Thursday, October 13, 2011

Text, and the City

I know, I know… another fortnight between posts. Sorry.

But at least this time I have an interesting enough excuse. I've been doing research. Not, I hasten to add, the boring ‘reading lots of stuff out of books’ type research, but honest-to-goodness hands-on interactive FIELD research.

For about a year now me and 3 of my colleagues have been working on a project to try and find out how people interact with text when it is presented to them in unusual forms, and also to explore people's reactions to the idea of a city (any city, but in this case Canberra) when I asked to respond to it using writing, and in creative ways. Because we are highly imaginative, and creative people, we called a project ‘Text And The City’ and last weekend, which was a public holiday weekend here in the ACT, 12 months of fairly intensive planning finally came together.

To gather our data we built the word TEXT in 3 m high letters, which we then painted from top to bottom with blackboard paint. Into each letter was built an iPad and wireless keyboard which people could use to respond to a series of small questionnaires, each of which asked them to think about, and write about, Canberra in a fun and creative manner. At the same time, anyone who didn't want to use this most contemporary form of text, could use one of the most old-fashioned – we had plenty of chalk on hand for both children and adults alike to scrawl whatever they wanted onto our enormous letters.

And last weekend, we were lucky enough to get permission to run a program at floriade – the annual flower show held in Canberra, the biggest in Australia, and a highlight of the ACT calendar. As a result, we got heaps of responses from all kinds of people; from children to adults, locals to tourists, overseas visitors, teenagers, the elderly, the whole spectrum. And by the end of the day, our enormous letters looked fantastic – covered in all kinds of diverse and interesting graffiti (which, of course, we photographed obsessively).

Even the rain, which threatened to derail the project all weekend, proved not to be a major hurdle, and even though the combined weight of the letters and all of our equipment was probably something in the order of half a tonne, which we had to set up and pulled down each day, the end result was fantastic. it was lovely watching people interacting with our installation, getting right into the survey, and gradually across the course of the day turning our big TEXT into a living work of art.

So that's what I've been doing (among other things, but that's another story) for the last week or so. Now, naturally, I'm desperately trying to catch up on all the other aspects of my life which have been on hold while we've been doing text and the city. Hopefully I'll have some more news and interesting bits and pieces to write about here in the next week or so.


  1. You can now add "Installation Artist" to your list of many talents. Just paint it over with a new coat of blackboard paint and bring it out at a writers' festival or another community event. Brilliant!

  2. While I'd love to claim some artistic responsiblity, for the instillation side of things, I'm afraid that all the design and construction came from another team member. I mostly wrote up the questions and various other bits and pieces for the iPads. Still turned out pretty well, though... :)



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