The CITYtalking conversation booth was wheeled around Melbourne’s CBD for five weeks by Astra Howard the Action Researcher/Performer (AR/P), stopping in selected laneways across the city where members of the public were encouraged to enter to engage in a conversation.  As participants spoke, Astra sitting opposite typed the comments into a laptop computer, capturing as much of the individuals story as possible without the aid of visual cues.  These idiosyncratic tales of life in Melbourne were then transmitted to LED screens positioned on the outside of the booth allowing passing pedestrians to read the accumulating narrative of the city circa 2006.


“This work stopped me in my tracks as these two people were getting into a pretty full-on discussion about the state of affairs in Oz. Something we don't see in the papers, tv and other media. There were people queuing up for their turn, it was strong stuff –people were stopping and reading, shaking their heads or nodding as they read and walked on or stopped dead in their tracks as I did almost in disbelief. Not that it was shocking, but just that these things were being said not in the privacy of our homes but in a public space. Powerful stuff.” Member of the general public

How was the space first identified and who was contacted to secure it?

In the initial project feasibility stage the AR/P walked across all of the laneways in central Melbourne noting down their particular aspects, such as: the lighting; overhead coverage from the elements; the level of the ground; and surface material and textures. I then selected a range of the most suitable laneways for the project to be positioned stationary within and at the same time defined an accessible route between these identified sites. Once I had determined both the interaction sites and the most logical and possible route from one to the other, this plan was proposed to the council for further approval.

What was required to secure the space?

Various departments in the City of Melbourne council were consulted so that approval would be made available from all necessary parties. As the initial site research undertaken by the AR/P was very comprehensive, for example taking into consideration vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and the occupational health and safety matters, the approval process was efficient as the core questions and considerations had been identified and addressed accordingly. The City of Melbourne staff were also very supportive throughout the project, liaising with all parties and providing all necessary assistance and feedback where necessary.

What needed to be provided by you as hirer or user of the space?

The hirer in a sense was the commissioning body, the City of Melbourne. From the City of Melbourne, approval for the project was sought, a space to store the CITYtalking booth over the duration of the project (that was accessible to the sites determined on a daily basis) was arranged and access to power to recharge the LED screens each evening was secured.

What were the costs?

In terms of the costs for the CITYtalking project, the storage space was free as it was within the basement carpark of the council chambers. This location also provided security for the CITYtalking vehicle as there was a guard present at all times and swipe card access available only for staff members. There was also no particular charge to the artist for the cost of electricity to recharge the screens each night. The majority of the costs for the project were in the materials and construction of the vehicle as well as the transportation and living expenses for the AR/P undertaking this project over an extensive period of time in Melbourne.

What were the resources available to you?

There was access to a tech person through Megafun, as well as to a council representative and also to an assistant who worked with the AR/P throughout the performance/research aspect of the work. There was also access to storage facilities, power and documentation and media support.

Who helped you to fit it out?

The CITYtalking vehicle was constructed in Sydney and then dismantled for transportation to Melbourne were it was reconstructed on site within the basement of the Council chambers. The AR/P and assistant then wheeled the vehicle around the city over the duration of the work.

What were/are the obstacles?

There was some difficulty at a point in the project with the technology that is the communication between the laptop computer that the AR/P was using in the CITYtalking vehicle and one of the LED screens positioned on the outside. Public spaces are always unpredictable and the project was therefore required to move and shift with the flow and changing dynamics of the city. In this way, different routes were taken each day and the CITYtalking vehicle was positioned for different amounts of time in any one of the determined sites.

What were/are the risks?

Due to the comprehensive feasibility study undertaken by the AR/P initially, the risks were dramatically reduced. There could have been some risk of damage to the CITYtalking vehicle due to unfavourable weather conditions or from the constant movement and rattling of the vehicle as it traveled each day across the city. Members of the public could have become hostile with the project as it entered in and out of common understood and community owned spaces. The amount of people reading the LED screen and stopping to be apart of the project could have altered the normal traffic flow of the city making it more difficult to move efficiently from one space to another. Unfavourable weather could have limited the amount of time the project could occur in any day or week throughout the city. The health of the AR/P and assistant could have been compromised by being physically out in the elements everyday for six hours.