Oct 14 2009

“Risky” Interactive Art Returns to Tate Modern After 38 Years

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“Bodyspacemotionthings” is a playground-as-art, and it got completely trashed in 1971 when it premiered at the Tate Modern in London. Now it’s back, rebuilt slightly stronger and safer. And I think it’s awesome, and I want to swing on the rope and push that huge ball around.

Art you can fall off of will be familiar to anyone in the San Francisco independent arts scene (yes, I’m trying not to say “Burning Man” here), but it fascinates me to see how a very public institution in notoriously uptight country handles safety for an installation in a gallery which draws 100,000 people in a weekend.

The BBC report above focuses on splinters. Have we really become that lame?

Then again, I wonder if this piece could be shown at all in the US, a country with strong tort law and poor health insurance.

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Sep 10 2008

Too Safe, Too Funny

In the post Is Safer Always Better? I argued that modern Western Civilization, especially American civilization, has become obsessed with safety to the point of absurdity. I think I now have definitive proof. Johnson & Johnson has produced, for the benefit of single mothers and tort lawyers everywhere, a booklet on how to walk safely:

Apparently this was distributed to all J&J employees, perhaps in the hope that no one would sue for slipping on the immaculately maintained non-slip flooring. Let’s peruse, shall we? Continue Reading »

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Jul 11 2008

Is Safer Always Better?

A dozen warning signs on a construction site in KL

On January 2, 2008, an American soldier stationed in Iraq was electrocuted in his shower due to an improperly grounded water pump.

I’ve been shocked by showers in Bolivia, India, Thailand, and Ethiopia. Fortunately not seriously, but it did make bathing more exciting. You learn not to touch the taps. Actually, I once read of an entire apartment building in Mumbai which was improperly grounded. The tenants had taken to coating their faucets with silicone caulk to prevent electrocution.

Why does this happen, how could this happen? Do such places have poor codes or poor enforcement or is it just the mere sloppiness of heathens? Any way you slice it, the developing world is a more dangerous place. This isn’t always by choice: clean water and emergency services are mostly unavailable to the very poor. But those are risks that make sense, risks as old as humans that require infrastructure and advanced civilization to mitigate. What I wonder about are the billions who ride motorbikes without helmets.

And yet. And yet. There are freedoms lost in safety. All of the trains in my Toronto childhood had stickers on the window saying “keep head and arms inside.” A pity, because I loved to feel the wind in my face. Likewise, subway platforms in developed countries around the world tell us to stay back from the edge. Do we really need to be told not to fall off the edge?

Continue Reading »

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