The project asks people strolling by to stop for a moment and enter the booth, with its window that looks out onto the Hare Krishna Tree, and write a line of poetry or two. The interactive art installation may seem old fashioned, but there’s actually a lot of technological innovation behind it. Not only will the typewriter feed into a box in order to preserve the hard copy, but the Sterling will be fit with a USB kit. A sensor sits right underneath and records every keystroke into an iPad, which will be charged by a solar panel on the roof. An attendant standing by at all times when the park is open will explain the project and upload the results with a wireless hotspot. The booth will be locked at night.
The concept was developed by Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski of the Poetry Society of New York, the same people behind the Poetry Brothel. They first launched the Typewriter Project in last summer outside Building 555 on Governor’s Island. Berger, who has lived in the East Village for 10 years, said she used to notice abandoned typewriters left on the curb and began picking them up. Between the two of them, she and Adamski have rescued 14 old machines from the landfill over the last decade.
Initially the idea was to refurbish the old typewriters and use them in the project, but they quickly realized it cost more to repair them than it did to purchase a newer model. Even the new ones, they found, had a hard time standing up to the beating unwittingly given out by children and even clueless adults. Many people, it turns out, have never used a typewriter before. “We need the volunteer to make sure people type properly,” Berger said. “It’s a much more physically engaging activity than a computer. You have to type way harder, but not too hard.”
They said it was a challenge ironing out the kinks, but with a little help from the experts at Gramercy Office Equipment Co., who were able to recommend a sturdier model, the project was a success. People write their thoughts, feelings, observations and dreams in unexpected ways. One of Bergers’s favorite poems was actually found on a rumpled piece of paper ripped from the typewriter and cast aside on the floor. It says: “Dearest Matthew, I am currently looking out onto the skyline from Governor’s Island. I have had a wonderful day with you. What if I hate your friends?”
The results of the Governor’s Island installation are not uploaded in real time like the new East Village version will be, but the poetry can be found at www.subconsiousofthecity, which is updated every few months. Eventually, with more funding, the Poetry Society hopes to install the booths all over New York City and then all around the world. “We don’t want to just keep putting them in New York City forever and ever,” said Adamski. “The idea is to have this kit and take them to cities all over the world so people could see what it’s like in New Orleans, this is what it’s like in Paris, this is Berlin, to see how how the literary subconscious of that city would manifests itself.”