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Awakening the City Through Urban Interventions

Photo Credit: Scott Burnham

You are sitting at a bus stop. It’s a normal Tuesday morning. The sun is beaming. The traffic is loud. And both the elderly man and the teenage girl who are situated on opposite sides of you are staring out into the city with no acknowledgement that you are even there. Bus loads of people pass by you as people monotonously go about their routine weekdays.

And suddenly, down the road comes a giant red plastic ball. Rolling towards you. You have no idea what to do. Should you warn the teen girl who is locked into your her iPhone music? Should you help the elderly man move? Should you stand in font of both of them and hope the red plastic ball will ricochet off of you. Wait…. what the hell is a giant red ball doing in the middle of the road?

Project Red Ball is in fact a thing. It is the idea of Kurt Perschke who works in sculpture, video, collage and public space. The idea is simple: place a giant red ball in a public space and watch how it transforms that space and engages the people around it. The piece came out of a commission he did for the St. Louis Arts in Transit program. After spending some time contemplating a specific area under an underpass, he thought it both peculiar and interesting to see how that space would be affected by a giant red ball being placed under it. “After many false starts I drew this huge red sphere under the bridge, and laughed out loud. I felt like that was it.”, he says on the projects website

Urban interventions are popular these days now that everyone knows who Banksy is and everyone knows someone (possibly themselves) who has participated or experienced a flash-mob in the early 2010s.

Urban interventions are a way to change the routine or experience of the public and the public space. We all create ritual out of our daily routines. Some of us wake up, go to the washroom, make coffee, pack our bags, go to the bus stop, get on the bus, arrive at work, work eight hours, go home, relax, go to sleep and wake up again the next day to it all over again. This routine ritual is part of the working classes form. For artists, urban interventions, are a way to break the form and make the public see the world differently.

Street Art (or Graffiti) artists of today are professionals when it comes to seeing the world differently. Many street artists are simply tagging and making their name know by spray painting it largely on public spaces, defying and blurring the line between what is public and what is private. However, there are a number of street artists who see beauty in the abandoned and want to exploit that abandonment so that the public may see it with fresh eyes. Aside from the ever-famous Banksy who is known for altering public spaces with his intelligent street art, an example of this type of artist is Bangkok-based Spanish-born painter, graphic designer and street artist Sath. Using the means of satire to inspire new eyes he transforms walls behind a garbage bin into a person holding cutlery; weeds growing out of cracks in a cement wall into a bouquet of flowers; a staircase into the interstellar space where an astronaut lives. His work can be seen all over the world from Spain to Berlin to Bangkok to Malaysia.

In 2007, artist J.R. along with collaborator Marco, organized the largest illegal photography exhibition ever on the walls that divide Palestine and Israel. It began as an inquiry into why Palestinians and Israelis couldn’t find a way to get along. They concluded with, “…these people look the same; they speak almost the same language, like twin brothers raised in different families. A religious covered woman has her twin sister on the other side. A farmer, a taxi driver, a teacher, has his twin brother in front of him. And he is endlessly fighting with him.” Out of this came the Face2Face project which consisted of portraits of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same type of work, and posting them face to face in large format photographs on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the wall. The work aims to humorously find a way to reflect the realities of the people of these two regions in hopes that it begins a dialogue towards peace and understanding.

You can find more about this project at:

We’ve covered sculptural, street art and photographic examples of urban interventions. But what about sound? Many sound artists have explored how importing sounds from one space into another affects the people and environment. Two projects working in this realm are Neil Cadger’s SoundCans and Listening Choir by Christopher Willes & Adam Kinner.

Cadger’s work incorporates the role of the performer who wears an apparatus attached to their chest that includes audio input and output to a 5 meter sound cable that holds a tin can speaker at the end of it. The performs travel to different spaces, often times swinging these can-speakers in circles above their heads affecting the sounds they play through the doppler effect. This 360 degree orchestra will literally sound different to each person depending on where they stand in position to the performer and the speaker. The SoundCans have toured extensively though public spaces in Canada and Europe.

You can find out more about SoundsCan: The Art of Public Noise at

Listening Choir, by Christopher Willes & Adam Kinner, take participants on a guided tour of the city. Their only request is that they do this in silence and with the use of a homemade recording device that each participant carries. The group collects recordings as they tour and places these recordings in other public spaces. They say, “These recordings are choreographed, listened to, in various ways throughout each walk, evoking the sounds of the immediate past, the sonic dislocation of objects and space onto others and the folding of histories and places on top of one another….. the project seeks to conjugate collective and individual ways of hearing, and propose the act of listening with in the urban setting as performative.”

You can find out more about the Listening Choir at

So, how will you wake up tomorrow and see the space you live, walk and work in differently? Can we all play a role in slightly affecting our urban surroundings so that the mundane turns to something unique, temporary and in the moment? In a day in age when we are blasted with advertisements and media it’s difficult to see through and be taken by the ordinary. But in the ordinary we can find explosions of colour that charge the world around us. Be it a giant red ball, a painting on a brick wall, photos of you neighbours or sounds that are not suppose to be in that space — all of these can turn the ordinary into something magical. And, just for an instant we are awakened to the urban surroundings we live in.

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