Touchstone: the artwork remembers
- RMIT University
- City of Casey
Touchstone is an integrated art work commissioned by the City of Casey for the Community Hub in Clyde North. The artwork is integrated into the landscape architecture of the building’s forecourt. It consists of two sculpted pieces of Victorian basalt that emerge from the plaza surface. The central sensing stone is embedded with four aluminum strips and sensing electronics that convert latent electrical charge emitted by our bodies into data. The data enters a software program able to translate interaction with the sensing stone into audio-visual outputs. Audio outputs include vibrating ground surfaces and the voices of local community.
The council hoped the work would encourage progressive interconnections between the people and the environment, transforming a previously static space into a place of liveliness and belonging. It acts as both a physical and poetic barometer of social behaviour, acknowledging, measuring and even deepening the community’s relationship with landscape and place. City of Casey state the sculpture has transformed the town square from a piece of basic land-based infrastructure to a part of the story of the suburb, where suddenly it has become a place that is talked about and people have become attached.
Public artworks have a strong role to play in community engagement and placemaking. Rather than applying public art as an afterthought to improve the use of public space, this project demonstrates how landscape architecture and urban design works can integrate generative public art as a means to place community voices and sensory perception at the centre of infrastructure works. The research team was invited to present the work at the LGPro Special Interest Group for Arts and Culture, where considerable interest has been expressed by other metropolitan and regional councils to embrace the digital-landscape approach of the work.
The City of Casey, called for the design, fabrication and installation of an artwork that would play with the notion of poetics in public space and express public interaction in a physically experiential way. The council’s plan for the development of the artwork was to break away from the usual tendering process and employ a collaborative approach in which the council landscape architecture and design team would work with a university design research team to establish an exchange of ideas. The outcome is an integrated artwork that transforms the role of public art in landscape and urban design.
The artwork has a memory, enabling it to collect, store, recall and recompose data in a different way each day. The rock can be patted, touched, hugged, and caressed to produce a response, and is also responsive to environmental conditions, especially rain. The aluminum strips are connected with wires, which pass into a series of water-proofed circuitry boxes that feed the computer system. As such it is an intelligent data system able to read the environment including those who interact with it. Community and environmental interactions are resolved at the end of each day in a performative celebration of place.