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The flying ear of invisible architectures

I  will  be part of the festival, Invisible Architecture, with the project “The flying ear”.
Running in Newcastle from the 9th September to 11th (three days), Invisible Architecture is “a micro-festival exploring the invisible yet influential substrates of urban existence”, and it is organised by the artist Will Schrimshaw.

This festival hosts a roster of really interesting artists, some of them Culture Lab based, like the same Will SchrimshawLalya Gaye and our special guest Berit Greinke.
The rest of the line up is just incredible and I am really pleased to take part of this festival:
Amenity Space
Justin Bennett
Fabric | ch
Martin Howse
Katie Lloyd Thomas
xsite architecture

The Flying Ear leads a remote and detached soundwalk of the streets of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Walkers’ ears are stretched above their heads, elevated to new heights with the help of balloons. Walkers are able to explore vertical acoustic spaces otherwise inacessible to the ear (at least without a ladder).

The Flying Ear, Alessandro Altavilla

It’s tour based and you need to book it if you are interested to take part (please, it would be awesome and the balloons are really nice!). It will run only on saturday 10th September, from 12 to 14.
An article about this event has been publish on the issue of September 2011 of The Wire.

art-phone video mock-up (1st attempt)


whilst filming for this short interaction example, various problems cropped up. notably…

  • need a suitable stand for telephone.
  • light beam not visible on camera.
  • existing artwork lighting to dark for filming.
  • more information can be communicated in film.
  • pretty boring and simplistic in general

…2nd filming session will attempt to address these problems.

the dark arts


a swift cycle around town, looking for potential spots to locate “art-phones”

art-phone prototype



started by trying to connect two arduinos via bluetooth… using sena shields, failed due to the lack of a ‘jig board’ or ‘dev board’ or ‘the required knowledge’.

xbee is maybe a better option… but for the purposes of the prototype and within the time constraints… wireless another time.


the above photos show the progression in realising this aim.

  • hacking a phone.
  • using its push button to control a LED.
  • trying to use a transistor as a switch to power a DC motor.
  • using a relay as the switch instead.
  • creating a working circuit at low power (12v)
  • swapping the motor for an LED floodlight.
  • plugging the circuit into the mains.
  • being scared of turning on the power.
  • turning on the power.


MIP – public artworks map

I have begun to create a map showing the locations of public artworks within the city centre. This will hopefully help me decide on locations of proposed spotlight and trigger sites. (It may also be a useful online resource in its own right)

Newcastle Public Art Map

MIP – MapPhone development & brainstorm

Above is an image i created for the initial presentation for the media in public module… the idea was a simple one… creating a “batphone” style system that would increase awareness of artworks in the city centre and aid navigation to said artworks. The basic premise is that members of the public would encounter some trigger mechanism at a given point in the city, for instance a phone on a stand or a big red button… when the phone is picked up or button pressed a bright spotlight would illuminate next to an artwork in the city. Ideally this would be visible form the trigger point and from a large surrounding area, thus drawing peoples attention to the lit up part of the city. As i have said this is a simple idea, but I like it, and from my preliminary questioning of some night-time users of the city, it seems the system would be a welcome feature in the city.

I would now like to list areas of development within the project for my own benefit and for feedback and suggestions from blog readers (your thoughts are greatly appreciated!)

Important features of this system.

  • Areas of engagement for artworks are multiplied and spread over the city.
  • Allows the public to be connected to artworks.
  • Acts as a navigational device.

Trigger Issues.

  • Location (busy? quiet? visual line of sight? relationship with illuminated artwork? …what is important?)
  • Information at trigger  – audio information through phone “by picking up this phone you have illuminated [artwork] and increased its visibility” or “Thankyou for your interest in [artwork]” “This phone has been picked up [number] times.” etc.written information by phone (instructions? directions? purpose?.
  • Object – i like the phone… familiar to people, existing affordances, red phone (playful)


  • Wireless. (arduino to arduino communication – Bluetooth/Xbee/Wifi (Bluetooth solution seems simplest and most effective and cheapest WIN)
  • Distance – technical limitations and line of sight limitations, directly affects trigger location (blessing in disguise?)


  • Cost of powerful light? (£10,000 budget do-able surely…?)
  • Alternatives – lasers (research needed) – LED beacons?
  • Spotlight most aesthetically pleasing – sketch picture but too much but flood lights could be effective.

Aims for the immediate future (before the presentation)

  • Make a working example of batphone system (phone/switch/bluetooth/light on…. sounds almost too easy!)
  • Technical sketch diagram of example and scaled up project.
  • Identify locations of artworks and triggers and plot on map with photos (night).
  • User test of trigger.
  • (that sounds like enough fro the time being.)






MIP – solar LED

for the latest media in public assignment, we were asked to consider energy use within public space projects. i have found exploring sustainable energy sources an inspiring and interesting research area (i shall continue to wander down this path)

so for the assignment we were asked to sketch a public space art/design project that had no energy constraints… my initial proposal to the council involving several huge spotlights around the city, and with the additional connectivity to whatever controller is appropriate… this is a pretty power hungry project!

the other option was to create “a solar panel and hacked mp3 player to build a public-space messaging box.” wsn’t really sure what this meant (and i didn’t have an old mp3 player) so i bought a solar powered garden light from poundland, and started thinking about small energy friendly projects. having removed the solar panel and connected LED (see photo above) the light only turns on when it is dark (or when you cover the solar panel with your hand)… so i started to think about spaces in the city that are dark, or are regularly made dark, during the day in a city.

  • bike seats – light turns on when you sit down on the seat (not necessary during the day)
  • beer mats – when drink is placed on top beer mat is dark (what would an appropriate message or effect be?)
  • the road at traffic lights – particularly underneath buses (messages could appear on roadside LCDs – pro cycling messages?)
  • inside toilets – bit grim a location really…
  • benches – when people sit down, solar panel goes dark (again what would be the result of this?)

i am continuing to think of locations, and what the stored energy could be used for… not sure of the voltage, but its not going to be high (1.5v…3v max?) i would like to develop this sustainable energy supply, and hopefully use energy harvesting to power my prototype for the city council project.

(that might be a little bit too ambitious/expensive!)


LED drop

following on from my hidden pavement post i made some LED droppies to slip through the grating and illuminate the underground walkway. i went down to the quayside under the cover of darkness with james davoll‘s spirit in tow and dropped my pre-made LEDs down into the shadowy depths…

…the result was not amazing.

…the general public were drunkenly present…

…they did not notice the “blinding light” from below…

…neither did my camera really…

so, lessons have been learned… use brighter LEDS, possibly fashion some weighting mechanism so they point up, take a better camera…more LEDs?

also… i felt like i was littering (i was)… i didn’t want any police or bomb squad attention… and once the LEDs had been dropped, (with minimal/no success), i released i had pretty much dropped money down the drain (albeit not very much, but still…)

worth a shot though eh….