How Is Your City Feeling?
We can’t help but think that Eric Weiner’s research for his new book, The Geography of Bliss, would have gone a lot easier if he’d paired up with Erik Krikortz, the installation artist behind Stockholm’s Emotional Cities project. The Internet-based artwork asks people to answer a simple question: “How Are You Today?” and rate their feelings on a scale of colorful smiley faces. Factors like how well you slept, whether you had any physical activity, and how inspired you felt are all part of the equation. The results are then averaged and aggregated by region to get a sense of how a city is collectively feeling. Right now, for example, Washington, D.C., is rather green, while the rest of the world is feeling a bit more yellow.
Erik then went further and negotiated with a building company in Stockholm, where he resides, to project the corresponding colors on huge panels on the side of five buildings. (A live Webcam shows how the lights change with Stockholm’s moods.) The result is a very public display of the emotional status of the city, sparking conversations about how we interact with each other and influence our feelings. IT Editor Janelle Nanos spoke with Erik about his own feelings on the project, and where he plans to take it next.
What was the impetus for this project? Did you originally envision it as a work of public art?
When I started working on the project one year ago, I had just launched a similar project, Colour By Numbers, together with the architect Milo Lavén and the interaction designer Loove Broms, also based on a light installation connected to an Internet platform. (In Colour by Numbers, people interacted with the light installation using their mobile phones, though.)
All my projects are staged in public space and/or online. I find that these two arenas are the most interesting places where art can meet an audience in a non-inbreed atmosphere. Also my projects are based on the participation of people and they often do not even exist without people taking part.
How did Emotional Cities evolve out of your other work?
When coming up with the original idea for Emotional Cities I was studying psychology, and in my art I was playing around with concepts on how to publicly discuss basic psychological issues with strong connections to society and politics. “How are you today?” has very political implications if you take the question seriously and discuss it on a collective level.
Hence the project was a product of these thoughts around psychology and society. It was both productive and interesting to use a light installation again as a huge communication tool.
Which cities are currently participating in the project? Where do you plan to take the project next?
Almost a thousand cities already participate in the project. At emotionalcities.com anyone can participate and the project has started to spread internationally. The light installation in Stockholm, at Hötorgshusen (the Hötorget buildings) will be up until March 1 and might come back again next autumn when it gets darker.
In February there will be a light installation in Seoul, South Korea. Next autumn there will probably be a major light installation in Washington, D.C. (in time for the U.S. elections). Other Swedish cities are also in the pipeline. I dream of setting up light installations in cities like New York, Paris, and Tokyo.
Why do you think it’s important for us to gauge our emotional status not only as individuals, but as a group?
I think the reflection of life is essential for our individual lives and the foundation of our culture. If you know why you feel bad (or good), you can do something about it. The same goes for our society.
What do you think cities can do with the information as you collect it over time?
The data collected in the project have a greater value on a symbolic level than on a scientific level. There will probably be some scientific work in connection to the project, but perhaps more important are people’s own thoughts around these issues. I expect to develop Emotional Cities over several years though and I am open to opportunities and ideas coming up along the way.
Tell me a bit more about the light panels now installed in Stockholm. What did it entail to get them installed?
In Stockholm I use an already existing light installation, simply plugging it into the project Emotional Cities and the emotional database. The lamps were installed already in 2001 and are therefore “old school” lamps (not LED)—as a regular commercial facade lighting.
The property companies owning the buildings liked the concept for Emotional Cities and realized that it would create huge marketing values for them. Therefore it wasn’t very difficult to talk them into a collaboration.
How do you think the emotional city concept could be useful to visitors coming to a new place?
- Nat Geo Expeditions
One of the natural uses of the project is that you can talk about it and analyze it on many levels. Perhaps it could be an icebreaker when meeting people in a new city. If the light installation shows that the city is specifically happy or sad perhaps you should try to find out why!
What are some of the reactions you’ve received from the project?
I never thought that an art project could engage people to such an extent. I have received tons of emails and almost everyone I meet in the streets know about the project. Therefore I must say that the amount of reactions is what has struck me the most in this project.
A lot of people tell me that they look at the buildings every day to see how “we” are. I am very happy to hear that the light installation this way gets integrated into peoples’ everyday lives.
Photos: The Emotional Cities light installation on the Hötorget buildings in Stockholm. By Asa Lundén, Moderna Museet.