Status : Complete
Year : 2012
Location: Oakland, CA

Over time, vacant and derelict pieces of the urban environment become no more than scenery for the pedestrians that pass by them every day; they are forgotten, or at least unnoticed.

rockspeak challenges this status quo, prompting passers-by to engage in a momentary encounter with such a site - the fenced-off driveway to the parking lot outside a vacant bank in Oakland, California.

The essential functionality of the piece is to play a series of site-specific sounds in response to, first, the passage of a pedestrian and, subsequently, to the continued occupation of the space. This sequence lasts approximately one minute, and references the urban trajectory of the site.

Through this simple interaction, people passing by the vacant space are made aware of its presence, if only fleetingly. Confronted with it, they may see it anew. They may begin to imagine.

rockspeak | reactions from Nathan John on Vimeo.

In its first installation location, behind a fence in a driveway linking the parking lot of the vacant bank to the street, it was observed that users initially identified the object, but subsequently examined the broader site, frequently looking up and around themselves as they stood in front of the object.

In its second installation location, the object was physically accessible to users, though by looking towards the object one was still given a clear sight-line along the bank building and back into the parking lot.

The most notable difference that was observed when the object was physically accessible was that it was much more the focus of attention – fewer users examined the broader site. Rather, they would visually interrogate the object much more carefully, before moving on, often without looking up and around.

It is also interesting to note that though the object was within reach of many users while installed in Site 1b, it was only physically engaged once, and then only with the tip of a foot.

rockspeak | timelapse from Nathan John on Vimeo.

On the whole, rockspeak represents a promising first venture into the possibilities that arise from the insertion of interactive into everyday or non-spaces within the city. It was evidenced by the reactions of those who interacted with the piece that they were experiencing surprise and curiosity as a result of the intervention – this was precisely the goal of the work, so it may be called a success in that sense.

At the same time, the success of the piece in generating interest and awareness in a derelict space only opens the door to many further questions, and creates a pressing need for further works, in which the user interaction becomes more intense and explicit, and the goals of the work become more specific and refined.

Full instructions for the creation of rockspeak can be found here.