Portals for Mortals: an interactive art takeover.

A temporary reappropriation of the sculpture ‘untitled’ by Miles Davies, Thorpe Meadows, Nene Park, Peterborough, August 2016. Commissioned by Peterborough Presents.

Inspired by a photograph of several kids stepping through different doorways of the sculpture at the same time, I wanted to create a celebratory interactive art experience that encouraged visitors, be they friends, family or strangers, to play together in a combined act of discovery. The context of the commission was to use public art to draw attention to and redefine public relationships with the oft-overlooked Peterborough sculpture collection.

I wanted to incorporate public engagement into the very development of the project and so put out a number of calls for ‘open recording sessions’ which took place in the months leading up to the final installation. During these sessions, a number of four-part short musical passages, or ‘fanfares’, were devised and recorded. Many of the recording participants then went on to visit the final installation where they experienced a genuine sense of co-authorship.

In terms of interaction, walking through a single prepared doorway of the sculpture triggered an individual part of a fanfare, walking through all four of the prepared doorways triggered all four parts and prompted the next fanfare. An individual participant could only trigger all four parts if they moved quickly through each doorway, but typically participants were motivated to enlist the help of someone else to hear the fanfare parts together. A commanding voice (as if the sculpture itself spoke), instructed that another one or more participants were required to complete the fanfare, which was a bit like being bossed around by the art work itself!

As an exercise in pubic interactive art experimentation, the mechanism of interaction was purposefully kept extremely simple and minimal initial instruction was provided. The results were certainly interesting with many groups of people spending quite some time learning how ‘to play the sculpture’ and others enjoying a fleeting walk-through. Almost every visitor and passer-by of differing ages accepted an invitation to step through a doorway which seemed to be viewed as a particularly non-threatening form of interaction. Many groups revisited throughout the day and evidently enjoyed discovering the fanfares and being ‘talked to’ by the sculpture.