generative construction in the sandbox (or snow box! )

For the past few months I’ve been thinking of public art as the dinner table. You can gather around it, talk, share ideas, and get to know one another. My favorite pieces would do it, bringing people together in a city.

Yesterday I came across a metaphor which I like a lot, that of a sandbox. Like the dinner table, it is an object with intention- people go to it for a specific reason.  What is different though is that the sandbox far more easily taps into the idea of generative construction that I find so compelling, where you create a situation that allows participants to be creative in unexpected ways- together or alone. The sandox is like the dinner table that encourages generative construction.

It is ephemeral, things break down, encouraging creation.

When you go to a sandbox, you dont arrive and stand around it, you go inside.    You’re in it.  You’re standing on the materials you’re using. That immersiveness must make it easier to get into the state of mind to imagine and make.

inside a sandbox


When you’re in it, you can meet a friend, you can invite people.  You can share ideas with words or with the sand.

in a sandbox with a friend


You can build alone, you can build together.  You can append, you can create, you can destroy, together.  Here the sandbox has become a means for so many ways to know one another, and so many possibilities.


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I love that. I want to make things that allow that sort of collective creativity.

Right now we’re in the middle of a giant winter storm in the northeast, Nemo.  Looking out the window we have tons and tons of snow.  We’ve got all this great material dumped all around us.  We’re coordinating to meet at parks, or squares, to play and make together.  Whatever we make, it will melt.

Relational Art and Complex Systems

Producing meaning collectively: similarities between complex systems and relational aesthetics

From the wikipedia post on ‘Relational Art‘:

The artwork creates a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity. Bourriaud claims “the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever scale chosen by the artist.”[15]

In Relational art, the audience is envisaged as a community. Rather than the artwork being an encounter between a viewer and an object, relational art produces intersubjective encounters. Through these encounters, meaning is elaborated collectively, rather than in the space of individual consumption.[16]

I find ideas in relational art relate a lot with complex systems thinking.  Some of the connections I describe in the Complexity and Creativity talk for Research Club. Basically, the study of complex systems focuses on the relationships between parts, how such interdependence can affect the dynamics of the whole and how properties of the whole system can give rise to complex interactions.

An artist who works in relational aesthetics considers similar systemic properties in designing a piece of art.  In thinking of the audience as a community (producing meaning collectively), an artist explores how the audience may interact with one another, and how the environment can cultivate particular interactions.  Instead of designing an individual experience, the artist designs that collective experience. Such a design can both empower the audience members by giving them some creative control, and also produce unique and personal experiences for each member.

In Portland I used relational aesthetics to inform a couple projects.  pdx i love you was a collaborative public performance piece, a platform to encourage individual creativity as well as collaboration. hexagon followed a structure of composition to encourage the process of discovery in the composition, exploring how simple rules could produce complex behavior.  The performance sought to decentralize a musical experience, by surrounding the audience.

Currently the relational aesthetics approach informs soup night and whirl.  People’s interpersonal interactions can be used as a medium of art, and as a way for an artist to produce meaning.

Musical Intersection at NEFA

I am part of a public artist collective who will be presenting a project idea, ‘Musical Intersection’, for review at the New England Foundation for the Arts tonight.

The submitted idea is for The Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts’ Dundalk Avenue Streetscape Project.  In short, the idea is to build an interactive musical installation with the surrounding community.

The NEFA session is part of a public art discussion series.  Selected submissions will be openly reviewed to reveal insights about the public art review process.

This fourth discussion series will present a rare window into the public art panel review process. Come learn how and why an application advances to the final round; hear the kinds of questions and conversations panelists have with one another; ask a few of your own; and pick up some tips and tricks to employ in response to the next RFQ that comes your way.

The event will be free, from 5:30 to 7:30, at the New England Foundations for the Arts: 145 Tremont Street, 7th Floor, Boston, MA 02111.