Phantom Railings, Malet Street

People often marvel at the way that scent and smell can powerfully evoke long-submerged memories. The latest installation by interdisciplinary collective Public Interventions, entitled Phantom Railings, harnesses the similar properties of sound, creating a fun and rather magical experience in the process.

Malet Street Gardens
(Photo courtesy of Public Interventions)

Public Interventions are particularly interested in public spaces, how we perceive them and how we engage with them. The gardens in London’s Malet Street were once bordered by iron railings, but like most similar fences in London, they were removed during the 1940’s to supply much needed metal for the war effort. Unlike many such fences, however, this one was never replaced, and remains today only as a line of low metal stumps along the top of a stone wall.

The railing stumps of Malet Street Gardens
(Photo courtesy of Public Interventions)

Phantom Railings recreates this iron fence, but in an aural rather that visual way. A set of sensor-based acoustic devices have been installed where the railings once stood. As passers-by walk past, these devices emit the clinking-clanking sounds of a stick being pulled along a fence, the sounds reacting to the speed of the pedestrian.

The Sonar Devices of Phantom Railings
(Photo courtesy of Public Inverventions)

The result is at first surprising, particularly to those who are not aware of the installation, but also intriguing. Watching the reaction of the public is fascinating too, some stopping and staring in wonder, many taking time to read the explanatory sign on the garden’s locked gates, others quickly getting the hang of it and running up and down with glad abandon, playing the Phantom Railings like a ghostly gamelan. Even when the pavement next to them are empty, the railings emit the odd clang or clong, waiting patiently for their next unsuspecting pedestrian.

There’s something beautiful about the way this work tries to capture a sense of a lost past, taking an approach that is unique and challenging. The idea that inanimate objects can survive as ghosts is an appealing, if slightly chilling one. It’s rare to see an installation capture the imagination of so many, young and old, with Phantom Railing’s sense of fun proving hard to resist. For me, its sheer musicality is enough to make it an experience which raises a smile. Its only there until the 14th October, so get over to Malet Street soon if you want to form your own opinion on this thoughtful, absorbing and ultimately rather extraordinary installation.

Check out some videos of Phantom Railings in action here;


2 Responses to “Phantom Railings, Malet Street”

  1. This is really evocative! can’t wait to experience it.

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