Kinesthetic Sculpture

I like standing in subway trains. One day in March, as I was subway surfing, I allowed myself to observe my body as it reacted to the train’s unpredictable, yet periodic movements. Next time you are on a subway train, I encourage you to try this experiment; really let your body do its thing and watch from the inside. In my mind, the relationship was suddenly reversed and I realized that the subway was putting movement into my body. This led me to ask the question: Can we create machines that put choreographed movements directly into the body? Machines that move you and move with you.

I am perpetually inspired and led down new intellectual and artistic paths by those closest to me. It is most gratifying to me when those paths cross. My girlfriend Emily is a choreographer. My friends Dan and Jeff are kinetic sculptors. Dance + Kinetic Sculpture = Kinesthetic Sculpture. A beautiful marriage of worlds and sensibilities.

In both dance and sculpture, I am tempted to argue that movement is a superior way to experience movement. This is an old debate, one that has transpired on the borders of photography and film. Is a single moment, pregnant with movement, more compelling, powerful, beautiful, aesthetically revealing than the actual movement carried to its conclusion? In fact, the modern history of art shows a bias against real visceral experience, opting for implied experience. Involving the body is just too base, too messy.

The dance is most compelling to the dancer. In the shadow of dancing a dance oneself, watching dance is a second-rate experience. The same goes for sculpture. Static sculptures are frozen moments in time, no doubt pregnant with movement. Kinetic sculptures actually move and we watch them. As the most spatial of all our senses, the haptic senses are a superior means of experiencing sculpture. There are somatotopic mappings at work in our haptic system. This means there is a maintenance of spatial relationships between body parts and their correlated neurological structures.

There are some machines that move us. Themepark motion rides. Roller coasters. Tilt-a-whirls. Can we transfer the sensibilities and accumulated body knowledge of modern dance practices into this domain?

It is very difficult to forfeit all muscle control (without the use of drugs or tasers) and become a lifeless puppet. Your body is always reacting to its environment, which includes your body! It won’t give up all its weight - it wants to share. Sharing weight leaves room for the body to react. The notion of artistic intpretation is transferred to the body. When asked, “How did you react to that kinesthetic sculpture”, you will probably answer in bodily terms. Can we create machines that ‘trick’ our bodies into performing a movement, leaving room for individual visceral interpretation?

The experience of interacting with a machine when we have some, but not total, control is a rich and engaging one. The gym is filled with machines that we share our weight with: bikes, treadmills, bosu balls, balance boards, trampolines, rowing machines, pilates. Then there are surf boards, skateboards, bicycles, pogo sticks, etc. We push. These machines push back. We perform highly repetetive, almost ritualistic, movements on them. The goal is to stay fit, to improve our physical health.

What if we changed this goal to improving our aesthetic / spiritual / mental health? To expanding the bounds of aesthetic experience for the body? These existing machines have barely scratched the surface of aesthetic experience for the body. Can we elaborate on these one-dimensional repetitive movements, drawing from the overlapping aesthetic techniques and histories of dance and sculpture?

Let me know if these ideas remind you of something you already know.

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13 Responses to “Kinesthetic Sculpture”

  1. dan says:

    i really enjoy the gyroscopic wrist trainers as well. a small local movement. was wondering if it would be possible to link the gyrohand trainer with the effect you get from a tibetan singing bowl such that when you wind it up really good, it sings. maybe stainless for one part, some sort of brass for the other? brass for both? tuned in some way? to be determined at some point.

    back to full body things, i’ve got the skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, surfing bug pretty early. these boards create some physical constraint which you must ride the edge of. as you get better, you can push a little harder on that edge. you can’t ever really tell the thing what to do, you just figure out the ways to exist in parallel with it. you collaborate with it? inching closer to some cliff, or staying a good distance away from the cliff.

    weightloss addressed some issues as machine between too people. like a tandem bike or a crew boat?

    and what about exercise machines? they are pretty interesting. are they like fake boobs or candy bars? overoptimized reward objects? or everything in our world is that…

    and static vs dynamic.
    a static stage set, pullup bar, or climbing wall. static things that force new dynamics from us?
    and swimming. flippers are awesome.

    ok, so not the dynamics of the object, but the dynamics the object excites within us. it can do this by being dynamic itself or by being appropriately static.

    and one other thing. this idea of physical things that allow you to enjoy your body more vs physical things that allow you to enjoy your mind more, and maybe distract from you body. like carrying around a computer in a backpack. or wearing an exoskeleton or a big uncomfortable airtight suit so you go into outer space… it’s not possible to take everyone into outer space but maybe we can figure out a way more of us can find an inner space? i will dance to that.

  2. dan says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ball_in_a_cup type of thing too… discrete vs continuous…

  3. Alita says:

    i’ll dance to that too. I definitely have no other theory to say on your project, only that I am so glad that people starts to realize that dance is more than just a dance. you really make my day. I thank you for that ;p

  4. lauren says:

    “…and one other thing. this idea of physical things that allow you to enjoy your body more vs physical things that allow you to enjoy your mind more, and maybe distract from you body…”

    and what about mind things that allow you to enjoy your physical body more?

    instead of just a physical burden that is endured to enable you to ‘enjoy your mind more and maybe be distracted from your body’,
    could the mind stimulating computer you carry in your backpack become a means of physical stimulation too?

    …then types of interactions/experiences/machines: mind->mind, body->body, body->mind… mind->body… mind+body->mind+body? mmm.

  5. eric says:

    I love the gyroscopic wrist trainer / Tibetan singing bowl idea. An awesome evolution of Weightloss. A prescribed human movement that, when gotten up to speed and repeated, results in some resonance of another system - in the case of Weightloss it triggered light, in this case sound.

    Static objects exciting dynamics within us. Yes! A whole class of kinesthetic sculptures are static, designed to make you perform some body movement that interacts with it. Imagine some kind of spring-loaded object that you must fall into in a certain way. Pull-up bars are a great example. It is just a metal bar. But when wedged in an open doorway to a bedroom, it beckons the body to perform a very specific movement. I suppose slides are the same.

    Inner space. Yes! In Western industrialized society, we have moved farther and farther away from body awareness. We do not carry bags of rock on our backs, we carry laptops. We sit in front of computer screens and in offices, which is why we have to go to sanctioned places with machines to move our bodies.

  6. eric says:

    Also, exercise has many of the qualities of ancient ecstatic rituals. These strenuous repetitive dancing/singing/drum banging rituals have the effect of overdriving the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) to the point of activating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). This is considered by some to be one means of achieving deep meditative states.

    Is this the new exercise machine? Allowing for explicitly spiritual/aesthetic exercises?

  7. dan says:

    existing versions include rosary beads and the tassled things that people swing to hit their back and others? there are a few physical items that are used in various religions to help some reach a deeper prayer or trance state.

  8. dan says:

    This looks like it’s going to be awesome and explores a bunch of these ideas. New installations at the tate turbine hall. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xeo1oZqcgw

  9. Erin Turner says:

    my kids just love to jump around on trampolines and they are sort of addicted to it…:

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