'Codorus Creek Detritus' is an example of interactive sculpture. Interactive sculpture engages the consciousness of a person in a way that is a bit different than works of art that exist in other formats. These works of art are very similar to toys. The dialectics that emerge between "viewer" and "artwork" are similar in context to those that emerge when a child plays with a toy.
A toy is an object identified as such by a person who is interested in playing out symbolic relationships and solving problems of the imagination and to (subsequently) apply them to their life. The act of playing is both enjoyable and productive while the player refines their ability to solve symbolic, strategic, logical and/or intuitive problems as they also become more empathic and more capable of relating to their surroundings. This is the case when a child plays with simple toys rather than complex ones. Complex toys such as electronic devices or video games limit the imagination and the player's higher level cognitive and emotional processes. Electronic devices and media stimulate the id (inner or "reptile" brain [Bly]) and the immediate addictive responses to reward/punishment mechanisms. Playing chess with a human opponent using a physical board will stimulate someone's ability to learn about human relationships, physical surroundings as they relate to the activity at hand, while electronic games isolate the psyche and place the "user" in a loop of reward/punishment neural chemical stimulation where the only goal is to seek more reward hormones, incidentally, turning video game designers into contemporary drug dealers.
Section 1: Intro
This sculpture was recently part of an exhibition at West Liberty University. It was a great honor for me to have been invited to produce a piece for this show. The focus of the exhibition had to do with the human impact on the environment, so I made this piece called “Codorus Creek Detritus.”
Section 2: About the Codorus Creek
The Codorus Creek is located in Pennsylvania. People in the surrounding community have polluted it by dumping couches, bicycles, and stolen items into it. One of the more notorious incidents was the Three Mile Island accident. Radiation leaks resulted in the spread of cancer throughout the area. The Codorus Creek runs off of the Susquehanna River, and there are many Industries along the tributaries and other waterways. The creek also supplies water to reservoirs for drinking water. So the tenuous relationships between the natural ecosystem, local corporate influence, and surrounding community are well-known.
There were many clean up efforts on the Codorus Creek. This piece is intended to kind of get you to think about the environmental impact of human beings on places where crayfish live (crayfish being the thematic centerpiece of the show).
Section 3: Interactive Sculpture
I'm interested in getting people to interact physically with artworks. This is a static sculpture, and then upon interaction, you have a performance. So what you have is an immediate experience of the outcomes of your actions. There are dialogues and transformations between the psyche and the ideas that take shape within the context of the work, as the two become linked through interaction. So the performative act of interacting with a sculpture of this type, and then creating a performance (where the viewer becomes an actor or participant) will hopefully lead the viewer down a cognitive path. “What am I doing” and then “what actions are taking place within the the work” and “how am I affecting the actions taking place within the work?” Then psychically there's a connection between all these actions taking place.
Section 4: Childhood Mindset
Two small kids kept going back to the piece and playing with it all night, whereas the adults kept asking me questions about it. So the appeal to the child mindset, to me was fantastic. The whole idea that adults wanted words and explanations was interesting. It revealed what what happens in adulthood where you put on all the psychological brakes. Children don't have that. They don't have those societal mechanisms that say “you shouldn't be doing this.” So what I am interested in provoking is this idea that you go here and you see something like this, and you start to play with it.
Section 5: Affordance
This tire becomes a little bit shaky. You have the idea that it might wobble off of it supports. When you design something to be interacted with, you try to reveal enough about this object such that it will compel a user to begin to interact with it. So the easiest thing that you can relate this to would be something like a handle on a coffee mug. The intuitive reaction is to pick it up like this. A lot of designers work with this idea in mind without even knowing what it is. By the very placement of this handle and the idea that it's attached to something that's around and turning the negative space that happens down here, people become aware that these elements are designed to be grabbed. If you grab the handle, then it can turn, and that's the concept of “affordance.” So what you have is a whole bunch of things that are arranged to engage the viewer in some kind of physical interaction. Then what happens after this interaction is a kind of performance that takes place. So the viewer is then performing, but then the sculpture is also performing. So then the viewer becomes a performer and a participant in a performance piece.
Many artists are interested in engaging the behavioral space of the audience. Installation art has become a widely used format to immerse the mind into the symbolic world of the work of art. Some artists combine installation with works that are also physically interactive.
The effect of physically interactive works of art is that they place the viewer/participant into the mindset being in a state of play. This is the state of being in the present moment that Zen Buddhists often talk about. In this state, one is capable of a simultaneous awareness of eros and logos (the forest and the trees or the whole and its parts, respectively [Jung]). Eros in this case refers to the connecting nature of the world and intuition. Logos refers to the rational deconstructive nature. In vacillating between these states of awareness during play or interaction, a person builds on what Jean Piaget called their developmental process. Other psychologists refer to the construction of a self-regulatory system.
These processes often emerge without the conscious effort or decision making process of the viewer/participant. That is to say that they happen naturally or intuitively. When seeing some of Alexander Calder's smaller mobile works, a natural reaction is to blow on them to see if they will move. When they do, there is a unique kind of psychological engagement that happens as different compositional variations emerge as the result of the repositioning of moving parts. This engagement is unlike that that which occurs when interacting with one of his stabiles for example.
In the case of 'Codorus Creek Detritus', the viewer is placed in the middle of any narrative that is taking shape within the work. The tire asks to be considered more seriously by the physical nature of the interaction, because the viewer is being deliberate about their will to participate in the performative act. Therefore, a greater sense of immediate understanding begins to emerge. The viewer/participant is causing the movement of the tire, and is therefore an agent in the narrative of the work. Since "Codorus Creek Detritus" talks about the human impact on the environment, then the participant manipulating the work at any given time, is an actor within that narrative. The affordances in the work beckon the viewer to interact with the piece by getting low to the ground where there is a crank that will cause movements when manipulated.
Portfolio page for 'Codorus Creek Detritus'