VR/URBAN reclaim the screens

  • Spread.Gun

    2008 we have been invited to participate at the Media Facades Festival in Berlin, because we´ve been allready researching a long time on tangible interfaces, interactive systems and reactive billboards. So this Festival, organized by Public Art Lab and International Urban Screen Association seemed to be the right occasion to - reclaim the screens.

    The aim of our concept we developed is to reclaim urban screens. Media screens in public spaces are administrative and sovereign regulated instruments of advertising and as such not accessible for the public. Additionally the barriers to create own content which has the potential to mess with these oversized and blinking new form of posters are very high. Even to intervene or to sabotage/modify existing multi media posters is almost impossible because of their height of which they are mounted for high visablity and our inadequate tools.
    So we decided to create a tool that gives the people a voice on these screens. Some instrument to comment the advertising mass around us, to say 'yes' and 'no' to certain campaigns or just setting up your own digital augmented forum in public space.
    Beside that we researched on ways of communication in urban spaces, had a look on "chat to go" systems and the difference between eye to eye dialogues and technological mediated systems such as threads, chats, VoIP and so on.

    The tangibility of our "reclaiming tool" was the most important part of the design work. We decided to create a cannon; something big and powerful to hold in hands while making your mark on the screen. This mark - a short message, typed onto a touchscreen that is integrated in a Wall AG city terminal - is loaded to the gun and then by pulling the massive steel pinball machine trigger shoot to the wall. It appears as a colourfull big sized splash with the message written within. By this everyone can start a conversation, spreading news or commenting already existing statements. We used the poetic image of throwing colour bags on administrative buildings on purpose to show the expressive values that no access barrier can take from us.

    The Prototype

    Early prototypes of the spreadgun were made of cardboard and already incorporated the idea of a jigsaw system, which does not need any skrews for assembly. The following mockup's were milled from laminated wood and uses no glue, no screws and no tape for easy set up and quick dismantling.


    Although the jigsaw design of the spread.gun was thoughtful made some minor bugs were found after the milling process. They were documented via post-it, by attaching them directly to the gun. In this way the team always knew that there is still a lot of work to do.

    The Testscreening

    During the design process occasional testscreenings were done. The video below shows a first test in Berlin Kreuzberg using the early prototypes to test the interactive functions, performative values and emotional expression.

    To be precise, there have been testscreenings before the on in Kreuzberg. One was done 'live' at "Die Lange Nacht der Museen" (The long Night of Museums), but it did not incorporate the spread.gun device itself. At this point only the Wall City-Terminal and the mediafacade at CHB was integrated in the VR/Urban intervention application. It was rather a technology and usability test if things will work out. We figured out at that time that the VR/Urban application itself, which was written using Ben Fry's Processing library and Massimo Banzi's Arduino, is very flexible. The whole installation was network based. Whether it is an local area network, wifi or a wide area network, the applications data exchange was found fast enough to provide a realtime usage. Nice!

    Proof of Concept

    Before we startet with building this project, we came up with a lot of great ideas one can do with a media-facade, which was offered to us to go wild with. Initially our understanding of a media-facade was a big LED based screen mounted on a building. This imagined mega-screen understanding was also the reason why our first concept was not what we did in the end.

    One of our first concept was rather a screen based artwork. In that case we wanted to use the oversized screen to pull the digital web and common digital communication strategies (like e-mail, bulletin boards, chat rooms and pinboards) out of the wires onto the screen to make them more tangibe and real. We wanted to make atoms, electrons, bits and bytes come out of the ground, sputterling like a water fountain forming structures of threads which show how communication in the digital ages looks like and is connected to each other. Unfortunately the facade we applied for in the call for participation did not have such a gigantic screen our concept required.

    *The pictures above show the concept for the SAP Media Facade.

    But as we are creative bastards, we adepted to the situation and came up with 1000 other ideas which converged somehow to the spread.gun device we finally made.

    Switching the installations location from the SAP building to the CHB building, changed also the overall statement of the installation itself. One has to know that Berlin's citizens are very political and rather left wing oriented, meaning SAP's inner city building is rather frowned upon than loved. A lot of damage is done to the windows of the building in the past. Also the permanent installed media system is damaged on a regular basis. SAP stands for capitalism and globalization rather social values, which might be the cause of it. The CHB on the other hand has exactly the opposite political standing compared to SAP. It stands for intercultural communication and intellect.

    That allowed for ourselves to act more progressively. Aiming whith a cannon at SAP building would not have been adequate. It seemed much to easy. If SAP whould have had the screen we were aiming at, we believe we would have done the project for SAP. We do not polarize, we just craft the opportinities for interaction and communication. We are free-thinkers who believe in free speech, no bullies who want to start riots.

    However, the idea of shooting digital colour bags carrying messages at CHB is a process of claiming space. In case of CHB our belief is, that exactly that is CHB's aim. What else can be nicer than to give one the opportunity to get a part of the building, claim ones own little space on the facade, become part of the intercultural location CHB is. Like any grafiti artist claims space in the city he is living in, every inhabitant should do this. Claim your space in your city you are living in. If you think capitalism is taking your social space away - reclaim it. Reclaim your stolen space.

    The Result

    Well, currently we are figuring out what the result really was, but apart from what we learned during creating this installation we also learned a lot about people using the installation. There were a lot of nice little stories around that artwork, that can hardly been told via this medium and as we are no novelists, we are also not able to write them all down. There were a lot of emotions in the "game": Little 5 year olds, asking their parents whats written in the coloured splats, desperatly ticking mom to write also a message at the touch screen panel so that they can shot what mom typed in.
    Another person who looked like he is an accountant was driving nuts when shooting again and again his messages to the screen not willing to stop.
    Some street-kids typing in some ASCII-ART stuff, only people understood who knew the code, etc.

    The experience of the spread.gun was great, and we will not stop doing great shit like that.

    The spread.gun in action (left picture). The gun was set up for two weeks to shoot messages onto the facade of the Collegium Hungaricum (CHB) in Berlin. Even children had their fun (although the spread.gun was hard to reach for them - too high, doh). But after all these theoretical social approaches it should be a joyful and fun experience.

    The team (right picture) from left to right: Christian Zöllner, Patrick Tobias Fischer, Thilo Hoffmann and Rasim Korkot.