Dumbo Arts Center

A roving exhibit lets anyone write in.

Text messages inhabit a strange duality: on the one hand, they are now one of the most prevalent forms of communication in the urban setting, and on the other, they are meant for the eyes of the sender and receiver only. Any threat to the privacy of digital word is seen as an invasion of the mind; why else do we tilt our phones away from view when on public transportation? This privacy also allows text messages to be uninhibited—some would say too much so. But what happens when texting becomes a public act?

New York-based artist Paul Notzold explored this with ‘TXTual Healing,’ a travelling interactive urban installation recently stationed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, as part of Wooster Collective’s Sheboygan Project. It works thus: text bubble frames are projected onto walls along with images. Passersby send text messages to a projected number, and these messages are then cycled through the text bubbles. The result is a spectacle in which one tries to guess who in the crowd sent what, and contradictory thoughts are juxtaposed in physical space. Since there is no filter on the content, some messages may get obscene or raunchy, and yet the overall tone of the installation tends to be positive.

Image: Paul Notzold
Image: Paul Notzold

It is also interesting to note how the content of the messages changes depending on its urban context: there are the obvious changes in language, but also in length and verve. It seems, however, that humor is a universal. Perhaps the most exciting outcome is simply the interaction between the digital world and the physical world; what was once communicated between two people becomes communicated to a multitude, and the very act of communication changes the physical environment through the mechanism of light.

Projection in Munich. Image: Paul Notzold
Project in Sheboygan. Image: Wooster Collective
Projection in Milan. Image: Paul Notzold
Projection in New York. Image: Paul Notzold
Projection in San Francisco. Image: Paul Notzold
Projection in Amsterdam. Image: Paul Notzold



This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner blog.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. New Yorkers riding the subway.
    Transportation

    The Great Divide in How Americans Commute to Work

    We are cleaving into two nations—one where daily life revolves around the car, and the other where the car is receding in favor of walking, biking, and transit.

  2. An archived Geocities family homepage showing a green cottage against a background of fall leaves.
    Life

    How Geocities Suburbanized the Internet

    In the 1990s, AOL and Netscape got Americans onto the web, but it was Geocities—with its suburban-style “neighborhoods”—that made them feel at home.

  3. A man carrying a young boy on his shoulders amid the fall foliage of New York's Central Park.
    Life

    Which U.S. Cities Have the Most Families With Kids?

    Spoiler alert: It’s simply not the case that families with kids have disappeared from urban America.

  4. A photo of a DART light rail train in Dallas, Texas.
    Transportation

    What Cities Are Getting Wrong About Public Transportation

    Cities could get more people walking, biking, and riding transit, according to a new report, if they just know where to look for improvement.

  5. A rendering of the Detroit People's Food Co-op
    Equity

    A Black-Led Food Co-op Grows in Detroit

    The Detroit People’s Food Co-op will control food production and dissemination to bring good food and wages to an underserved community.