Urban Sensation Transformers

Another workshop at the BMW Guggenheim Lab:

Participants will create wearable objects that alter and enhance their experience of the sites surrounding the Lab.

And that’s what we did!

Urban Sensation Transformers about to embark on a tour of the neighbourhood

I’m a big fan of things that provide an alternative lens through which to experience the city, and this did exactly that in spade-fulls. With the added bonus of working with other senses, not just sight.

Following on from the Spurse workshop where we had explored sensing the environment through a stick whilst blindfolded and wearing earplugs, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the idea of an extended sense of touch. I’d found that with the single stick we were using before, there was a tendency to use it to jab at the ground. Sweeping movements often resulted in the tip getting stuck and everything seemed very ground orientated, neglecting the new possibilities of now being able to reach up far higher than usual.

To try and remedy some of this, I attached a dowel (this time a lot thinner and shorter) to each of the digits of my right hand:

Urban Sensation Transformer

I could now not only reach up a lot higher than usual, but also explore gripping and stroking my surroundings in a way that felt like a more natural extension of my sense of touch. A strange combination of something that at times seemed quite sinister, but also led to much childlike exploration of sound on railings and other bits of street furniture.

[I note I’m using the word “explore” a lot – this is a good thing!]

I particularly enjoyed my new super powers of being able to reach up to touch leaves, being able to feel both sides of a tree trunk at once and touching a few NYC icons such as the metro signs and crossing lights.

I also made a few connections with others – those with modified senses of touch, those who stopped us to ask questions and those who were also carrying sticks…

An apparatus for making the wearer's gaze shift upwards as viewed through an apparatus for making the wearer  see things through a green-tinted tube.

I was also sporting a visor designed to encourage me to look up more. I’ve been kind of self concious about this since over-hearing some New Yorkers saying you could always spot the tourists because they were the ones looking upwards!

The visor has some unforeseen effects on communication (my voice seemed muffled to me, so I ended up speaking LOUD LY AND CLEAR LY in stereotypical Brit abroad fashion, and I could only address people directly in front of me) and on navigation (I could still see in front of me and still had my peripheral vision, but was now missing the stuff in between – crossing roads became a matter of trusting those around me because I couldn’t see what the traffic was doing). It worked nicely in terms of affecting my perception of place, though – even the most grotty of locations seemed to be all blue sky and treetops to me!

The grotty median looked pretty idyllic to me...

Below is a slideshow of my photos from the workshop. I love how much we achieved with our craft materials and a short build time. I’d very much like to repeat this again on my home patch somewhere…