Urban construction sites are far too often messy, dusty, and unpleasant to be around, but a public art project in Lower Manhattan called Re: Construction aims to bring innovative art installations to construction sites around the city. Among the initiatives is a display called Walking Men 99 by Maya Barkai which covers a plywood construction fence with 99 life-size pedestrian walk symbols from around the world at 99 Church Street where a Four Seasons Hotel is being built.
Walking around the three sides of the construction site, I kept expecting to find a repeating pattern of pedestrian walk symbols, but each of the 99 is unique and shows the creativity of the culture from where it’s from. Some symbols are very standard while others choose realism or abstraction of the human form. The type of light illumination—LED vs. traditional—helps to shape many of the symbols.
Here’s more about the project from artist Maya Barkai:
The subject of this project started with one of New York City’s most familiar street icons, one that repeatedly appears in the pedestrian traffic light we meet every day. As one of NYC’s most recognizable figures, the “walking man” is also an international celebrity, a graphic sign that transcends all languages and places, and appears in various forms around the world as an integral part of our urban landscape.
Numerous traffic-light-characters represent the modern “Walking Men.” Standardized yet diverse, they commonly show us the correct and safe way of travel. Driven directly from the associative vocabulary of urban circulation, I use these conceptually similar symbols to create photographic compositions and juxtapositions that combine the cultural representation of cities around the world. As a result, my assorted collection of generic icons comes to life as a united group, now charged with a symbolic metaphor. The “Walking Men Worldwide” project is a subjective interpretation that carries this message through photographic reportage, depicting a visual fragment from our daily reality.
The site-specific art display was unveiled last January and will remain in place through the end of September. You can contribute photos of pedestrian figures through the Walking Men Worldwide web site. Maya is working on another installation called Men at Work featuring the iconography of “Working Men” street signs from around the world. The exhibit opens this month in Israel.
While we’re on the topic of pedestrian signals, you might also enjoy this video I posted in March featuring a walking man breaking loose with a little dance. Also, here’s another video for an artfully redesigned pedestrian signal that brings animation to the walking man.
Here are some of my favorite’s from the New York installation:
Love how stylish the Odense one is, but then, they are Danes.
Walk signs in Canada (or, at least Vancouver and Toronto) and in Cairo are my personal favorites. In Cairo, they consist of blinking lights that depict a pedestrian sprinting across the street which tends to be a pretty good strategy.