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.

Neodya II Thoughts post Figment


This past weekend was Figment Boston on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm.  I presented a piece of interactive public art there called Neodya II with New American Public Art.

I am amazed at the reception of the piece.  I knew it would be engaging, especially after showing it at the Artisan’s Asylum during Somerville Open Studios, but I did not consider quite the scale of participation we received during the festival.  The range was wonderful – from infants, just over a year old, to elders well in their 80s. We saw how the piece encouraged play from a wide range of people and groups- from people coming alone, to couples, to families.


The piece itself is a giant blue planet with a strong magnetic field, allowing for the construction of cities without any adhesives.  We provided buckets of smooth hematite, of ball bearings, metal dowels, and other metal pieces to build with.  Over the course of the weekend civilizations grew and fell, cities rose and collapsed.  A friend of ours even surprised us with a Godzilla action figure with magnets bonded to its feet.  This was definitely a hit.

It was interesting to see the different geometries encouraged by the pieces, from the clusters of towers from the metal dowels, to the long sweeping fields of hematite.

Throughout the weekend I was asked several times the inspiration of the piece.  New American Public Art values art that is public (free and accessible) and interactive.  We’ve explored several modes of interactivity in the process of our projects, and one of the ideas that led to this piece was that of generative construction.

Magnets themselves are very familiar to many- people have used them before, and can easily explore with them.  We used that as the medium for generative construction.  The planet itself was a metaphorical dinner table- an object people could gather around and share upon.  We wanted multiple points of entry all around, so this geometry made sense.  You could observe easily what others were doing and construct things together.  The piece also allowed for varying degrees of participation- small additions could be made to pre-existing structures, or completely new structures could be built.  From observing people playing with the piece, it was the immediate accessibility, as well as the range of possible interactions that allowed for so many types of engaging experiences.

Listen to an interview and see Neodya II on vojo here, the last two images in this post were pulled from there.