Observing public reading and sensorial challenges

For one week only, with the greatest thanks to Tristan Appleby at Waterloo Station, I was able to observe for 17 hours on different days the way in which people read a book installation. This post will reveal the overall observations, however, it won't detail thorough findings (not only I don't want to bore you dear reader, but also I will be using those further: these are results from one observation and I am hoping to complete many more so I am then able to draw a more insightful social understanding of this experiment).

I set this project out with many things in my mind: the first one was 'The public book', the overarching proposed methodology for my masters; secondly the fact that I had a small collection of beautiful terracota tiles in two colours: white and terracota; then, my interest in making the world a better place and finally, two creative motifs: portuguese tiling and communication in general.

My research broadened into how do we communicate, where and why. Within 'communication' I narrowed my interest in the receiver more than the producer of a message: we bring a world of meaning in our own reading experiences, in the same way our mood-swings certainly alter the way we receive the same messages (why does the GPS woman's voice annoys you on some days and on others makes you laugh?). So I started being interested in our senses and how we generally think that we only have 5 senses, but we have approximately (as scientists need yet to agree upon) 21 the least. I also have always been fascinated with synestesia (which can be a neurological condition) and how we just rely on these senses of ours without giving any thought to it, meaning, to what they are experiencing. Do we appreciate via reflection how does an itch feel like on our foot in comparison to on our neck? Are any of these pleasurable as opposed to irritating? Is it a tingle or a pierce? If it's a pierce, what is it that could be piercing us? What would it be like if we couldn't feel itch? Why do we itch? And yes, itching is a sense, as much as feeling hungry, feeling sleepy, wanting to go to the toilet, equilibrium, proprioception (movement in space). So the main idea behind these stories are: what would happen if some of these things were taken away from us, what would we learn?

Throughout my research the other idea that I constantly had in mind was that of the public reader. How could I make this engaging to the reader and somewhat interacting at an intellectual level: I do want to make people think, to make them question the points I am presenting. I would like to think this is not just a mere story, as I would like to give the reader food for thought. Now what I am interested in, is to watch the beautiful variety of human beings receiving this message of mine. This was what instigated my interest in crypting messages, to take the book one step further, to actually make the reader exercise their mind and link the moral of the book through questions or assertions to the public space, in this instance the reality of the reader.

So after a month of conception, many months of maturing, and 3 months of execution, 'Th(d)e code and sense' was ready to finally come out to the public. The choice of place was deeply routed in challenging the very nature of the human senses in a world full of message displays. The installation looks like a notice board in structure, thought-out to be practical and blend with the fact that public places have these to direct/inform people around.( This was proven, as there were instances during my observations when people with maps in their hands browsed the installation thinking there was going to be helpful information to their situation in it.) The choice of place was thought-out to challenge people's senses: were they ready to shift their mind-sets from informative message display to enter the realm of an interim story? The installation, within the station, was placed at a meeting point - right outside of Foyles. I wanted to see if people were available to think about another story in between their own story and the one to come: the one that arrives with the person they are meeting with. This, I believe, would show that people are connected with their surroundings and because of this reason they would possibly have the chance to be even more connected because that is what the book is about.

My observations show that the execution of the installation blended too well, as people did initially think of using it as a constituent part of the station: scanning to get information (stopping interaction as soon as realizing that it wasn't informative), leaning, glancing, staring with a blank eye whilst on th

e phone with someone, meeting, standing in front of, using the lights to support their own reading, were frequent actions. However, a few people actually read the book. They were strollers, loners, they weren't meeting anyone, they just had the time to give. Two other readers, enjoyed the reading of the book whilst they were having lunch. The great majority of people who looked at it for longer than 10sec were men, and they did so even during rush hour, whereas women hardly noticed its presence during rush hour. Men also seemed more inquisitive when approaching it, looking at its totality, whereas women would start from one end and keep at it in whatever order they set themselves, rather than navigating across the tiles to grasp the general tone of it. I don't think that anyone got to the stage

of cracking the codes, eventhough two men looked intensely onto the coding tiles only, they hadn't read the book. Some people were drawn to it by the painting and they were motivated enough to read a couple of stories. I would say that the experiment was a success. I am so looking forward to observe it in different environments, with different mind-sets, with different people! From a more personal observation, I would say that men are generally more open and acceptant of innovation in a public space and that people are not ready to give up their mobile phones for the reality surrounding them, their phones are their reality, the busy environment makes it hard for people to concentrate, some people prefer to multi task in a flustered way and then have a period of stillness/nothingness (as opposed to do one thing at a time and enjoy each task's time).

It was a pleasure and I am so looking forward to the next environment and its surprises.


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