TransitTime-Oratorio for Transit
by Stephen Wilson, Professor, Conceptual/Information Arts Department, SFSU
The installation projects digital video and sound which change in real time based on the precise current position of Muni trains and busses. Each train and station has its own sound/video "signature" which develops with real movements in the city. The sounds include processed versions of sounds from the city, a range of spoken perspectives on the way transit affects life, and tonal compositions related to transit. The voices form a kind of oratorio. The video includes maps, city scenes, satellite maps, historical images, and other poetical reflections on transit. Viewers can pick which Muni line to focus on the strategy for mapping position to media. The goal is to give visitors a feel for transit as the life pulse of the city.
Another part of the event allows visitors to ride in a driver's and
passenger seat which had been discarded from an old train. The resurrected
seats vibrate in accordance with the real movements. When the real
train stops so does the vibrating seats in the gallery. The projected
video matches what real riders on the train being tracked are seeing at
that precise moment. (The views from every meter of track in the
system had been previously documented.)
Quicktime movie documentation
(Note this is a 36.5 mb file - not advised for low-bandwidth)
Transit as Poetic System: Public Transit has inspired many artists. Who are these other passengers? Where are they going? What is suggested by the passing sights and sounds? What is the meaning of the flow of neighborhoods? Which is more important - getting there or the process of the ride?
Political/Ecological Questions: Some see public transit as way to save the ecological life of the city. Others see the autonomy of the car at a symbolic core of American life. What should be transit's future?
Public Knowledge of Emerging Technologies: New technological developments such as GPS tracking and dynamic information visualization are often poorly understood by the public. This installation attempts to make emerging technologies come alive for general audiences by exposing them to functioning systems and hinting at the opportunities the new technologies open up beyond the mundane. This system attempts to promote environmental awareness by showing a global view of the city as a functioning system and by promoting public transit as a viable alternative to use of private automobiles.
See documentation images
of people interacting with installation (76k) at Somarts Gallery.
Another version of TransitTime was presented as part of the Second Wednesday series at the Exploratorium, San Francisco's museum of science and art in Frebruary, 2002. That particular program, curated by Spnge, was called Teleopolis and focused on art that reflected on the urban experience.
Thanks to the following who helped realize this project:
Michael Smith and Next Bus for adapting their system for the art event;
Aerlia MacLaird for videography, Andrew Chung for Magic Muni Seat and dirver's
unit construction, Lisa Siewert for coordinating information services at
Somarts, David Dick for interviews of Muni riders, Catherine Witzling and
Sophia Wilson for aesthetic consultation, and Eleanor Kent and Ylem for
mounting the show. For the Exploratorium show thanks to Pam Winfrey,
head of the artist-in-residence program, Chris Saulter of Sponge, and Lesli
Wood and Jessie Gould.
View the stations/lines/and events chosen by the viewers at the gallery and the Exploratorium..
See the listings.