It looks a bit like a medieval torture device–or maybe one of those infomercial exercise machines built out of 2x4s. But Mechanics of Embrace is a sculpture with a warm and noble purpose: You hug it, and it will hug you back.
“As sculptor I’m trying more and more to find a way to really make sculpture a physical experience,” says the creator, Petri Eskelinen. “Not just lightly interactive, but something that you can really feel with your body.”
Crafted out of wood, Mechanics of Embrace beckons a user to step onto its platform and lean in. This gesture is by design. The sculpture is angled so that you’re forced to have an emotional connection, trusting it with your body weight, before you can engage in physical intimacy.
Once in place, they wrap their arms around two handles and hug. As someone squeeze the sculpture, they actually drive pair of connected wooden arms to hug back in equal proportion. “It actually copies the movements of the user,” Eskelinen says. “It doesn’t do anything you don’t want it to do.”
So despite its tortuous aesthetic, this mechanical machine is empathetic by design. As Eskelinen puts it, “the idea of an electrical machine was way too scary.” Given that hugging is so good for you–a 20-second embrace will flood your body with the feel-good hormone oxytocin and lower your blood pressure–the otherwise absurdist machine could potentially have some practical merit. “I got some feedback from a father of an autistic child who was really excited about the work, [since] the boy could kind of practice hugging other people,” Eskelinen says. “The father said that after hugging the sculpture, it felt easier for him and his wife to hug his son.”