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Another busy weekday afternoon in New York City. Hurriedly walking past what at first glance appears to be another plywood construction panel I stopped midway and turned around. What I had thought was just another temporary façade, upon closer inspection revealed itself as art in progress. Or, rather an artistic intervention called Color Splash, part of a larger project Kaavya Jayapratap calls Urban Speed Bumps which are intended to encourage people to slow down, stop and enjoy the moment by providing opportunities to actively engage with their environment.

For Color Splash, this was achieved by covering an unused construction wall with paper and putting out little cups of paint and hand sanitizer. Contrary to what one might expect people didn’t appear to need prompting. They saw a chance to exercise their creativity, curiosity and have some fun, and they did. Other installations have included Bubble Burst which involved handing out pedestrian speeding tickets and New Look, a poster campaign placed on phone booths inviting viewers to contribute “ideas to redesign an underutilized urban space for something that is usable.”

My experience with Color Splash could have ended with a few quick paint strokes but I was curious to find out more about Urban Speed Bumps and thought our readers would be too, so, I asked Kaavya a few questions about the project and how people have responded to it.

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and what inspired the urban speed bumps project?

Kaavya: I am an artist/designer originally from Chennai, India. My work consists of photography, painting, motion graphics and mixed media. Living in New York City, experiencing the fast pace for 2 years I felt the need to slow down occasionally and take some time to breathe. My master’s at Parsons gave me the opportunity to explore new technologies and ideas of expression. I was inspired by Urban Interventions in particular because of its ability to instantly test an idea for change. For the past few months I used my time in thesis to explore and intervene onto the sidewalk of New York City experimenting ways to transform the city by motivating pedestrians to observe, be aware and actively participate.

The need to have pedestrians do the above was to slow them down and distract them in turn to realize and live in the moment. By living in the moment they can enjoy it by interacting with the space. I was very inspired by the Festival of Colors “Holi” celebrated in India. Holi is celebrated by splashing color on each other in the community. The festival reduces barriers and allows people to let go of their inhibitions. Color Splash was the most successful among my experiments, in what I wanted to achieve – Creating a momentary distraction by slowing pedestrians down to stop, notice and enjoy the moment. I am also very inspired by how collective activities as communities create change and how urban interventions help achieve that.

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Q. How long did it take you to organize and implement?

Kaavya: By installing a white paper canvas that cover’s an underutilized construction wall on the sidewalk temporarily and taking the cups of colorful paint left on the sidewalk for pedestrians to splash onto the canvas creates Color Splash. After doing the experiment a few times it was easier to know what to expect. Now it takes two hours to setup with a total of three people collaborating. As part of sharing USB for anyone to implement I will be updating a toolkit on www.urbanspeedbumps.com mid May with detailed instructions and downloadable PDF files. It’s a fun group activity and a great way to get people together to create public art.

Q. What has the response been? Is it what you expected?

Kaavya: The response has been wonderful. People see the canvas and there’s a chain reaction or positive energy, which leads to colorful fun. One person slows down to splash paint or at least take a picture and other’s do the same. Many stop out of curiosity wondering what this is and at least take a picture. I leave about 200 cups of paint and on an average in about 2-3 hours 125 cups of paint are used. I expected the action of filling the canvas up to be slower but people really took a liking to it. This showed that New York needs many more of these spaces for the public to interact with and to urge the need to take breaks. The action of splashing color onto canvas to be an act of relieving something from the inside and having it cause no harm and it create art. I was surprised that people were also interested in drawing and leaving messages.

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Q. Any new projects on the horizon?

Kaavya: I am currently going to take color splash to various neighborhoods in the same style as a pop up intervention. I will continue doing street interventions and surprise will stay the key element. Leaving messages played a major part in Color Splash, which to me was unexpected and that has inspired me in taking it to the next level where I’d like to incorporate text. Also I want Color Splash to travel, either with me traveling to install it or people from other places taking charge and installing it creating their own community.

Q. Any artists who have inspired you?

Kaavya: Oh Yeah. As USB has progressed I have been inspired by quite a number of artists. Julia Vallera’s Color wheelz http://www.juliavallera.com/indexhibit/index.php?/projects/color-wheelz/, a mobile participatory art project which inspires people to create art. Also Candy Chang http://candychang.com/category/projects/ who makes cities comfortable for people by inviting them to contribute their wants and dreams in a space for everyone to see. Both artists cause a positive chain reaction, by inviting people to participate by creating a sense of comfort in their instruction set, which motivates people to participate and voice out.

In addition to interactivity, the cultural and psychological aspects of the project(s) add an unexpected dimension to Jayapratap’s work. Her work will be exhibited as part of Parsons Festival 2012 through May 19, 2012. I highly recommend ‘slowing down’ and stopping by.