Distance Whispering: Public Art in the Age of Social Distancing

People need some outdoor time for physical and mental health, but need to stay physically distanced while we beat the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been some wonderful and playful ways to keep each others’ spirits up and demonstrate solidarity, like Teddy Bear Hunts.

Here’s a piece I’d like to install in some parks and along walking paths, something that’s both play and awareness. It’s a no-touch distance talking sculpture based on a pair of parabolic reflectors. Parabolas reflect everything from sound to radio waves to light, for example radio antennas and solar cookers. Stand at the focus point and you can hear the concentrated sound waves from someone talking, even whispering, at the focus point of the other one in the pair. These would be about 10 feet or more apart, making whispered conversations possible at a distance.

Ever been in a Whispering Gallery dome like the ones in St. Paul’s or the National Sculpture Gallery? Same idea.

Practical thoughts: The quick test or tactical urbanism version could be taped corrugated plastic, but a more weather resistant and hygienic version could be made of marine plywood or metal with a bonded copper foil inside coating. Copper is the most virus-resistant outdoor material. I’d also want to add little “No Touch” reminders and an X or heart on the ground for where to stand so your head is at the focus point- that need not be too close to the parabola.