Urbanites are forced to share public spaces, sometimes like sardines packed into a can. But despite our close physical proximity, we close one another off–distancing ourselves from the potential of a shared experience.
21 Swings, by Daily Tous Les Jours, challenges these insular urban tendencies. It’s a series of fiber-optic-linked swing sets in which each swing has been paired with an instrument (a pre-sampled piano, guitar, harp, or vibraphone). All you have to do to start playing is to swing. And as soon as someone swings beside you, you’ve formed a band.
“Our objective was to re-enchant the space in ways that would encourage exploration and conversation and a feeling of shared ownership,” Daily Tous Les Jours Co-Founder Melissa Mongiat explains. “If we could spark conversations between strangers, that would be the ultimate achievement.”
And spark conversations they did, because 21 Swings was designed at its core to be an interactive experience at the person-to-person level. Based upon input from an animal behavior specialist, the installation was built to reward cooperative decisions. It playfully demands conscientiousness of strangers, as swinging in tandem rewards players with increasingly complex rhythms. These rhythms can scale all the way up to 21-person orchestration, and filling the swings can even unlock a “secret” mode that brings in synthesizers.
You could imagine this collective positive reinforcement model manifesting in all sorts of public spaces, like fountains or lights. But the choice of the swing was key, I’m told, for its cultural significance. Who doesn’t have at least one great memory of playing on swings?
“The swings were chosen as the key interface for the interaction because of their playfulness and natural attractiveness to people who immediately know what to do with them,” Mongiat explains. “Swings also create a sense of nostalgia, bringing people back to their childhood. And the choreography of the single line of 21 colorful swings in constant motion and lit from underneath at night is eye catching from afar and creates a powerful invitation.”
21 Swings is a seasonal exhibit for Montreal’s Quartier Des Spectacles. It will return next year and, hopefully, for many more to come.