At the Helsinki café Kauko, the coffee is free, but the experience is unpredictable. A Web site with live video lets Internet users raise or lower the seats and tables, dim the lights, or change the music. This can all be done remotely, or, with free wifi, customers can even play tricks on others on the spot.
The installation, which will remain in the Forum shopping mall through mid-February to celebrate Helsinki's designation in 2012 as a World Design Capital, is intended to question what makes good and bad design. Is interactivity essential, desirable, or even smart? The café's best moments — immortalized in video — are those evidencing the best sense of humor and timing. The rising table that takes a young boy's toy out of reach. The table that moves and interrupts a kissing couple. The poor guy who tries to climb onto a stool and, once he gets on it, feels it start to descend.
Time spent in the café becomes a little comedy of daily life, like a film by Charlie Chaplin or Jacques Tati. And the experiment also becomes part of the recent artistic tendency to flatter — and simultaneously to question — the user/visitor's god complex. A controversial example of this impulse was the Chilean-Danish artist Marco Evaristti's project of placing goldfish in blenders for his installation "Helena" at Denmark's Trapholt Art Museum in 2000. Visitors were free to turn on the blenders if they so wished — and seven fish perished. In 2003, a court ruled that this did not constitute animal cruelty.
Thankfully, the Kauko Café doesn't have any human-sized blenders, and so it will result in more benign encounters.
To see footage of the hijinks at Helsinki's Kauko café, click on the videos below: