(Boston) — Guided by their desire to explore urban diversity through art and technology, local artists Liz Canner and John Ewing have created an innovative public art project entitled Symphony of a City. The work will consist of video projections generated by selected people using small, unobtrusive camera headsets or “wearcams” as they go through their daily activities. The resulting video will be presented for free to the public on April 27 and May 4 as part of the Boston Cyberarts Festival. On these two dates, beginning at dusk, the video will be shown in large-scale projections on the outside of Boston City Hall. Additionally, the project’s website (www.symphonyofacity.org) will stream the video on the web from dawn until midnight.
The images and audio will originate from Bostonians of varied backgrounds and ages, nominated by community organizations to represent different neighborhoods throughout the city. On two scheduled days this spring, four participants will each don a wearcam from the moment they wake up until they go to sleep that night, creating a window into everything each person sees, does, says and hears from their perspective. The images the participants create will be juxtaposed side-by-side in the projection and webcast, so that at any given moment four stories, lives and perspectives will be in view.
“This project will challenge preconceived notions about race, socio-economic status and gender and how this affects peoples’ daily experiences,” said artist Liz Canner. “We hope viewers will gain a deeper understanding about people who live near them but with whom they may never have personal contact.”
The race, gender and age of the participants will not be immediately obvious to the viewer; these things will only become apparent gradually as the participant goes about his or her day and interacts with others. Throughout the day, the audience will be able to view the wearcam wearers’ activities via the project’s website (www.symphonyofacity.org). The webcast of the video will provide an interactive experience; the web-viewer will be able to participate in an online dialogue with other viewers while watching, as well as access information about the political and social issues raised by the project. Free access to the website will be made available to the public at five locations throughout the city during the day on April 27 and May 4 (see attached list of locations).
“We’ll explore important urban issues by choosing people with different perspectives on a certain topic,” says John Ewing, co-creator of the project. “For example, the day we explore ‘community building’ you might see images from the lives of a politician, a young immigrant, a prominent neighborhood organizer, or other important community figure.”
From the neighborhood to the classroom
In addition to providing public and web-based viewing of the project, Symphony of a City will extend its reach into over fifteen college and high school classrooms in the Boston area. The artists have been working closely with Karen Werner, Sociology teacher at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to develop a curriculum that will be used in conjunction with the project.
“This project holds enormous potential for stimulating educational discussion about urban social and cultural issues,” said Karen Werner. “Symphony of a City will be a wonderful opportunity for Boston residents to learn how a range of people inhabit and view this city. Whose viewpoints are we accustomed to seeing and hearing? What happens to our ideas of democracy when City Hall becomes a temporary, speaking monument?”
Symphony of a City is sponsored by Visible Republic, a unique funding Collaborative administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts that includes the LEF foundation, the Boston Foundation’s Arts Fund, NEFA, and the Fund for the Arts. Grants are awarded to individual artists for projects designed for a specific public site. Artist Liz Canner is an award-winning media artist and independent filmmaker whose work has been seen on television nationally and internationally and screened at museums, galleries and film festivals. Her partner on the ‘Symphony’ project, artist John Ewing, is a muralist and video artist with ten years of experience creating public art with an emphasis on community participation; he has worked extensively throughout the US and Central and South America.
Technical development of the wearcams will be under the direction of physicist Alex Barnett, who recently completed his PhD in theoretical physics at Harvard University in the field of quantum chaos. Jeffrey Kozera, who specializes in creating unique interactive experiences on the web and CD-Rom, working with web design firm mediumbold, will be responsible for the web elements of the project.
A NEW PUBLIC ART PROGRAM IN BOSTON
Administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), Visible Republic is a funding Collaborative that includes the LEF foundation, the Boston Foundation’s Arts Fund, NEFA, and the Fund for the Arts. 330 Congress Street, 6th Floor Boston, MA 02210-1216