Urban Speaker: Mobile Technology Meets Public Art

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Oct 12, 2010

In New York City's East Village neighborhood last Friday, anyone with a mobile phone could have their words heard across Tompkins Square Park. An art exhibit called "Urban Speaker" allowed participants to call a mobile phone hooked up to an amplifier and loudspeaker, and the resulting messages were immediately broadcast. 

Designed by artist Carlos J. Gomez de Llarena, Urban Speaker is a mix of technology and performance art – participants could either call the number printed on a sign, or use a QR code to get more information about the project. Anyone could call the number and had 60 seconds to speak into a voicemail service, and then the message was sent out over the loudspeaker. Watch Gomez de Llarena explain the project below:

Designed to look like a construction sign, the piece stood in the south end of the park. It attracted a large group of kids playing soccer, who used the feedback from their phones to project siren-like noises across the park; other calls came in from people who weren't in the park at all and had read about the project online. Callers relayed a variety of messages, from the serious (a pro-environment caller chanted "green is the new black;" one call came from a man asking for the legalization of gay marriage) to the lighthearted (one woman sang part of a song from "The Sound of Music," and a few callers tested out the openness of the system by cursing).

Unlike text-based mobile art installations like TXTual Healing and SMS slingshot, the Urban Speaker is all audio. See Gomez de Llarena's video of the Urban Speaker in action here.

Gomez de Llarena summed up the work by saying, "I just wanted to see people have fun with it, frankly. I didn't have any particular agenda behind it. It's a prototype that I figured out a few years ago but I never produced it as an installation until now. And I was just curious to see who would embrace it and for what uses."


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