Meeting someone you know while walking down the street is such a pleasant experience, isn’t it? Blast Theory presents a pleasant feeling in the city through “Rider Spoke”. I asked Blast Theory about a new way of implementing intimacy in this non-face-to-face era.
Blast Theory is a group formed in 1991 by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr, and Nick Tandavanitj. It mainly showcases performances and interactive works using real-time performances and digital broadcasting. Blast Theater creates audience-participatory works and engages the audience to ask political and social questions. They invite the audience to a game whether it cannot decide the winner or loser.
“Rider Spoke” is an outdoor work that invites bicycle riders to cycle through the streets of the city alone. Anyone with a smartphone and a bicycle can participate. The riders who participate in the work travel around the city and hide their voice messages. Other riders passing through hidden places can discover and hear the messages. They can also leave replies. Some riders leave very private and confidential content in voice messages. Rider Spoke gives a sense of belonging in the city to the riders whom they have never encountered before. The game can continue while maintaining a reasonable distance.
Q. What do you hope participants gain from “Rider Spoke”?
A. We thought Rider Spoke could serve as a good example that provides a new cultural experience in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic that requires social distancing. Riders participate on their own without anyone’s recommendation, meet new messages on their daily bike paths, and feel intimate with the city. We wanted participants to feel a sense of belonging to the city through the work while sharing something about themselves and listening to other people’s stories. But we did not know that participants would leave their personal and private stories as messages. As the shared messages become more private, the effect of increasing the sense of belonging becomes greater.
Q. Is there any reason for developing Rider Spoke?
A. The idea of Rider Spoke began in 2007, when the iPhone was released. We had a belief that the smartphone would be a tool to make our imaginations come true. It was also the year Google acquired YouTube. We talked a lot about the space of YouTube where all the videos are uploaded by users. We thought about ‘If each person has a media platform, what would they post?” and Rider Spoke started from this imagination.
Q. What was the most important aspect of implementing Rider Spoke?
A. We analyzed the riders. We found that people are appeared to be lost in thought when they ride a bicycle. They also ride a bicycle to be lost in thought. They can be disconnected from the world while focusing on the regular movements of pedaling. We thought about how to bring isolated people who ride a bicycle inside of the work, and decided that we needed location-based services and audio recording technology.
As mentioned earlier, we were preparing for this project since 2007, and at that time, location-based service technology and smartphone performance did not meet our standards. At first, it was difficult to implement a way for participants to communicate with each other, so participants left answers to questions entered on the device and other participants listened to them. For now, anyone with a smartphone, a smartphone holder for a bicycle, and a bicycle can participate.
Q. Will the shape of Rider Spoke change according to the change of time?
A. We discussed the format of putting Rider Spoke on the APP STORE. However, we decided not to blur the fact that city riders are our players and audiences. We thought that riders could tell their deep stories only if they participated voluntarily. The shape will change as technology evolves, but the message that the work conveys to participants and audiences will remain as it is.
Q. Could Rider Spoke be considered as an alternative to the method of future communication?
A. The traditional business model of SNS is that it operates only when the number of subscribers is large. Rider Spoke, on the other hand, is a temporary community. Riders can access the community only for an hour via their smartphones. It creates intimacy between riders within a short period of time. Our purpose is to provide an opportunity for empathy and reflection on individual experiences. We believe there are social issues that these small and volatile communities can solve.
Q. What does participatory work mean in an era where everything is possible online?
A. In the future, our lives will become more and more isolated. The stranger sitting next to us may be someone with whom we have a relationship online. People have become accustomed to some degree of psychological and physical distances. It makes people think about future mobility through our work. It is also our role to develop variable models to the times.
About the Artist
Blast Theory is a group of artists formed in London in 1991 by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr, and Nick Tandavanitj, who showed works that explore interactivity and social and political aspects of technology. The initial form of their works was quite an experiment that brings the audience to participate in the performance mostly around club cultures in a radical and powerful manner. Since the late 90s, the way of working began to expand through various collaborations with various technology research institutes including the Internet. Blast Theory, which gained international attention due to its use of interactive media, is experimenting with groundbreaking new forms of performance and interactive art that integrate audiences into the Internet, digital broadcasting, and real-time performance.