Sunday, May 4, 2008

Google Street View "Intervention"!

On Saturday, I spent some time in the slightly drizzling rain with artists Ben Kinsley, Robin Hewlett, and about a hundred other "actors" as we set the stage for Google technicians to reshoot Sampsonia Way in Pittsburgh's North Side for Google Maps' slightly troubling Street View feature.

Street View allows Map users to navigate a 360 degree vista of the address they've looked up, and "walk" up and down streets, alleyways, and sometimes even private roads. Besides the general eerieness of being able to move through a digital version of your neighborhood or wherever, Street View has managed to capture some rather unsettling pictures of frozen people walking around (and even crashing on their bikes).

Characteristically recognizing the potential to retool Street View as a vehicle for something unexpected (and really fun), Kinsley and Hewlett (they're the ones with the clipboards - also in the photo is friend and legend tENTATIVELY, a cONVIENIENCE in his bird suit) somehow convinced Google to work with them to reshoot several blocks of a Pittsburgh street. The catch is that the re-shoot would capture a whole myriad of absurd scenes dreamt up by the artists. Map users entering Sampsonia Way (which runs behind the Mattress Factory, and is also home to the Tom Museum and exhiled Chinese poet Huang Xiang) will now be confronted with the Langley High School marching band, a running marathon, and a massive skinned chicken (courtesy of Milwaukee artist and friend Nicolas Lampert, who delivered the sculpture from Wisconsin special for this shoot), among other ridiculous vignettes.

My friend Morgan and I played the part of "official" traffic directing road crew types - the "official" part stemming only from the fact that we were both wearing "caution yellow" vests and serious brows. Our job was to usher Google's camera car into Sampsonia Way as though it were part of a parade, and to keep any other vehicles from accidentally turning down the same street and getting caught in the mayhem during the brief shoot. It worked remarkably well - it's actually kind of amazing how much authority a cheap vest with reflective patches can give you.

These photos don't accurately capture how many people attended the event, nor how much fun it was to be there. The whole idea was superb and executed without a hitch, and it was great how many different folks showed up to be a part of it - they even had the local fire department in full garb with their truck, using a ladder to get a plush cat out of a tree for a little girl. This was one of the best ways to spend a Saturday morning I could dream up...
Google hasn't guaranteed yet that the footage they shot this weekend will in fact go online - they still need to review it. If it does go up, I'll know this summer and will post a link.

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