In 2016, I spent one month in residency at CERN, during which I was researching the unique properties and imaginary qualities of superconductors – an essential material for particle accelerators, being the Large Hadron Collider, the largest superconducting system in the world. Particularly, I was engaged in quantum magnetic levitation – a phenomenon that occurs when a superconductor at its critical temperature levitates over a magnetic source, known as the Meissner effect.
I was keen to imagine what impact levitation would have on art, design and architecture if this event were possible at room temperature. ‘What if bricks and clothes, for example, were made of this levitating stuff? Driven by such questions, I started experimenting with knitting superconductor fibres immersed underwater – non-coated superconductors can ignite under oxygen exposure – and looking into cryogenics to make them levitate. As the project developed, Tim Ingold’s writings on the anthropology of lines opened me up to a new perspective on the project. ‘Physicists, in their explorations of the chain reactions of subatomic particles, aim to discover nothing less than the most fundamental building blocks of the universe itself. However, a world assembled from perfectly fitting, externally bounded blocks could harbour no life. Nothing could move or grow’ (Tim Ingold, The Life of Lines, 2015, p.15).
I started wondering how such a poetic abuse of technology could affect scientific language and metaphors, and materialised this insight into a CERN-like heritage object as the ones on view in the Laboratory's collection. I created a full-scale stainless steel replica of a section from the Large Hadron Collider and developed a way to weave these superconducting fibres into textiles. These cables dangle and entangle as a sweater-like knitwork as if levitating in response to a magnetic field. What such a staged thought experiment does to the metaphor of the building blocks of the universe?
Specially produced for Triennale Milano 2022
Co-supported by Arts@CERN, Lithuanian Council for Culture, Lithuanian Institute of Culture, Vilnius Academy of Arts.
“Lawn Centrifuge” – a revolving patch of lawn. Buried underneath the grass, a platform spins a five metre diameter disc of sod. Due to the centrifugal force the grass grows outwards and forms a unique pattern. A piece of kinetic land art, an astrobotanical machine, a green thrill ride.
Commissioned by Maajaam
Partners and supporters:
Special thanks to:
Video by Kotryna Lingienė
‘Take a large population of humans, strip them of all social, racial, cultural, sexual, political and economic constructs and bring them together so that they stay in close proximity for a substantial amount of time. That would be the ultimate revision of human architecture.’
The Lithuanian Space Agency presents, Planet of People
22 May – 21 November 2021
The Lithuanian Space Agency (LSA) is thrilled to present the Pavilion of Lithuania at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. In the unique setting of the Renaissance church Santa Maria dei Derelitti, the LSA proposes a fictional outer space world that brings together gravitational aesthetics and cosmic imagination. The LSA’s exhibition in Venice is curated by Jan Boelen, commissioned by Julija Reklaitė and organised by Rupert, Centre for Art and Education, and presented by the Lithuanian Council for Culture.
The LSA, founded by Julijonas Urbonas, is an organisation that researches space architecture and gravitational aesthetics. The agency is an astro-disciplinary initiative that aims to create a truly extraterrestrial imagination. A think-tank-cum-space-logistics-company, the LSA is researching and developing the poetic logistics of establishing alternative ways of being and imagining together both on and beyond Earth. Acknowledging the cosmos as the site of radical other-worldliness, the agency focuses on how we can get closer to the unearthly while also shifting perspectives on humanity to those of an alien.
According to Boelen, ‘The current crisis is a crisis of imagination. The LSA presents prototypes that let us choreograph and dream together. The most ambitious prototype is a machine for an escape from Earth that catapults us into space where we merge into an alternative planet. With this presentation, designed as a Gesamtkunstwerk, the LSA introduces a new possible space age. A space age that gives power back to the people, shifting it away from the national and commercial colonisation of space.’
For the Biennale Architettura 2021, the LSA presents Urbonas’ most recent project, Planet of People –– an artistic and scientific study into a hypothetical artificial planet made up of human bodies. The agency explores what it would actually take to realise the architectural fiction of Planet of People and raises questions about its sociopolitical implications. When humans are liberated from the constraints of Earth and simply become the building blocks of this new extra-terrestrial structure, what is the role of our earthly cultural and ethical notions? At the centre of the installation of Planet of People is a 3D scanner that scans the participants of the experiment and ‘sends’ them into space as animated simulations. As more and more people participate over the course of the trial run in Venice, the scanned bodies begin to form a new planet.
‘Increasingly, we become aware of the fragility of Earth and the human species. More and more, we realise that we might not have an appropriate survival plan when the doomsday comes. What are the alternatives?
There are two options: a planetary-scale funeral or a monument for the history of Earth and its inhabitants. It is time to consider both’, says Urbonas. ‘Imagination is inseparable from reality and vice versa. They neither contradict each other, nor do they exclude one another. The same goes for architecture. It is as imaginative as it is realistic. Scientific and architectural speculations are informed by social and technological constructs as much as they themselves inform those constructs. So, on this level, Planet of People is as real as the Eiffel Tower. The only difference between them is that one is yet to be built.’
The LSA includes a number of other Urbonas’ works or ‘prototypes’, such as Airtime, Barany Chair, Cerebral Spinner, Cumspin, Emancipation Kit, Euthanasia Coaster, Hypergravitational Piano, Oneiric Hotel. These so-called prototypes are based on Urbonas’ research into gravitational aesthetics, a name he has given to a genre of architecture, design and art. Gravitational aesthetics is concerned with the choreographing and locomotive power of things, both real and imaginary, and the effects these choreographies have on the sensual, psychological and social domains. Consider, for example, Cumspin, which uses artificial gravity to enhance human sexual pleasure, or Euthanasia Coaster, a roller coaster that ends in euphoric death. These works and research have formed the basis of the main installation, Planet of People.
The LSA is also pleased to announce the release of their first annual report, which will be available for purchase at the exhibition and on the agency’s website. The report includes several texts on gravitational aesthetics by Urbonas and contributions from other members of the LSA. The major part of the report is dedicated to an in-depth presentation of Planet of People with feasibility studies conducted by a number of researchers from different fields of planetary science, such as space architecture, design, art and engineering, astroanthropology, astronomy and astrophysics. Among these contributors are Michael Clormann, Régine Debatty, Vidas Dobrovolskas, Hu Fei and Jia Liu, Li Geng, Theodore W. Hall, Craig Jones, Rebekka Ladewig, Xin Liu, Lisa Messeri, Michael P. Oman-Reagan, Joseph Popper, Lauren Reid, He Renke, Fred Scharmen, Ma Yansong and Zheng Yongchun.
During the exhibition in Venice, the LSA will deepen its research into space architecture and introduce it to the public through guided tours and workshops led by Urbonas and Boelen. In partnership with other international institutions, the LSA will also continue developing their programme and testing Planet of People after the Biennale Architettura 2021.
Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Derelitti
Barbaria delle Tole, 6691,
(Castello), 30122 Venice, Italy (Map)
Find out more at lithuanianspace.agency
For further information, images and interviews contact:
Vilius Balčiūnas +370 630 60280
Jogintė Bučinskaitė +370 624 93440
A Planet of People (2017 - 2019) is an artistic and scientific feasibility study of an artificial planet made entirely from human bodies.
The project revolves around the idea of sending humans to L2, one of the Lagrangian points in space where the gravity is absent, and allows the frozen bodies float freely until their weak gravities make them assemble into a blob: in this way, a new ‘human’ planet is extra-terraformed. A cosmic fossil of humanity. A monument of humans to humans.
Playing with its variables, such as the quantity of individuals and the duration of time, the project speculates upon the aesthetic, ethical and scientific aspects of such a space structure. What spatial structures would it be possible to choreograph? How would a landscape of biomass look like on such a planet? What biochemical processes would it undergo, and would it form its own ecosystem eventually? And what would be the ethical, cultural and political implications, both here on Earth and out there?
The project questions the very (anthropocentric and earthly) definition of human species and life in general – its aesthetic and ethical implications – by looking into how the discourse changes once a large group of human bodies cross the Kármán line which marks the border between our ecosystem and outer space. Combining astroanthropology, speculative engineering, biomechanics, space law, space medicine, astrophysics, astrogeology and space arts, the project also speculates upon the establishment of exo-disciplinary arts.
The outcomes of the artistic research are visualised through 3D astrophysics simulations, 3D human body scanner based interactive installation, drawings and performances.
Extraterrestrial design and architecture: Julijonas Urbonas
Astrophysics: Vidas Dobrovolskas
3D simulation, programming, animation: Jakob Schloetter (Pointer Studio), Ignas Pavliukevičius
Music: Gailė Griciūtė
Graphic design: Asya Sukhorukova (Pointer Studio)
Electronics: Dmitrij Snegin
Industrial electronics: Vladas Kaškonas
Technical assistance: Paulius Vitkauskas
The exhibition was supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, Lithuanian Council for Culture, Vilnius City Municipality, Science Gallery Dublin, Vilnius Academy of Arts, Clear Channel, Vilma Dagilienė, Romas Kinka, Lietuvos Rytas, Ekskomisarų biuras.
REGOS (Robotic Egomotion Simulator) is a new artistic toolkit for reproducing a wide range of motion experiences for both artists and audiences. Based on a mechanism capable of conveying all linear and rotational movements, REGOS could be used in theatre, dance, music shows, cinematic effects, VR, entertainment, but also for simulation and research.
REGOS has been specially engineered with the artist as both a customer and an operator in mind. It features a custom-tailored motion control software that allows a non-expert to compose, edit, record and play motion scores with precision and ease. In addition to its high performance, the simulator is also very flexible, allowing to expand its range of movements with additional motion devices such as a spinning platform or connecting to other devices. All of this enables seamless integration of the machinery into your set design. The machinery has been engineered to disappear not only visually, but also acoustically to allow motion art speak for itself.
Climb up an escalator, slide down a slide. The corporate austerity meets the playground pleasures. Crossbreeding an escalator with a slide, the joyful experience of sliding down is brought to the next level. The business-suit-friendly slide welcomes the white-collar workers for a moment of escape from their sedentary daily routine. Brushing the office-chair-ridden backs against mirror polished stainless steel becomes the gasping-for-air replacement of a coffee break.
Address: Live Square, Gedimino pr. 44, Vilnius
Commissioner: Eika, Hilton Hotels
Video: Laurynas Skeisgiela
In 2018, I was commissioned by Operomanija, a Lithuanian production house for new musical theatre, to direct and design the set for the opera ‘Honey, Moon!’. Collaborating with composer Gailė Griciūtė, librettist Gabrielė Labanauskaitė-Diena and others, I turned the opera into something between a participative performance and a live sculptural installation. Scattered across the 1000 sq. m exhibition hall of the Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius were seven revolving platforms on which twelve performers – vocalists and instrumentalists – were strapped and performing. Covered with custom designed fabrics by illustrator Célestin Krier, the platforms looked like extraterrestrial landscapes, yet on closer inspection those semi-transparent textiles revealed various conglomerates of narrators, singers, a flautist, a clarinettist, a violinist, a cellist, a pianist, and a synthesiser player.
The public was invited to walk around the constellation of sets and explore the play between micro, macro, and cosmic scales, encouraging the confusion between what could be considered as human and planet. For me, it was a true space opera dedicated to honey, the Moon, honeymoons... Honey, Moon!
Director and author of installation Julijonas Urbonas:
"What will happen to the genre of the opera when we catapult it into space? Or onto the Moon? Before answering, we first need to authorize a neologism combining the terms "interspecific" and "interplanetary". This opera is a staging of such a neologism".
Librettist Gabrielė Labanauskaitė-Diena:
"It is a contemporary, mystical dramatic journey, an allegory of the search for a person‘s other side and the discovery of himself/herself in any possible form - love, self-acceptance, illumination - on the Moon. "Honeymoon" is like a regular journey, like hitch-hiking that involves wearing a wedding dress and getting into cars of different experiences."
Composer Gailė Griciūtė:
"The opera score includes electro-acoustic and live music. The chamber ensemble, the collage of records of the atmosphere, the modular synthesizer, the vocal ensemble, and the readers are like modules, or audio-planets that exist together and separately. Each of the sound sources builds a particularly fragile layer of musical texture, they interweave with each other and come together into a single flashing musical fabric of changing repetitiveness."
Stage director and author of installation Julijonas Urbonas
Composer Gailė Griciūtė
Librettist Gabrielė Labanauskaitė-Diena
Sound architect Arturas Bumšteinas
Illustrator Célestin Krier
Electrical machinery engineer Julijonas Urbonas
Biomedicine engineer Dmitrij Snegin
Platform electronics engineer Vladas Kaškonas
Production manager Paulius Vitkauskas
Sound analysis programmer Sebastian Lexer
Graphic designers of the surtitles: Gailė Pranckūnaitė, Marek Voida
Performers: Darius Jurevičius (narrator), Viktorija Damerell (narrator), Edvardas Šumila (narrator), Ieva Skorubskaitė (soprano), Kristina Jurevičiūtė (mezzo-soprano), Vaidas Bartušas (counter-tenor), Jevgenijus Kovalčukas (bass), Kristupas Gikas (flute), Artūras Kažimėkas (clarinet), Toma Bandzaitytė (violin), Arnas Kmieliauskas (cello), Marta Finkelštein (piano), Ignas Juzokas (modular synthesizer), Anton Gorelik (bodybuilder), Jevgenijus Sokolovas (bodybuilder), Grigorij Moisevič (bodybuilder), Nerijus Brūžas (bodybuilder)
Airtime is a dropping floor, which fuses elements of a participatory kinetic sculpture with elements of performative architecture, an anti-gravity machine and a thrill ride. Special equipment under the floor raises and drops those walking on it, occasionally causing a state of weightlessness. ‘Airtime’ is an expression that amusement ride designers use to describe the freefall sensation that passengers feel when they come out of their seats during a ride.
Although it is just a plain plane, its vertical trajectory of movement forms a unique choreographic and psychosocial space. Those standing on it start to behave and move abnormally, unsure of what to do or how to react, and aware of the inevitable fall. Some look at each other and stiffen. Others crouch down, sit or lie, trying to find the right body position. Some hold hands, to relieve the tension of waiting. The fall lasts less than half a second, but at that very moment the most unique dance occurs. It is difficult, if not impossible, to come up with an example of when a group of open-mouthed people perform a primal dance, balancing in the air and expressing ambivalent sensations of pain, ecstasy and fear. After the fall, they scream and laugh, and sometimes run away.
Falling between an aircraft accident, a vomit comet, and a drop tower, this collective drop machine is nothing but a vertigo, both physical and conceptual. What is actually happening when a group of people all of the sudden turn their attention to their guts suspended in midair? What happens to the feeling once it is relocated from its originary locus such as amusement park to open-for-interpretation space such as an art gallery? Who are we when the earth suddenly falls away from under our feet, when one of the most fundamental forces, forming us since the beginning of time, disappears?
Cumspin (2015) is an orgasm enhancing funfair machine. Based on the principle of a centrifuge, it exposes the love riders to variable gravitational forces. Not only does such an extreme sex environment introduce to new love positions but also pushes the peaks of pleasure to new dimensions.
Spinning in one of the eight spherical capsules, the lovers may control the centripetal force by changing the distance between the axis and the capsule. The farther from the axis, the greater the force that pushes them against the wall. The riders would have to coordinate their movements with the forces to control the flow of the blood in their bodies. Pumping in and out of the love parts would heighten intercourse or masturbatory sensations. And directing the blood to the lower extremities would cause the sudden loss of oxygen to the brain accompanied with a euphoria. The latter in tandem with orgasm brings into being a sensation that is beyond any definition of pleasure. Hypergravitational orgasm.
Concept, design, ride engineering: Julijonas Urbonas
Micromechanical engineering, electronics: Dmitrij Snegin
Euthanasia Coaster (2010) is a hypothetic death machine in the form of a roller coaster, engineered to humanely – with elegance and euphoria – take the life of a human being.
Riding the coaster’s track, the rider is subjected to a series of intensive motion elements that induce various unique experiences: from euphoria to thrill, and from tunnel vision to loss of consciousness, and, eventually, death. Thanks to the marriage of the advanced cross-disciplinary research in aeronautics/space medicine, mechanical engineering, material technologies and, of course, gravity, the fatal journey is made pleasing, elegant and meaningful. Celebrating the limits of the human body, this ‘kinetic sculpture’ is in fact the ultimate roller coaster: John Allen, former president of the famed Philadelphia Toboggan Company, once said that “the ultimate roller coaster is built when you send out twenty-four people and they all come back dead. This could be done, you know.”
“Euthanasia Coaster” is nothing but a falling trajectory, curved and tangled in such a way that would leave nobody apathetic, neither the passenger,nor the spectator. Where it lands to it is up to the public to decide. It is a prop for non-existent horror movie, a real fiction, a black humour scenography, social sci-fi design, the world's most extreme ride, a mourning sculpture, a monument for the end of the carousel evolution, a gravitational weapon, the very last trip...
Since its presentation to the public, the project has become a unique media phenomenon. It has drawn enormous attention from the public and received extremely extensive coverage from international media. The content and form of the feedback ranged from special TV shows, dedicated songs, a film script, a series of virtual replications, a project for school science fair, and a tattoo to knee-jerk online comments and thorough expert discussions. The project was awarded the Public Prize of New Technological Art of Update 2013, Ghent, Belgium.
"This brings a whole new meaning to the term 'killer coaster'."
"I would love it if the seats were empty when the train returns. You know, it catapults you to another dimension."
“Dying like a screaming clown...”
“Oh no, I think it sounds like a horrible way to go, and after reading this I may never really enjoy riding roller coasters."
"If I were terminally ill, I'd definetly want to this way...and make sure they have a picture station along the tracks so the family has something to remember you by."
“I can hack it with g-trouses that prevent the pilots from such centrifugal forces, and make it the world’s most extreme ride!”
“Curiously, it does work as provocation, regardless of intent. So be it. ”
Seated, harnessed with a health monitoring system, and strapped to the seat of a single-seat coaster vehicle, you are slowly towed to the top of the drop-tower. It takes a while, as the ride is about half a kilometre long! Hence, you have a few minutes to contemplate your decision and your life in retrospect. You even find enough time to adapt to the height and get through a series of imaginary fatal falls, while realising that the objects on the ground are getting smaller. Slow lift is an important illusion that intensifies the perception of height. The slightest movement of the car triggers drumming heartbeats and tests your decision… The top! If this test has not changed your mind yet, then at this point you have no choice but to submit yourself to the very last fall. Yet you still have a few minutes for the last words and goodbyes, or just enjoying the exhilarating bird’s-eye view of the surroundings. You relax and press the FALL button. Whirrr… swish – the ultimate surrender to gravity! No, you realize, in fact it is even greater than just giving up, as in the blink of an eye you enter the heart-line, the whirling element of the coaster track, where your heart stays roughly in line with the centre of the fall trajectory. In other words, your body spins around the heart while you fall. Gravitational choreography! The scooting gust of wind, goose bumps, suspension of breath, and vertigo — a set of experiences comprising a sort of fairground anaesthesia — prepare you for the fatal part of the ride.
Now you are already falling at a speed close to the terminal velocity, when the force of air drag becomes equal to the force of gravity, thus cancelling the acceleration. You feel your body as if supported by an air pillow. Just after this point, the track smoothly straightens forward, entering the first loop of the coaster, a continuously upward-sloping section of the track that eventually results in a complete 360-degree circle, completely inverting the riders at the topmost part. The centrifugal force drives the car upward, and you are literally pinned to the seat, your buttocks’ flesh is pressed against the ergonomic planes of the seat so hard that your whole body is almost immobilised. The tissues of your face start drooping down — it looks like ageing remarkably. Breathing requires more effort, as the ribs and the rest of the internal organs are pulled down, which empties air from the lungs. But most probably you are already unconscious, as this force rushes the blood to the lower extremities of the body, thereby causing oxygen deficiency in the brain. It is exactly this cerebral suffocation, also known as cerebral hypoxia, that is going to kill you. If you are still conscious, you are more resistant to the high g-forces than the majority of people, but don’t worry: the loop is engineered in such a way that the force will remain constant despite the changes in speed, thus ensuring that the painful level of acceleration is not reached. And be assured, the second loop will definitely do its job. In the meantime, if you are lucky, or, rather, g-force-resistant enough to be awake, your vision may blur, lose colour (greyout) and peripheral sight (tunnel vision), or even disappear completely (blackout), together with hearing. Eventually, this experience — accompanied with disorientation, anxiety, confusion, and, most importantly, euphoria — is crowned with G-LOC (g-force induced loss of consciousness), during which the body is completely limp, and vivid bizarre dreams occur, such as being in a maze and unable to get out, or floating in a white space, not knowing who you are, why you are here, etc. Of course, you can tell the story only if you survive, which is virtually impossible. But you might ignore this and suppose you have survived. You would soon recover from G-LOC, remaining unconscious, and your body would flail around in a chaotic fit that is called ‘funky chicken’ in aeromedical slang, as the neurons in the brain – replenished with extra oxygenated blood pumped harder from the heart – begin firing once again. This causes arms and legs to twitch uncontrollably. Finally, coming around, although still confused and disoriented, unable to remember anything, you would regain your memories in a few hours, and they would be one of the most memorable, with a peculiar souvenir on your legs: little red pinpoints all over the skin as a result of blood leaks through the blood vessels, a sort of gravitational measles.
The rest of the ride, six or five loops, proceeds with your body being numb, ensuring that the trip ends your life. You die, or, more accurately put, your brain dies of complete oxygen deprivation, a legal indicator of death in many jurisdictions. The biomonitoring suit double-checks if there is a need for the second round, which is extremely unlikely, as the result is guaranteed by seven-fold repetition.
Design, engineering: Julijonas Urbonas
Medical advisor: Dr. Michael Gresty, Spatial Disorientation Lab, Imperial College
Model making: Paulius Vitkauskas
Photography: Aistė Valiūtė and Daumantas Plechavičius
Video: Science Gallery
Video footage (human centrifuge training): William Ellis
Oneiric Hotel (2013) is a pop-up hotel equipped with special dream-directing equipment — an artistic reconstruction of the few successful psychophysiological sleep experiments that managed to induce and direct lucid dreams. Oneiric Hotel reenacted these experiments as bespoke experiences for the visitors, transposed from the scientific laboratory to the set of a pop-up hotel. Equipped with dream-inducing contraptions and techniques, the public was invited to take a nap in sleep capsules, entering into the dream experiments in their own way. The 'scientific subjects’ became the designers of their own oneiric experiments.
List of devices used in Oneiric Hotel:
Concept and design: Julijonas Urbonas
Curator: Justė Kostikovaitė
Curator assistant: Zara Nogueira
Technical assistant: Paulius Vitkauskas
Programming: Jonas Peteraitis
Costumes: Aistė Nesterovaitė
Logo: Povilas Utovka (Present Perfect)
Photography: Aistė Valiūtė and Daumantas Plechavičius.
In 2009, five doors to well-known public buildings in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius were transformed into interactive installations as a study into the door’s poetic power of organising and provoking various psychological, conceptual, and social events in public space. Equipped with electronic devices, the doors became a portal to Lithuania’s Democracy Index, a musical instrument, a kinetic sculpture and even the source of an earthquake. Talking Doors ultimately proved to be not only the materialization of symbolic concepts but also a peculiar experiment that evoked a whole series of curious events.
Site: Vilnius City Municipality, Konstitucijos pr. 3, Vilnius.
The degree to which the door of the municipality’s building was open was controlled by a custom-made electronic door-closer reading the current value of the so-called “democracy index”. The latter was being formed in real time by processing the data obtained through the special online poll that asked web surfers to rate the level of Lithuania’s democratic development on a ten-point scale. The higher the respondents’ average evaluation, the more open the municipality’s door was. The door’s position visualised the poll results and thus became a peculiar indicator of democratic development itself. Let’s imagine what would happen if such customised door-closers were installed in the doors of all state institutions. Quite possibly, politicians would be simply physically pressed to respect democratic values and pursue democratic ideals, since otherwise they would be unable to enter or leave their workplaces.
One of the fundamental principles of the democratic system states that every citizen should have equal access to political power. Therefore, democracy means open access to both the legal structures, which ground and protect democratic freedoms, and the very things that symbolise that power – documents, offices, communication channels, etc. Things can empower politics in reality and embody the values promoted by it. For instance, the door is by far the most effective instrument of access control. The right to enter (the key) can stand for the power to govern or control the space behind the door, as well as reject or discriminate those who don’t have this right. The CEO’s and other top-level employees of some business and academic institutions deliberately embrace the so-called “open door policy” by keeping their office door open unless they are out of the office or have very important work to do, thus symbolically inviting other employees of any rank to stop by and share their concerns freely without prior appointment. Culture critic Jurij Dobriakov argues that active implementation of this practice can be viewed as an indicator of the institution’s democratic culture as such.
Democratic Door sought to shift the public attention from governmental bodies and institutions (for instance, the Parliament), where policy is formulated and validated, to material objects and their capacity to represent political interests. This part of the project also demonstrated that not only the symbolic “sources of democracy”, but also the things we touch or use everyday mediate democratic values.
Site: Lithuanian Academy of Music, Gedimino pr. 42, Vilnius.
The sound art installation Sounding Door explored the potential of the door’s sonic aesthetics. The special electronic equipment installed in the front door of the building of Lithuanian Academy of Music enabled composers, musicians, sound designers and artists to sonify the act of opening or closing the door and the ritual of stepping over the threshold. The participating authors shaped the door’s sonic character, created the building’s “voice”, made their contribution to the city’s soundscape or just composed music for the door. The latter became both a musical instrument and a stage, while the composers and the “users” of the door alike acted as performers.
Sound designers create the sounds of mobile phones, crispy corn flakes and even hairdryers, while apparently leaving such essential element of daily experience as the door without due attention. Although sound design and architectural acoustics have become disciplines in their own right, the sound of architecture itself is still rarely discussed. Why are we confined to choosing a door for our home space only based on the visual characteristics of the former and not, for instance, the specific sound of its hinges?
The sound of the door constitutes a unique element of the experience of architectural objects, or even represents the “face” of a building. The door is one of the few architectural elements that actually demand an active and personal involvement on the part of the visitor. When we open the door, we “shake hands” with the building and thus symbolically greet it. The sound of the door (e.g. the sound of the hinges, tapping, gradually unfolding soundscape from behind the door), as the building’s voice, greets the entering one and amplifies the sense of stepping over the threshold. It also has a similar influence on those who are not in direct contact with the door at that moment: for instance, the creaking sound of the hinges informs us that someone is about to step over the threshold and will enter or leave our space soon. This sonic reaction can also have a very personal value – some people may recognise their relatives from the way the door sounds when the latter open it. Thus, the sound of the door, penetrating both public and private spaces, plays an important part in developing the culture of sonic environments.
An international open call for sound works was announced to realise this part of the project. These were to be submitted in standard audio format (up to 30 seconds in length) or as software patches designed to match the hardware used by Sounding Door. Eighteen works were selected, and their reproduction was adapted to the kinematics of the door – the velocity of turning, acceleration and current position, all tracked by special sensors in real time. Unique loudspeakers that turn any hard surface into a sound source were employed to sonify the door, thus making the latter become a loudspeaker itself. The schedule of the door’s “concerts” was generated randomly, with the software loading a new track automatically every two minutes.
Site: All Saints Church, Rūdninkų g. 20/1, Vilnius.
The kinetic sculpture Hesitating Door reminds the viewer about the ambiguous, hesitation-inducing aspect of the door as a phenomenon. Such “foreign elements” as an automatic door-closer and the lock create a fake sense of the door’s stability and predictability, turning it into an everyday functional object that instantly conforms to our will. Open – enter – close, that’s it. Yet in collective imagination the door still remains one of the essential metaphors for hesitation and the mute unknown. Even as we walk in through an open door, we often pause to ask if we can indeed step over the threshold and enter a private space. We also feel uneasy when the draught makes the door open or shut as we approach it (this is a recurring motif in horror movies), since this gives us an uncanny feeling that the door moves by itself.
Yet what do we ourselves do with doors that don’t have an obsessive habit of returning to the “closed” position? Sometimes we leave them open, inviting guests to come in; half-open – only for those who really need to enter; closed – when we wish to be alone. Yet what is a halfopen door, neither wide open nor closed? An undecided, hesitating door. It is one of the best metaphors of the human situation itself. We are often eager to open our minds to others, yet at other times we lock ourselves up from all intruders, and sometimes we leave only a tiny gap for those smart enough to unlock us. We always hesitate as to how much outer reality we should let in.
The door of the All Saints Church was swinging, turning itself according to an unpredictable pattern and at variable speed (the installed equipment had been programmed to automatically disable itself and turn Hesitating Door into a regular door when a visitor came within the 4 metre range – this had been done to intensify the “mystical” experience and solve the safety issues; otherwise, the “ghostlike” behaviour of the self-turning door would be demystified by sound of the active equipment). If this door choreography says anything at all, it reminds us of the fact that buildings are never empty, even when no human being has entered them. Their space contains a spirit of its own – a spirit that can suddenly wish to exit and then come back in through the door. We can “see” it only by watching the movements of this apparently hesitant, swinging, disobedient door – one that isn’t sure if it wants to let us in yet.
Site: Contemporary Art Centre, Vokiečių g. 2, Vilnius.
Website stats applications widely use the unique visitor counter, which tracks the number of every user’s visits to the website over a certain period of time. This indicator is used to measure the real size of a website’s audience, referred to as reach elsewhere. For instance, in advertising it expresses the concentration of a chosen advertising medium’s audience.
This indicator’s counterpart in the physical space – the door – can also track a physical environment’s community and measure the “reach” of the former. Access (or right to access) can reflect a visitor’s belonging to the building’s audience, but it also defines the “outside community”. The door invites and rejects, bonds and separates at the same time.
Counting Door is a physical interpretation of the virtual counter. A modified video camera installed in the doorway of the Contemporary Art Centre was tracking the number of unique visitors with the help of a face recognition system widely used in today’s CCTV surveillance systems. A computer-simulated voice informed each entering visitor how many times the latter had come through the art centre’s door. Unlike in analogous institutionalised internal-use systems, the unique number is disclosed here, thus the data generated by the facetracking “peephole” is open to personal interpretation and digital voyeurism.
Site: Design gallery/shop Hotel of Things, T. Ševčenkos g. 16A, Vilnius.
One of the five “talking doors” was not actually a door, but rather a company providing various door-related design* services: custom door tuning, door accessory design, door events, door sonification, doorkeeping courses, door etiquette lectures, etc. Door Events Workshop offered its clients to order unique door related happenings (such as a series of random knocks on the client’s home door), learn alternative ways to open the door and get an insight into the etiquette of door opening, buy a specific door sound or even offer their own door-related service.
Door Events Workshop received six orders, most of which were requests for door events. Several series of door knocks were ordered; one of them acquired the form of a door concert: a professional drummer was hired to tap a special composition. One order requested a course in alternative door opening techniques taught by an emergency lock opening expert. The course’s listeners were trained to open the door without any additional tools, for instance, with a foot kick, or using objects of everyday use like paperclips, rulers, and so on. One order requested the managers of Door Events Workshop, Egidijus ir Remigijus Praspaliauskas, to tailor a tailcoat and a business suit from sandpaper for door tuning.
The workshop’s activity culminated in the production of a mass production-ready doorbell designed to transform a slightest tap on the door into a domestic earthquake. This product consists of two boxes: one, attached to the door, tracks the intensity of knocking; the other one is attached to any object (such as the floor, a furniture item or a flowerpot, etc.), to which the amplified knocking is “teleported”. The stronger the guest knocks on the door, the more intensely the chosen object trembles.
Concept and design: Julijonas Urbonas
Electronics: Julijonas Urbonas, Dmitry Snegin, Šarūnas Šutavičius
Programming: Julijonas Urbonas, Sebastian Lexer, Andrius Mikonis
Graphic design: Povilas Utovka, Alistair Webb
Photography: Aistė Valiūtė and Daumantas Plechavičius
Managing of Door Events Workshop: Egidijus and Remigijus Praspaliauskas
Technical assistance: Paulius Vitkauskas
Supported by Public institution „Vilnius – Europos kultūros sostinė 2009“ (Vilnius - European Capital of Culture 2009), Lithuania