Virtual voyeurs get unusual 'art' in Street View

Anyone using Google's Street View map feature to scan one downtown Pittsburgh street is bound to take a closer look.

Two 17th century swordsmen doing battle? An escape from a building using knotted sheets? A laser zapping a fans from rival American football teams, rendering them love-struck and about to embrace? That can't be real. But it is. And it isn't.



Google really did capture those scenes when it sent a car equipped with cameras down the Pittsburgh street Sampsonia Way in May to take photographs for its online maps.



But these images and most of the other scenes caught on Sampsonia were staged by artists Ben Kinsley and Robin Hewlett. The two set out to explore the boundaries of the real and virtual worlds after Pittsburgh became included in Street View.



The feature on Google Maps allows viewers to click on pictures providing panoramic street-level views so online users can get a feel for wherever they might be heading. Is there metered parking? A place to eat? What's the neighbourhood like?



Like many first-time Street View users, Kinsley and Hewlett, then roommates, typed in their address and found their house. Kinsley and Hewlett soon found themselves discussing surveillance and virtual reality, and began considering how they might explore those issues and Street View through art.



"But instead of dwelling on the darker undertones of these issues, we began to think about ways of playing with the system," Kinsley said in an email interview from Iceland, where he is participating in an artist residency. The Street With a View project was his master of fine arts thesis project at Carnegie Mellon University.



"We were interested in interjecting something staged, something fictional, into Street View and playing with - and subtly questioning - the notion of reality in something that we perceive as a factual representation of our world," said Kinsley, 26.



This idea draws some of its inspiration from the way that Google Street View has preserved many random, mundane moments in time as its cameras have swept through cities capturing images.



In one city, a woman can be seen leaning over in the seat of pickup truck with its door open, inadvertently flashing her thong underwear. Elsewhere a man is climbing a building, apparently breaking in. Another photo in Street View finds a man passed out on the ground.



Street View has a video game-like quality that lets users navigate through a street, and Hewlett said she considers the scenes she and Kinsley created as a sort of virtual reward for online explorers.



"We attempted a balance between the subtle and the spectacular," said Hewlett, 28. "Seen individually, any one of these things may not raise your curiosity that much ... but coupled together, you may start to question a little more."



Google - whose own employees posed outside the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, as its Street View vehicle rolled by - joined in the fun in Pittsburgh after Kinsley and Hewlett contacted the company. Google sent its cameras down Sampsonia on a prearranged day.



"There are all sorts of quirky things that appear organically in Street View, such as a giant rocking chair in Indiana or a wedding in France, which is why this art project was so fascinating," Google spokeswoman Elaine Filadelfo said. "It spoke to the fact that you never know what you may discover, natural or man-made, while exploring the world via Street View."



The Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum on Sampsonia, also helped by connecting the artists with volunteers who staged the scenes. Though the Google car photographed all the scenes in one day, Kinsley said it took months to plan.



The love laser that appears to zap the football fans? It was assembled from clear PVC pipes, dry ice and red LED lights. The "beam" was a red ribbon.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own