Pressing buttons

Some years ago, Marc Augé, a French anthropologist, wrote a book called Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. A ‘non-place’ is somewhere that seems to lack the characteristics that define a place (design, décor, architecture, and so on); instead, a non-place may seem to exist for purely functional reasons that don’t acknowledge a need for places to provide a sense of experience, aesthetics, or sensibility for those who inhabit or pass through them. Non-places famously include motel rooms, waiting-rooms, airport departure lounges, motorway service stations and many more.

I’ve been wondering if we could also say that there exists a ‘non-experience’ as well as a non-place. I’ve been thinking about this since receiving a message from two artists from Barcelona, Pauer and Octopus, who are currently based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. They have created a nice art project called Press the Button: the artists have made stickers which are affixed on to the boxes at pedestrian crossings, next to the button that you push when you want to stop traffic so that you can cross the road. (This project, although different in technique and medium, follows in the traditions established by artists such as Roadsworth, and on crosswalk art more generally see this post on Web Urbanist.)

Everyone knows what it feels like: the moment when you push the button at a pedestrian crossing, and then stand there, waiting, waiting, waiting for the lights to change so that you can cross the street. It seems to me that this might be a quintessential non-experience; while waiting for the crossing to activate, the pedestrian really is quite suspended, doing nothing. A similar one might be sitting in your car in gridlocked traffic, unable to move forward or back, suspended within the car. Some of Augé’s non-places are also perfect for having a non-experience: waiting rooms, airport departure lounges, motel rooms… In fact, perhaps waiting really is the main characteristic of a non-experience: in an activity-driven, hyper-substantive world, being compelled, even briefly, to do nothing, can feel excruciating to individuals. Just think of those moments waiting for the crossing to activate: don’t those moments seem to take a long, long time to pass?

So I think it is great that Pauer and Octopus’s intervention has turned a non-experience into something which might involve amusement or puzzlement or pleasure… There is a range of stickers, each offering the pedestrian different outcomes: ‘press the button to end all wars’ reads one, while another says ‘press the button to fall in love’. You can see a short video about the project here:

Perhaps one of the great things about street art is its capacity to turn a non-experience into something else: a boring commute (by foot or in a car or on a train) can be transformed into an opportunity to view art, to be surprised, to smile, to feel frustration, laugh. Press the button to feel something; press the button to think.

2 comments so far

  1. Giorgia Simeon on

    Love it

  2. Vetti on

    This is superb – totally transforms passive “wasted time” into all kinds of encounters and choices. Positive addition at it’s best!


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