Talking Poles, Public Artwork

Commission by the City of Surrey, BC, Canada our team built the Talking Poles. This public artwork is a larger-then-life sensing device that plays back residents’ words, music and laughter. In 2009, we began the process of fabricating the Poles and planed design tactics for engaging with local residents. The Poles are steel structures decorated with a vinyl mural displaying the thematic imagery. The electronic components are powered by a solar panel located in the top cone of each pole. Audio recordings of local residents’ voices range in length from 30-90 seconds and play back from an MP3 player housed inside a metal cone above each Pole. Click on Oldhands and Acharya Dwivedi‘s to hear examples of the audio recordings.

By working with people from the area, two themes were chosen – Love and Peace. These words are displayed in ten languages on the Poles surface. Pedestrians approaching a Pole will trigger a sensor, activating audio recordings by local residents sending messages to future generations. To involve participants, we contacted a number of local community groups, schools and spiritual leaders; developed iconography with a university visual art class; worked with high school design students; and organized a World Drumming Day event at a First Nations housing co-op. To engage residents who walked along the Greenway, we designed a Talking Pole prototype and placed it on location. With printed brochures in hand, we stood in front of the prototype inviting people to sit at a table and to talk with us. Documentation of the design process is archived on the City of Surrey’s Public Art Program web site.

> An example of the pole’s interactivity can be viewed in the Talking Poles Revisited video produced by Lorna Boshman.

Publication: Moulder, V., Boshman, L., and Wakkary, R. (2011) The Talking Poles: Public Art Based in Social Design. Extended Abstracts CHI11, Vancouver BC, ACM Press, pp. 201-209