The influence of space on community

By    Jul 23, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about how space influences interaction between people and communities. The physical environment in which an event takes place is just as important as the content of the event itself.

Coming from a theater background, I was never a big fan of the proscenium stage. The proscenium is effective in framing the action of a play for a seated, viewing audience, however it leaves the audience passive in their seats and removes them entirely from the action taking place. The raised stage and proscenium frame in my mind encourage a feeling of removal. Site-specific performance, on the other hand, takes into account the environment in which the action takes place, and often places the audience directly in that action. Space not only influences us mentally, but it has a physical impact as well. In a small area, you can smell the other people in the room. You can hear their breathing. You might even brush up against them. In a large area you can feel the physical space around you. You might feel like reaching your arms out wide or stretching your legs, jumping up and down.

Environment has a big impact on how communities interact. I have lived in Indonesia and the United States, and am able to clearly observe the influence of environment on both places. In Indonesia it is hot and humid. The houses are made of brick and cement, with lots of open gaps between the inside and outside for air to flow. In Indonesia, you leave your doors and windows open. You wander next door to chat with a neighbor, or they stop by to visit you. You hang out on your front porch and watch people passing by. You can smell what your neighbor is cooking, and might even be invited over to eat with them. The warmth of the physical environment in turn has created a very ‘open’ community environment. You know your neighbors because you watch them through your open doors and windows every day. It’s different here in the United States, although it varies depending on the specific location and what time of year it is. Generally, we live in a much more closed society. I’ve lived in plenty of apartment complexes where I didn’t even know what my next door neighbors looked like, although I could certainly hear them going to the bathroom and playing the tuba through the walls. In the U.S. we prefer to keep our personal spaces separate, and I do believe that this is influenced by the need to seal houses closed to keep the heat or air conditioning inside depending on the weather. Parks, museums, malls and other designated public locations are where most community interaction takes place in the U.S.

Thinking about the art bus, there are a lot of different ways that I could approach the physical design of the interior bus space. Because it’s a bus on wheels, it does require a certain amount of safety precaution for the times when it is traveling with the participants/passengers on board. So this means that there should probably be seating of some kind. How the seating should be arranged is something that I’m considering. Seating in a circle creates a completely different social dynamic than seating facing forward toward the front of the bus. Perhaps the ideal situation would be to have modular seating that can change based on the event, similar to the way a black box theater can change based on a performance and the audience’s relationship to it. In the brainstorming process, I have been gathering information about other mobile art spaces. Below I have recorded a selection that I found particularly interesting and inspiring. What excites me so much about a mobile art space is that it can MOVE. It can adapt to many different environments, and become accessible to people who might not make the effort to travel to an event space or theater. Furthermore, mobile art spaces not only offer an alternative venue in which unique events take place, but they also offer the opportunity for groups to travel from one destination to another. What if our daily commute suddenly became the best part of our day??!

Adain Avion: a mobile art space created from the fuselage of a DC-9 airplane, discovered and transformed by Spanish sculptor and designer Eduardo Cajal. Welsh artist Marc Rees celebrated its twentieth anniversary by bringing Avion to Wales in the summer of 2012.


Mobile Homestead: Mobile Homestead is a public art project by Mike Kelley. The mobile section, a facade on wheels, is designed to carry out public service when detached from its permanent “residence”, a full scale replica of Kelley’s childhood home, permanently installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. In a largely disinvested city with many abandoned houses and dilapidated buildings, Mobile Homestead enacts a reversal of the ‘white flight’ that took place in Detroit following the inner city uprisings of the 1960s. The sculpture, which almost exactly replicates the vernacular architecture of working class neighborhoods in the American Midwest, brings the suburbs back into the city, and as it travels – on specific missions – the mobile home performs various kinds of community services, establishing a permanent dialogue with the community that houses it.


Mobile Hospitality: We were driving with the wheelbarrow kitchen, -table and ten folding stools from place to place to sit and eat in public space with spontaneously joining passers-by. At this big table, design meets delight and generates a very good opportunity to get to know each other.


School and Tutors on Wheels: A neighborhood based adult English literacy program that empowers low-income adults by teaching them English literacy and valuable life skills. We break the language barrier and set people on the road to a better life through free one-on-one tutoring in suburban Cook and DuPage counties.


The Ride: THE RIDE uses New York City and its renowned landmarks as the backdrop for a theatrical event that blurs the boundary between tour and performance. The city becomes a stage, and soon you can’t tell where the street ends and the show begins! THE RIDE gives you a front-row seat to the streets of New York City in a multi-million dollar motor coach that comes equipped with state-of-the-art audio/visual technology, including 40 plasma screen TVs and over 3000 LED lights. Enjoy the performance from the comfort of one-of-a-kind stadium seating and huge panoramic windows. While navigating a 4.2-mile midtown path, our performers and native New Yorkers alike become performers for THE RIDE, showing guests an entirely new side of New York City they can’t see anywhere else. Read an interesting review here(note: tickets cost $64-$74! so definitely not accessible to a wider community….)


Vintage Mobile Cinema: The Vintage Mobile Cinema is a unique slice of cinema and automotive history, which combines to give the audience an exciting film viewing experience unavailable anywhere else. The 22 seat movie theatre is in the sound treated, fully upholstered and climate controlled rear of the vehicle, with carefully tiered seating to ensure everyone gets maximum viewing pleasure. All films are shown on the high definition (HD) digital projection unit, complete with Dolby 7:1 surround sound for the full cinema experience. The Ministry of Technology built seven of these custom mobile cinema units in the late 1960s, to tour the country, promoting modern production techniques to British industry.


Hotbox Mobile Gallery: HOTBOX! is Chicago’s one and only mobile gallery. An unconventional space for unconventional art. HOTBOX is a Bread truck turned gallery, based and traveling throughout Chicago, IL.


The Mobile Museum of American Artifacts: Started by my fellow Creative Community Fellow Laurelin Kruse, the Mobile Museum of American Artifacts is a traveling museum of everyday objects and their stories. The project aims to capture the people, places, and everyday life of communities around the country by inviting people to share the history of objects that are meaningful to them.


Do you know of other mobile art/community spaces? Please share them in the comments!