For the work in progress show, we hacked a bench outside our school to disrupt the otherwise ordinary activity of sitting. We are interested in making the passive activity of sitting into an active one, where people are constantly changing and moving as they sit. The element of play is important, as we want to use play as a tool to get people to be more open and receptive to participating and moving their bodies in unusual manners.
We hacked the concrete block of a bench by overlaying a landscape of reconfigurable wooden ‘contours’ on the bench and each contour, when changed, triggers musical notes. Every contour is made of three wooden elements, with the middle one balanced on a wheel so that each contour acts like a seesaw. As such, the individuality of sitting is expanded to become a social interaction between multiple bodies as people negotiate their sitting between the two sides of the seesaw.
The hack is built out of pine and beech and we experimented with the joint construction of the wooden contours before deciding on the wooden double action hinge. To create a playful aesthetics, we looked into the design of children wooden toys, and painted the joints with playful colours. This proved effective, as people were less apprehensive to approaching and interacting with the installation.
For the sound interaction design, musical notes were mapped to the angles of every contour, and when triggered, the notes create a polyphonic sound. As a first step, we chose to adopt this simple sound interaction model to see how it affects people’s sitting behaviour. Next, we will programme more complex models and see how the interaction with the bench would change by changing the sound interaction.
Visitors who came by during the work in progress show interacted differently with the bench. Those who came with friends interacted with it like a seesaw, balancing on the two sides. Some sat on the bench, while other used their hands to ‘play’ the bench like a piano. A few were more boisterous with their movements, with one even laying across the bench, rolling about. It was interesting to observe the different levels of participations in a public play installation.