Turn Me ON Shines an Artistic Light on the Power of Community

Turn Me ON is an interactive urban installation by Happy City Lab in collaboration with Federal studio and Studio Corium. (Sébastien Puiatti via Happy City Lab)

City living has a lot to offer: proximity to cultural destinations, restaurants, and locally-owned retail shops; increased walkability and access to mass transit; and opportunities for sharing with people from different backgrounds. But it also has its drawbacks, among them a tendency to produce a sense of alienation, a lack of connection with one’s geographic neighbors.

Oversized light switches positioned at street corners draw passersby. (Sébastien Puiatti via Happy City Lab)

Genevan artist Dan Acher’s latest urban installation, Turn Me ON, offers a whimsical illustration of public art’s capacity to foster community amid the cold concrete and steel of the city. Turn Me ON, designed by Acher, of Happy City Lab, in collaboration with Federal Studio and with interactive media design by Studio Corium, comprises a series of oversized light switches mounted at street corners. Like that comedic trope, the red button marked “Do Not Press,” the switches—themselves labeled “Turn Me ON”—tempt passersby into interaction. After hitting the switch, pedestrians are treated to moving images of human eyes or mouths projected onto nearby buildings. The videos, which disappear after one minute, are designed to provoke surprise, amusement, and spontaneous conversation.

Turning the switch "on" briefly triggers the appearance of an oversized eye or mouth on a nearby building. (Sébastien Puiatti via Happy City Lab)

Turn Me ON literally humanizes the city, giving life to otherwise impassive urban objects. Though infused with a playful spirit, the installation has a serious objective at its core. By presenting the same old scenery in a new way—and by giving city-dwellers agency in this shift—Turn Me ON reminds alienated urbanites that they have the power to transform darkness into light.

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