Balance is delicate, and sometimes we fall down. A 170-year-old sofa balances precariously on one leg, constantly teetering, responding internally to external forces. Relationships are balancing acts, and delicate ones at that. This idea turned into a balancing sofa as I was thinking about how all our social interactions can be found on these humble pieces of furniture: dinner, chatting, sex, job interviews, even death. Is it surprising that we construct such a solid footing to support the delicate dance of relationships, so prone to losing their rhythm and falling down? These ideas of foundation and fragility seemed so distinct and yet inseparable that I became interested in trying to illuminate it a bit. The result emerged as something both sincere and absurd.
This sculpture is a sofa, stood semi-upright, which balances on one leg, via an internal robotic mechanism. A low groan, the volume below that of normal speech, is emitted intermittently by the motors as the piece struggles to remain upright. There is a box on the floor enclosing batteries and controls, connected via a flexible steel cable conduit. The project had two unique technical and artistic goals. The primary one was to create a kinetic metaphor for the inherent risk in social relations, which was authentic, rather than illusory. Secondarily, I was interested in whether an object could actually be balanced perpetually on a fixed point.
The internal mechanism of the sculpture is based on a concept known as a reaction wheel, a technology most often deployed in satellites to correct spatial orientation. Rather than shift its center of mass in reaction to falling, or employ gyroscopic forces, freely spinning motors apply torque to the frame of the sofa, causing it in turn to attempt to rotate in the opposite direction, effecting a weight shift about its foot on the ground.
Relationships are balancing acts. Just like the sofa in Balance from Within, however, we are never truly in balance with each other, but instead continuously act to counter small imbalances and prevent impending fall. Balance from Within’s scenography emphasizes the romance of this delicate unstable character of our relationships, but also reminds us that such balancing acts are the fabric of human history. At the heart of this history of balancing acts are the technologies we create to mediate them, and, as happens in Balance from Within, these technologies occasionally fail to keep the balance when external influences push it too far off balance to regain it. Balance from Within is much more than a mere poetic sculpture; it is an urgent and critical reminder. To ourselves, but for instance also to our global politicians, who sometimes seem to forget that, despite all the technologies that nowadays mediate global relationships, they are still delicate and unstable balancing acts that may collapse when pushed too far off balance.
Jacob Tonski (US) has an MFA from the design | media arts department at UCLA. He studied computer science at Brown University and worked as a technical director at Pixar Animation Studios. Recently he has presented at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft and The School for Poetic Computation. He was awarded a 2013 Sustainable Arts Foundation grant and was a 2010 fellow at the Carnegie Mellon University Studio for Creative Inquiry. He is currently an assistant professor of art and interactive media studies at Miami University, Ohio, and in 2015 will be joining the faculty of the Art and Technology Studies Department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His creative work has been exhibited in China, Brazil and throughout Europe and the United States.
Supported by: Frank-Ratchye Studio For Creative Inquiry, Miami University College of Creative Arts