Lonely Planet Writer

Internet-inspired recommendations are popping at New Zealand sites

A series of clever art installations inspired by the internet have popped up at real life locations across New Plymouth, on the North Island of New Zealand, recommending other popular sites within the country to visitors.

A sign in New Plymouth New Zealand recommending other popular tourist sites to passers by
The internet-inspired signs recommend other popular sites to visitors. Image by Scott Kelly and Ben Polkinghorne

Called Signs of the Times, the collaborative project was conceived a few months ago by partners Scott Kelly and Ben Polkinghorne. The idea came from their admitted reliance on the internet, and the recommendations that target users on social media and on online shopping platforms after purchases are made. “It occurred to us one day how often our online lives are dictated by algorithms. Be it what to watch next on Netflix, what to buy next on Amazon or even what type of news would be fed to us via Facebook”, Scott told Lonely Planet Travel News.

A sign at Mount Taranaki in New Plymouth, New Zealand.
A sign at Mount Taranaki in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Image by Scott Kelly and Ben Polkinghorne

The pair took the idea of an online algorithm and applied it to the real world, creating a series of eye-catching installations that act as recommendations for tourists. The pieces have been set up in different locations across New Plymouth, including Back Beach, Mount Taranaki, Bowl Brooklands Gardens and Westown. The signs read, “People who liked this also liked…” before listing bespoke sites such as Wellington Botanical Gardens, Mount Cook, Uluru, Matapouri Bay, Erawan Falls and Hamilton City Playground.

“We erected each sign and then sat back and watched for a while. People walking past would stop and look, smile and often take a photo. We’re not trying to bring about massive change, we’re just trying to get people to think a little bit more. We actually left the signs up in each location – other than the beach. We love to think they’re still standing, almost like modern sculptures,” Scott said.

A sign on a new plymouth beach in new zealand
The idea for the project came from the online algorithms websites use to push content. Image by Scott Kelly and Ben Polkinghorne

One of the most important aspects of the project proved to be choosing diverse outdoor locations for the signs, before researching what other interesting sites would work in conjunction with them. The signs list the distances to the other places as well as colourful photographs of them. “As far as we can tell, nobody has yet used this type of thing as a sculpture. We think it is a confronting but hopefully humorous take on our online lives!” Scott said.

More of Ben and Scott’s work is available on their official website.