The Game of Life

The following article first featured in July 2005’s issue 22 of ‘Prospect NW’, the monthly magazine for RIBA NW, published by the Carnyx Group. The features were part of a monthly series of ‘introductions to public art’ written by Ian Banks, the (then) Public Art & Architecture Officer for Arts Council England NW. Ian produced a total of 24 articles for Prospect NW, spanning from May 2003 to December 2005. Content varied according to artform and whatever pertinent public art news was current at that time. All 24 Prospect NW articles are available as a free pdf download off the self-publishing platform Lulu.

This article discussed the artistic rise of our more virtual public realm linked to ‘new media’ gaming connectivity and their cultural engagement potential for emersive experiences in ‘real-world’ environemnts.

Features image is of artist Jen Southern’s sat-nav inspired work From Waters Edge to Sky commissioned by Atoll as part of Cheshire Spaces.

The Game of Life – The art of virtual gaming in the public realm

An obscure exhibition named ‘Wireless Connectivity World’ (WiCon) was in London between 24th – 25th May, and looked at the current cutting-edge of our mobile solutions to demonstrate the huge future potential for wireless networking – in particular through the ciphered badges (to those of us still uninitiated anyway) of such mysterious terms as Bluetooth, WiFi, WiMax and ZigBee. Whilst design and masterplanning in the public realm is not particularly renowned for operating at the extremes of information technology, at least Virtual Reality modelling (a bi product of often military or gaming software) is beginning to rapidly replace its far more pedestrian 3D CAD architectural cousin in terms of truly visioning urban environments more quickly and effectively – and as a result, the ‘jockeys’ skilled to use these tools are getting ever younger and from ever more diverse backgrounds. Some might see this as a threat to the cloistered professional circles, but many outsiders see it as helping create a catalyst for new directions – plugging in architecture both literally and virtually to the evershifting ‘real world’. Of course, art more than architecture is already well established in embracing such new media, and one has only to look at the brilliant emerging programmes of NW organisations like FACT in Liverpool and Folly in Lancaster to see that their work already has major overlapping interests with architecture, the public realm and the communities inhabiting them. These organisations use their creative programmes and networks to continually invade others territory (invited or otherwise), to explore and push at the preconceptions that can too often restrict innovation and change.

One programme that could never be criticised of restricting its future creative options, is the one initiated by Preston City Council, working in conjunction with the Harris Museum & Art Gallery and the University of Central Lancashire, and called Here + Now. Here is a 3-year vehicle to create what the City and partners see as “temporary art for a transitional city”, and which is itself planned to act as a lead-in to the eventual comprehensive redevelopment of the Tythebarn district of the city by masterplanner Terry Farrell – working in conjunction with developers Grosvenor. The Here + Now initiative is tasked with the highly ambitious brief of raising the level of debate surrounding the art in public places, and supporting a city planning programme to increase the ambitions for quality design in architecture and the public realm throughout. Its creative direction will be determined by joint lead artists Alfredo Jaar and Charles Quick – working in a unique transatlantic collaboration. A modest but essential part of the Here + Now programme has been the early establishment of a monthly series of free public lectures on innovative public art practice, called ‘Speaking of Art’. These lectures act as both a public introduction to the diversity of work out there, and as a practical guide to future options the City and its planning professionals might like to implement.

The April lecture, featured Taylor Nuttall, CEO of Folly, and new media artist Maria N Stukoff and explored their radical thoughts on the wireless city as a concept, as well as the virtual means by which the tools and technology could be used to dynamically engage both design professionals and social communities with it interactively. Radical practice seems to abound in these areas and many exemplar gaming precedents were introduced to push the horizon (and blow the mind) yet further, including: Blast Theory’s, live and interactive city exploratory;

Urban Tapestries, social and cultural investigation; IPerG’s, socially adaptable games; GoGame’s, urban adventures; and artist Jen Southern’s interests in portable and GPS technologies. The title for Maria N Stukoff’s own research PhD is titled ‘Public Art as a Physical Gaming Environment’, and is currently playing a significant practical part in the development of the ‘Digital Corridor’ project along Manchester’s Oxford Road. Manchester City Council’s Digital Development Agency (MDDA) have sponsored her PhD, and consequently, there are likely to be some very interesting potential cross-over developing out of this hugely enlightened funding – to explore the linkage between urban design, public access, gaming, interactivity and what is termed “playing the city”. The research is intended to assist MDDA in obtaining a workable strategy for Manchester City’s ‘Future City’ concept, which itself aspires to bring new media technologies (specifically Bluetooth wireless technology) into the entire public domain – to offer long-term infrastructures for artists, councils, urban planners and businesses alike; to develop a creative digital corridor for new audiences and inner city social neighbourhoods; and (perhaps most interestingly of all) to enable us to experience our city hereafter as one huge interactive game. Bring it on.

Categories: Writing

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