Anyone using Google's Street View map feature to scan one Pittsburgh street is bound to do a double-take.
Two swordsmen doing battle? An escape from a building using knotted sheets? A laser zapping a Steelers fan and a Cleveland Browns fan, rendering them love-struck? That can't be real.
But it is. And it isn't.
Google really did capture those scenes when it sent a car equipped with cameras down Pittsburgh's Sampsonia Way in May to take photographs for its online maps. But these images caught on Sampsonia were staged by artists Ben Kinsley and Robin Hewlett. The two set out to explore the boundaries of the real and virtual worlds after Pittsburgh became included in Street View.
The Google feature provides panoramic street-level photographs online so users can get a feel for wherever they might be heading – a virtual reconnaissance mission of sorts. A place to eat? What's the neighborhood like?
Like many first-time Street View users, Kinsley and Hewlett, then roommates, typed in their address and found their house. Kinsley and Hewlett soon found themselves discussing surveillance and virtual reality, and began considering how they might explore those issues and Street View through art.
“But instead of dwelling on the darker undertones of these issues, we began to think about ways of playing with the system,” Kinsley said in an e-mail interview from Iceland, where he is participating in an artist residency. The “Street With a View” project was his master of fine arts thesis project at Carnegie Mellon University.
“We were interested in interjecting something staged, something fictional, into Street View and playing with – and subtly questioning – the notion of reality in something that we perceive as a factual representation of our world,” said Kinsley, 26.
This idea draws some of its inspiration from the way that Google Street View has preserved many random, mundane moments in time as its cameras have swept through cities capturing images. In one city, a woman can be seen leaning over in the seat of pickup truck with its door open, inadvertently flashing her underwear. Elsewhere a man is climbing a building, apparently breaking in.