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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary November 4, 2009



The art of bartending

Brighton’s Fabrica is not so much an art gallery as what they call a ‘space’. It’s in an old church, or rather a church that’s no longer used for religion. There are several of those in Brighton, officially the UK’s “most godless city”.

Anyway, there’s a installation running there at the moment called Chameleon by Tina Gonsalves. It consists of a number of hanging screens back-projected with human faces, all of which seem to be asleep when you first walk in.

But as you look more closely you realise you are also being watched - by miniature cameras. As they pick you up the faces come to life. And there’s more. Somewhere there’s a computer analysing your image and translating it into responses on the faces you face. The pictures react to your expressions. Not quite like people in real life but strangely at one remove.

As I stared quizzically the faces looked quizzically back. They were annoyed, then upset, and one burst into tears. It took me back many years when I once sat in for Santa Claus at Stratford Co-op. That’s how the kids reacted.

I’ve obviously not got the right face for this. Behind me other visitors are making their people laugh.

The point of this, of course, is to defamiliarise the usual human interactions that go on between us all the time, to bring to consciousness the unconscious ways in which we respond to each other.

When you ask a good pub operator how they select their barstaff, the first thing they look for, they say, is the smile. They instinctively know that the way their people look and behave behind the bar has a real effect on customers, that it can change the all-important ‘atmosphere’ of the place.

Chameleon is a piece of art that demonstrates some of the science behind running a great pub. If you’re in Brighton check it out and see what you think. Just don’t put me behind a bar.

  • Chameleon by Tina Gonsalves is at Fabrica, Duke Street, Brighton, until November 29

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