Telectroscope (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Recently, on my travels, I stumbled upon a truly magic piece of interactive art. Near London's Tower Bridge lies a portal to another city. Londoners are linked to New Yorkers via what appears to be a huge periscope, which offers a glimpse not of life on the ocean waves, but life in Manhattan, while their NY counterparts see London life through the magic lens.
Dubbed the Telectroscope (a term coined by 19th century scientists who could only imagine systems of distant viewing) the Pullmanesque device evokes the grandeur and wonderment of great inventions of yesteryear. Like the technical exhibits that mystified audiences in the past, it's somehow uncanny.
Artist Paul St George has brought back the showmanship and whimsy of contraptions like the original Mechanical Turk, Wolfgang von Kempelen's chess-playing 'automaton' that bewitched audiences in the late 18th century. The Turk required a sleight of hand to achieve its effect, while the telectroscope uses good, honest, and now, rather simple, technology - it's basically a giant webcam.
Turk engraving, from Karl Gottlieb von Windisch's
1784 book Inanimate Reason, Wikipedia
The Telectroscope exhibit was short-lived (22 May to 15 June) but it was a fantastic example of interactive art. It wouldn't have been complete without the audience, who wholeheartedly participated, waving to, signing and miming to strangers across the pond - and across time, nighttime Manhattan connecting with daytime London.
The Telectroscope was funded by European telecommunications company Tiscali. It could, I imagine, have been a significantly more branded piece of branded entertainment, without losing its appeal. A webcam manufacturer could have created a similar installation to demonstrate the magic of its product, while a VoIP or travel provider could also have benefited.