Fellow commuters, when was the last time you were excited about using your Charlie Card? Probably not when you are scrambling for the last seat on the Red Line, or while cramming yourself onto an overcrowded bus. Most likely not when you missed the last train, or when you survived another rush hour at North Station. Commuting can be mundane and tiring, and your Charlie Card can come to symbolize those feelings. But Culture Tap, a public art installation outside the Boston Center for the Arts, offers Charlie Card holders an opportunity to connect with their local community and initiate an awareness of place often lost by daily commuting.
Dan Sternof Beyer and Bevan Weissman, of the art collective New American Public Art, are current artist-in-residents at the Boston Center for the Arts. Their work, Culture Tap, consists of a pair of kiosks located at the intersection of Tremont and Clarendon in Boston’s South End. The kiosks are activated by tapping a Charlie Card on an electronic reader. During the day, Charlie Cards will turn on various audio clips of South End community members recounting personal and historical stories. For instance, one local recalls meeting his future wife at a nearby bus stop, while another shares his memories of sixty years living in the neighborhood. When activated after dark, electronic lighting is illuminated within in the tall, polygon shaped kiosks, as well as on the nearby garden and the walls of the Boston Center for the Arts.
With the tap of a card, one of three sets of stories and colors are initiated. Each Charlie Card is read by its unique radio-frequency identification (RFID) and triggers a new story or light. New American Public Art has presented many public art projects in Boston, and their work always incorporates direct public participation.
Technology-based public art is not as common as you might think, and Sternof Beyer and Weissman continually find different ways to incorporate technology into their art. Last winter, during the annual Winter Light’s festival, their work Color Commons engaged viewers’ with the light blades on the Greenway. Viewers could change the lighting of the blades by simply texting their preferred color to a public phone number. The pair’s use of technology allows for a new kind of public interaction because the viewer, by using their own cell phone or Charlie Card, completes the art. In other words, these works aren’t fully realized until the viewer participates.
At its core, Culture Tap is about community and local interactions. Sternof Beyer and Weissman interviewed many South End residents for the work, which necessitated gaining their subjects’ trust. By using the Charlie Card as an access point, Sternof Beyer and Weissman focus on unifying the community through shared habits and daily movements. Culture Tap is the perfect ice breaker for viewers, whether it begins a conversation about the city’s transportation, or about how the audio clips relate to the viewers’ own experiences. For this reason, the audio clips with local stories engage viewers more successfully than the light series. Colored lights are anonymous and present no real connection to place. But the stories presented in Culture Tap connect viewers to community in an engaging and innovative way.
Culture Tap closes today, October 18.
Icon image: Ariel DIOrio Photography