4 Jun 2008 7:36 am   //   Filed under: Art, Brooklyn, Technology

Hello London, Brooklyn calling

One way to judge a piece of art is to consider how it makes you feel. Let’s check out the Telectroscope. This public art installation/gee-whiz gadget is on display in two cities, Brooklyn and London, through June 15.

The lens of each Telectroscope displays a live video picture of the people gazing into the other one. One is aimed at the Tower Bridge (from the south side of the Thames), one at the Brooklyn Bridge (from the Fulton Ferry Landing). Artist Paul St George has developed a whole story, a fake history, explaining his creation.

I figured the best time to visit the one in Brooklyn would be the morning, since it would be midday in London. Also, there are never crowds at the Ferry Landing in the mornings; it’s a spot people gather for ice cream later in the day.

I stopped by yesterday on my bike ride to work. Nobody was there except a TV crew from Good Day New York doing a live standup and a few minders clad in black T-shirts. I exchanged a few brief hellos with the staff and walked over and took some pictures. The surface is reflective, but down inside, I could see a circular screen showing the people in London, waving, looking very small.

Great. But how did I feel? I can say I had one overwhelmingly powerful reaction:

Get me away from this thing as quickly as possible!

When the staff encouraged me to wave back at the good people of London, I wouldn’t do it. I wanted no part of it. I felt powerfully creeped out. The time stamps on my pictures show I spent less than 45 seconds at the Telectroscope before fleeing the scene.

I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out why I found this silly thing so upsetting. I’m sure part of it comes from the fact that I was the only spectator there, which was roundly embarrassing. The lack of sound was another thing that made it unsettling – seeing someone in real time but being unable to hear them is a novel experience. But there’s more than that. I am not a curiosity. I don’t wish to be gawked at by Londoners. Nor, I realize now, do I wish to gawk at them.

Everything about the Telectroscope seems simple, an idea to be enjoyed especially by families with children. The fact that it upset me so much could be a testament to how damn good it is as a work of art.

Slightly shaken, I continued my ride to work over the Brooklyn Bridge. The Telectroscope gazed up at me, menacingly.