration and discussion through art, performance and multimedia into a situation of daily life that doesnít demand interaction beyond practical, clearly defined exchanges. We will consider how people are forced to break out of their shells through new forms of social interaction such as cyber space. For example, people might behave less inhibited when participating in an Internet chat room than they might in a live situation (although we have also considered the possibility that people might also adopt false identities and use the net for devious purposes). What if we were able to recreate those conditions in a public space so that those present could feel free to comment upon their immediate environment, interact with each other, break down their barriers momentarily? When we are in public we guard ourselves, we carry with us all our history, tragedy, prejudice and we rarely exchange experiences. How can we use public art to pry open our separate worlds? Can public art engage people into thinking about issues that affect each other, taking risks with each other, promoting more awareness of our diversity and sameness? Through a series of questions (in the form of words or visual symbols) people who converge in one public space (at the Clark and Lake el stop) will be invited into a collective dialogue to consider a variety of questions, to discuss them, maybe to act upon them." 3

"The theme Live Live addresses how people move through the world: how they interact with eachother, how they interact with the physical elements of their environment, how exchanges are made, and what impressions and ideas are left behind" 4 We began through group discussion to try to define the nature of public space. All of us agreed that communications technology has caused a major change in our understanding of public space. We developed a simple goal: To invite the largest possible number of people into a collective dialogue about life to consider, discuss, and maybe even act. The following quotes illuminate the kinds of thoughts about public art that came from the group. "The project is about expressing art in a way that will show somebody a hidden meaning. It needs to be something everybody can relate to and understand, something controversial enough to make people think." 5 "When people see (public art) they seem to get inspired or get some sense of hope." 6

"The CTA site is a place where many people from different parts of the city and different backgrounds enter everyday, but rarely do you see people who don't know each other having a friendly conversationSit could be fear that makes people keep to themselves. Could we address some of those issues at the CTA site?" 7

The first development was a series of general questions. These questions were placed on a web site and people from all over the world were invited to consider and answer the questions. First, a participant was asked to give a description of their identity. It was important to the group that this identity description be designed to be open rather that designed as a series of check boxes. The questions them focused on emotion, something that many of the participants found lacking in public dialogue. The questions were these: What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What makes you angry? and What are you afraid of? We quickly recieved over one hundred responses to the questions, some philosophical, some funny, most thoughtful. The responses were emailed to all the student participants. At this stage, we invited performance artist Reginald Metcalf to join the project to help direct the work in progress. Metcalf was presenting his current work-in-progress "Halting of Speech" at Artemisia Gallery. "Halting of Speech" was a process of looking at and de-constructing the text from speeches by Martin Luther King and Ho Chi Minh in relationship to the quest for the promised land. Like Moses, both leaders focused their lives on the pursuit of the promised land, and died before seeing their dream realized. "I have a love/hate relationship with Western Culture. I believe when correspondences, links, relationships, etc. are drawn between seemingly disparate aspects of the culture, the fault lines show through. I don't want to destroy the culture, but I do want to see it faults and all. It seems to that we are constantly reminded of its glories, while its horrors are relegated to the status of individual or even national pathologies." 8 Metcalf led the Live live! participants through a series of exercises and activities, employing improvisation, movement, writing and research, and from the printed text responses to the web site questions, the students developed a series of poems about each of the major topics: identity, happiness, fear, anger, and sadness.

Some examples of the results:



Metcalf also worked with the students on the presentation of a short collaborative performance at the station site. The performances culminated in a cooperative performance of the group tying themselves together with rope and coordinating a walk through the station. Other performances consisted of offering purified water to the people waiting in the station, and measuring the distances people stood from the platform and eachother while they were waiting.

Another artist the students had the opportunity to work with and interview was the Canadian artist, Kim Adams. He was in Chicago to show his work at the Chicago's Navy Pier Art Expo and was sponsored by the Rhona Hoffman Gallery. Adam's work consists of the re-construction of children's bicycles to create an experience for the viewer/participant that relates to cooperation in social action. The bicycles he builds are two-seated bicycles, but the seacts face in opposite directions. In order for two people to ride these bicycles successfully, there needs to be a high level of cooperation where each rider gives up some amount of control.

Invited artist and human-computer interface researcher and designer Katherine Isbister from Stanford University also worked with the internet in relationship to live performance, but her project took a different slant. "As technology plays a larger and larger part in our lives, it becomes increasingly important to understand how it affects everyday human activities. More powerful and sophisticated computers have allowed interface designers to mimic, even more effectively than in the past, the sorts of social cues that human beings use to signal to one another. These cues transmogrify the computer from a largely mute and passive tool, to something that seems to have some animus to it, and which will therefore be treated as a fellow social creature." 9 Her project with the students, 'Human Traces in Public Cyberspaces' sought to explore ways to give travelers in cyberspace a sense of human presence and traces at the Live live! web site, and to raise a discussion about what the transit experience is like in cyberspace. "For example, the popular notion of 'surfing the Web' alludes to dynamic motion despite its categorical, discrete nature. It is simply the illusion of Web pages' adjacencies regardless of server locations. I can 'go to' a Web site in Tokyo or Sydney no matter where I am physically. The sense of being somewhere else while logged onto a network is the illusion that underlies Gibson's cyberspace." 10  The students and Isbister collaborated to create manifestations of human presence on the Live live! web site, linking to the 'respond' area of the site. They created a 'digital booth' web page, that had a student actually participating in a dialogue with visitors about the site. Students worked to design the booth, creating their own image of themselves and their booth to post when they were 'on duty'. During 'duty' hours the person sat at a terminal at the school talked with people who visit the site. The group explored what it meant to be present in a virtual space, and their role on the site. They also explored ways to leave traces of these dialogues on the web site, for times when there wasn't anyone in the 'booth'. "The web offers disembodied mobility to travelers in cyberspace, but the journey is an oddly solitary one, often through spaces that are eerily devoid of signs of human presence. The warmth of a bench, a scrap of paper with notes jotted on it, or even a muffled person guardedly reading a book to block out the possibility of an encounter all tell us we are not the only ones traveling through a transit station. Physical transit locations usually have both these signs of human presence, and also real human beings available to answer questions or provide comfort or another perspective on navigating the surroundings. Other people provide security, guidance, share in common responses to the environment (wary, tired, energized), and humanize a space for us." 11

"Thus, the object, the real thing, the thing that acts, exists only provided that it holds humans and non-humans together, continuously... On the one hand, it can be said to hold people together, but on the other hand it is people who hold it together." 12

Like Isbister, another invited artist, Amy Youngs, also developed a project designed to exist only through the participation of travelers, but she worked directly with the travelers in the physical space of the station. 'Someone Somewhere Else' focuses on the universality of human experiences in transit. Through the simple act of picking up a telephone, a social taboo is challenged and people become uninhibited to speak to the person standing next to them on the CTA platform. This installation was designed to be a catalyst for conversations between people who do not know each other. The distance that is generally inherent when communicating with the assistance of technological devices like the telephone, makes talking to strangers on the phone easier than talking to them in person. By taking advantage of this phenomenon, Youngs' project provides a shared experience and help people to break through the barriers that keep them from conversing with each other in public spaces. "People on the CTA platform see three odd-looking telephones hanging on the wall. When someone picks up the phone, the hear someone talking about their travels. The voice may be from another time or place, but the stories are common experiences of traveling. Periodically the voice asks the listener questions. ("Where are you going?" "Which train do you take?" etc.) A response by the participant is broadcast to the other nearby phones, causing other listeners to wonder what is going on. Some of the voices on the "other end" are actually people standing right there on the platform." 13

Kathleen McCarthy's commissioned project depends on the intentinoal or un-intentional cooperation of visitors to the station. The project consists of a series of pairs of light box units installed on the risers of the west staircase of the upper platform. Each riser has a pair of these units placed side by side. On the right, ascending side of the staircase, the units are illuminated continuously, each displaying a single word. The units on the left, descending side remain dark, lighting up only when the step above the unit is activated by someone stepping on the stair. The left units also display a single word, which in combination with the word displayed to its right, creates a phrase. The word on the left affects the meaning of the word on the right in subtle and complex ways, for example to the word MOTHER, the word SINGLE is added on the left.  "The phrases represent labels we attach to individuals or use to describe social concepts. Though they seem simple these words embody a complex ideology that expresses values, aspirations, and biases. The person descending the staircase will be seen in relation to these labels as he/she brings them into view. Using the example of SINGLE MOTHER, if a woman is on the stairs thoughts might turn toward an assessment of her relationships with men or her economic conditions. If the person on the stairs is a man one might think of abandoned children. Another pairing might be MIXED MARRIAGE." 14 It is crucial to the concept of the work that these word units are situated in a public site. The main component of this work is the occasion for collaborative viewing set up between those ascending the staircase and the unsuspecting participant on the other side. A CTA station is an ideal location for this project because it brings together a large, diverse group of people.

Electronic artist Ken Rinaldo, who is currently a professor in Art and Technology at the Ohio State University's Department of Art, takes a different approach to the station and the train as a psychological and scientific icon. "It is the mode of travel that affects our perceptual selves and shapes our daily lives. The act of speeding on trains, moving on foot or riding a bus are unique experiences, each of which forms different perceptual possibilities. For instance, Einsteins theory of relativity was partially conceptualized by imagining the relative experience of riding a train and standing on a train platform while listening to sound. While standing on the platform and listening to the trains whistle, he noted the Doppler effect. Einstein realized, like Doppler before him, that these points of view express relative experience and this led to thought experiments, like riding a beam of light, which led to his postulate of the Theory of Relativity." 15 These variable and changing points of view are the kind that are experienced by all transit riders on a daily basis. First, because our vision through the mode of travel, be it a bus or train offers relative perceptual experience; and secondly because rapid transit permits travel and access to new places and experiences within the urban terrain. A transit system sees no cultural boundaries and breaks down neighborhood barriers. "...since it is only through human mental activity that the self reproduction and morphogenesis of these systems occurs. It seems inconceivable, therefore, that the laws which govern the forms of abstract artefacts are similar to, or even commensurable with, the laws that govern natural systems. At the same time, such laws must be part of nature, since they cannot be otherwise. They must reflect some potentialities within nature." 16 Rinaldo's work, Trainsmorphogenesis, brings together the expertise of several Chicago designers. Sound design is by Brenden White of Columbia College Sound Department, recorded voice and research is provided by Dr. Pan Papacosta and the Computer Aided Design of the work was provided by a student of Robert Morris College, Eric Martell Malone.  Eric Martell MaloneRinaldo's, Youngs' and McCarthy's projects are yet to be installed publically in the station, the exhibited work was shown as part of the 'process exhibition' at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).

The MCA exhibition also featured a performance by the dance collaborative ZooDance Opera, founded by former professional ballet dancer and current webmaster Jennifer Gwirtz from San Francisco. ZooDance's work was inspired by the process of travelling to Chicago via another type of public transit, the commercial airline. She gave a week-long intensive workshop that culminated in a performance called "Moving Targets: Sitings in Transit". The workshop group explored the process of travel and transition, drawing attention to what is normally not noticed within the limbo regions of motion. The site was the landscape containing still and moving bodies. "At the nodes of physical consciousness, we gather. Anonymous bodies in motion propel themselves through the limbo of the train station, each with a private agenda. Hands and eyes brush and a moment extends itself like taffy, revealing its secret punctuation, lives within lives and meetings that can only happen within this limbo reality." 17

The Live live! project owes thanks to: Robert Morris College President: Michael P. Viollt Vice President of Academic Affairs: Deb Dahlen Vice President of Admissions: Vince Norton Director of Communications: Christa Leagans Public Relations: Sheila McCann Dean of Art and Design: Mary Russell Chair of Art and Design: Andrea Polli Graphic Design Faculty: Nicole Ferentz Design Faculty: Jason Greenberg Luis Gast Shadbakt Mahani Jeff Callen Barrett Langinalis Mary Jones Design Interns: Christine Cox, The School of the Art Institute Shi Ae Shin, Columbia College Brandi Martin-Mancini, The School of the Art Institute Kathleen Meller, the University of Illinois Urbana/ Champagne Francoise McGinnis, Robert Morris College Eric M. Malone, Robert Morris College Cheryl Purnell, Robert Morris College Student Designers: Francoise McGinnis Keith Johns Nilam Patel Grace Parzatka Neil Harvey Eric M. Malone Rosa Bencomo Bernice Key Sidney Ramoran Gabriel Rodriguez Mylisa Walter Mary Stascik Marco Guandalini Jesus Arroyo Maurice King Cherita Tate Ruth Rodriguez Juan Nieves William Womack Richard Bongat Amando Vasquez Song Tao Mei Humberto Prado Graciela Maciel Melanie Miller Velvet Donis Claudia Canas Additional Guest Lecturers and Artists: Kiela Smith, Chicago Public Art Group, sponsored by the Goethe Institute Pablo Helguera, the Museum of Contemporary Art Technical Assistance: Mike Humphries, Robert Morris College Alan Spar Joe Hoy, Designer, Interactive Media, MCA Simon Leanos, Robert Morris College The Museum of Contemporary Art: Director of Education: Wendy Woon Coordinator of Education Outreach: Georgina Valverde Director of Design and Publications: Don Bergh Director of Information Systems: Joel Liveris Design Assistant: Delilah Zak Design Intern: Kithzia Jurda Designer, Interactive Media: Joe Hoy Administrative Assistant: Juliet Cullen-Cheung Education Assistants: Juliet Cullen-Cheung Elena Sniezek Art and Soul Teen Apprentices: Kente Johnson Taylor Tiffany Briggs Maggie Wodziak Bernard Bonner Kiki Molden Dana Michaels Jason Chew Gabriel Ortiz De Pier Britt


1. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, p. 89.

2. Bill Hillier, Space is the Machine, p. 108.

3. Georgina Valverde, Coordinator of Education Outreach, The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA).

4. Maria Grillo, The Grillo Group.

5. Jason Chew, Art and Soul Teen Apprentice, MCA.

6. Bernard Bonner, Art and Soul Teen Apprentice, MCA.

7. Elena Sniezek, Education Assisstant, MCA.

8. Reginald Metcalf, Artist's Statement, 'Halting of Speech'.

9. Katherine Isbister, Reading Personality in Onscreen Interactive Characters, p. 25.

10. Peter Anders, Envisioning Cyberspace, p. 168.

11. Katherine Isbister, Artist's Statement, 'Human Traces in Public Cyberspaces'.

12. Bruno Latour, Aramis, or the Love of Technology, p. 213

13. Amy Youngs, Artist's Statement, 'Someone Somewhere Else'.

14. Kathleen McCarthy, Artist's Statement

15. Ken Rinaldo, Artist's Statement, 'Trainsmorphogenesis'.

16 Hillier, Bill Space is the Machine Cambridge p. 89

17 Jennifer Gwirtz, Artist's Statement, 'Sited in Transit'.


Anders, Peter. Envisioning Cyberspace. McGraw-Hill New York 1998.

Hillier, Bill Space is the Machine. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996.

Isbister, K. (1998). Reading Personality in Onscreen Interactive Characters. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stanford University, Stanford, California.

Latour, Bruno. Aramis, or the Love of Technology Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1996.

McLuhan, Marshall Understanding Media MIT Press, Cambridge 1964.