Self-assembling chair

This has been making the rounds today: Max Dean, Raffaello D'Andrea and Matt Donovan's self-assembling chair. It's a really entertaining project. Why a chair?

First of all Dean and D'Andrea (I believe) did "The Table" five years ago, which is a great early piece of robotic furniture that followed people around in a room. That piece, I think, got at a lot of the ambiguous feelings people feel when encountering an animist relationship between themselves and something that looks familiarly inanimate (the artists carefully chose to conceal all the functionality in a traditional table design) but has behavior. There's a classic quote in the video for "The Table" that illustrates this: "I don't think it likes to be touched...Oh, I think it's just me."

Second, I think, chairs have a uniquely anthopomorphic relationship to people, anyway. They have four legs, like animals, and they look (for obvious reason), like sitting people. To see one fall apart is shocking because we don't expect furniture to do that with nothing near it (thus violating our innate sense of the physics of inanimate objects) and because there's a visceral raction to the image of something that's familiar and shaped like a person having their limbs fly off. Maybe that's too much projection, but I think that the initial shock, and the scene of the thing trying to pull itself back together elicit--and are probably designed to elicit--feelings that we wouldn't normally feel for a self-assembling object that didn't have such strong cultural and psychological connections. That's what makes it art, rather than design.

To me, the chair pushes the "uncanny valley of animism" button (excuse my mixed metaphor) less than the table, since it's more obviously mechanical, but it's still a great piece and an interesting exploration of the emotional relationships people have with their domestic objects. And it looks to be a great piece of engineering, too.

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Here's another disintegrating chair, by Arthur Ganson (last video on the page).




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This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on April 20, 2006 11:05 AM.

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