Thursday, December 10, 2009

Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsely - Street With a View

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Street With a View, created by Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley, is an innovative and creative use of the Google Street View service to create and capture a moment in time for the entire internet to see. The artists contacted the Google Street View service and asked for them to come out and document an alley in Pittsburgh. They then staged a series of events along the short alleyway, ranging from the mundane (people moving into a new house) to the absurd (a mad scientist testing a laser in his garage). All these actions were documented by Google Street View and can be viewed on Google Maps (see the embedded map above).

In this piece, the artists deal more with cultural identity then with the individual. What they’ve done is taken a neighborhood and given it a brand new narrative and life. With Google Maps quickly becoming a main stay in day-to-day life, the actions recorded on each of the streets act as a snapshot to life on that street. In Street With a View, the artists take this notion and apply a twist to it, inserting fiction into the neighborhood and enshrining this scene for as long as Google Maps continues to operate. In addition, the use of Google Maps gives the users an unparalleled ability to explore this moment in time, something that can't even be done for the people who were there.

Year(s) Created: 2008

Media: Website, Google Maps Street View

Artist Statement

In May 2008, artists Robin Hewlett and Ben Kinsley teamed up with Google Inc. to create the first ever integration of art into Google’s Street View mapping platform. Partnering with the Mattress Factory, a museum of contemporary art on Pittsburgh’s Northside, Hewlett and Kinsley invited local residents to help stage a series of scenes along Sampsonia Way. Over 100 neighbors, and other participants from around the city, gathered to create a parade, a marathon, a seventeenth
century sword fight, a heroic rescue and much more. Street View technicians documented
the street with the scenes in action and the project went live last week. Street with a View can be seen on-line by typing “Sampsonia Way + Pittsburgh” into Google Maps and selecting the Street View function. Information about the project can also be found on the artists’ website:

Integrating fiction, community story-telling and performance art into the Street View platform of instant-access, 360 degree imaging, Street With A View explodes the barrier between reality and performance, life and art. The artists joined together with the local community to take back the power of representation—defining themselves and their environments and using technology as a tool of self-expression. For one day a small, one-way alley became an elaborate montage of spontaneous performance and provocative visual art. Local observers inspired by the scenes were invited to join in with their own improvised performances, and in the process, reach out to the world.
Captured by Google, Inc. technicians, and integrated into the Google Street View map, the event can now be seen by viewers everywhere. The once-tranquil Sampsonia Way has been transformed by a monumental sculpture of a de-feathered chicken looming behind a fence while a medieval battle of swords and armor plays out down the street. Nearby, a faux- marathon of local runners sprints past a mad scientist’s laboratory. A marching band, a pair of firefighters and a new home-owner enact stories individually plausible. Lined up one after the other, however, these scenes begin to test the limits of our suspension of disbelieve. Life blurs into theater and back again.
Kinsley and Hewlett occupy an exciting realm of artistic experimentation that reaches beyond traditional art venues to meet new audiences in the real world.

“For neighbors who experienced it first hand, it was a block party, a community gathering, and a performance. They were both audience and actors,” says Hewlett. “For those viewing the project in Google Street View, there is a different level of interaction. You can navigate the street and discover the more subtle scenes as well as the spectacular ones. Turning onto another street, you might wonder if the person walking their dog was also staged? We’re interested in the necessity of sorting it out for yourself and, ultimately, the inability to do so... you’ll just never know for sure what is real and what isn’t!”

Both Hewlett and Kinsley are alumni of the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University, where an interdisciplinary approach to art practice is strongly encouraged. The artists received support from the Carnegie Mellon School of Art, as well as the Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts Dean's Office.

Exhibition History

"Street With a View" has been available online since November 2008 at the following site.

It can also be viewed online through the Google Maps Street View application at the following location.

Image Sources

Marching Band. 2008. Photograph. Street With a View. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.

Mad Scientist Laboratory (Love Laser). 2008. Photograph. Street With a View. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.

Fireman Way. 2008. Photograph. Street With a View. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.

Mattress Factory Fire Escape. 2008. Photograph. Street With a View. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.


Hewlett, Robin, and Ben Kinsley. "Street With a View." Street With a View. Nov. 2008. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.

Moss, Ceci. "Street With a View." 7 Nov. 2008. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.

Vaidhyanathan, Siva. "Street With a View: A Fabulous and Creative Use of Google Street View." The Googlization of Everything. 22 May 2009. Web. 10 Dec. 2009.

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