You recently created a simple game that adds fun to traveling on the tram. Could you please explain what you created?
I made the Man-eater. It’s a game you can play in the tram. Basically the game is made up of two stickers. The first sticker is a little monster, the Man-eater. It is placed on the window of the tram. The second sticker is a manual, placed on the headrest right in front of the potential player.
The manual has four simple rules:
1. Close one eye and look to the right.
2. Using the Man-eater, eat as many heads of pedestrians as possible.
3. Playtime: between two tram stops
4. If you haven’t eaten enough heads in one round, start again at the next stop.
How did you come up with this idea?
I used to study at the Royal Academy of Art in the Netherlands. During my studies I took the same tram there almost every day. After a while, I noticed I never looked outside anymore. Why would you look out the window with curiosity when there is no reason to expect anything new? That’s when I decided to change the daily journey for my fellow passengers and myself.
Your aim wasn’t to simply entertain, but to also make people look at the outside world again. Where did this intention come from?
I evaluated my own patterns and realized that the better you know a place, the less you see. But then again, I don’t think you need to travel to the other side of the world to see new things. That’s why I wanted to make something—add something—so that what already exists would look very different.
How has it been received? Do people love and play the game?
I’ve made quite a few rounds on the tram to see how people react. Most people first frown upon it. Then they smile and start playing. Although it’s a pretty minimal gesture, it’s funny to see somebody’s head bobbing up and down to play the game. There’s only one group that interacts very little: people with phones in their hands. I realized that people don’t look around anymore when they are busy with their phones. This group is getting bigger and bigger. That’s why I’m now working on creating a game for phones, which will hopefully make you look around again.
You still, or rather once again, live in The Hague—the city you grew up in. What is special about The Hague for you? Why did you decide to come back?
Different from what you might expect, the Dutch Parliament isn’t located in the capital [Amsterdam] but in The Hague. My academy is situated about 100 meters away from the Parliament. After classes we would have drinks on the square in front of the Parliament. Members of Parliament, ministers, the prime minister, they all would walk around and sit down there too. I’ve always liked that. I don’t think you’ll see that in many other cities, even countries. Sometimes when I had long breaks, I would walk into the Parliament building and watch at the general assembly. It’s surprising to see the people you see on television every day in real life. You’ll see them chew candy, play around on their phones, and chit chat like high school students do. At the same time, they also make major decisions and debate heavily. If you ever visit The Hague, you should try to go there. Even if you don’t speak Dutch, just seeing everything happen is fascinating, I think.
You have lived in Japan and America. What are aspects of city life you valued there? What are things you wish were the same in The Hague?
Almost all the aspects I was happily surprised by relate to culture. In Japan I saw smokers carrying their own ashtray. That’s nice. Tokyo looks really clean. That was surprising to me as there were little-to-no dustbins. But instead of people throwing trash away, they would carry it with them. In Minneapolis I experienced people as very welcoming to outsiders. That might have to do with the fact that few people go there, but I think that they are more hospitable than we are. None of these things could be transported to The Hague though. They are part of a system that also has its own disadvantages that come with it.
There is one thing I would like to have in the Netherlands: Japanese toilets. Not the advanced toilets with electronic flush sounds and water jets. No, I would like to have the toilet with a built-in hand rinse sink. Upon flushing, water is emitted from the faucet above the tank so you can rinse your hands.
These toilets make double use of the same water. Less people would forget to wash their hands, and its space efficient too. It’s so simple. Why don’t we have it here?
Do you think your work has changed the way you look at places? If so, how?
To me it works conversely. Places change the way I work and the ideas I come up with. For example, when I was in Japan I realized it was pretty difficult to communicate with strangers. I made the Intersection Interviews, a series of the shortest interviews held in the middle of Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest intersection. When the traffic lights turned green I had 47 seconds to interview someone in the middle of the intersection. Then the cars started moving again. I think I wouldn’t have come up with this kind of project in the Netherlands or in America.
Interview: Lia Pack