'Full Circle'‘Full Circle’ was commissioned by the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Art Gallery (CEPA) and C.S.1 Curatorial Projects for CEPA’s West Side Lots Project and was installed on an empty lot in Buffalo, New York in 2016. The project takes a typical swing-set and questions its conventional linear arrangement to provide opportunities for interaction, communication, confrontation and dialogue. (photo by Coryn Kempster)

Social Infrastructures and shared experience

Public space has always offered opportunities to encounter strangers, yet in contemporary reality while individuals may occupy a common space, their experiences often remain solitary. Between the current political climate in the United States and beyond and the echo-chambers of worldviews created by social media, the need for shared physical experiences is paramount. Through projects which we call ‘social infrastructures’, we argue for the need to share playful encounters in the public realm, as a way of gaining needed contact with fellow citizens and establishing connections across social, cultural and political boundaries.

The four projects presented here stem from an interest in spaces of play, in the broadest definition of that term, as places that can be used to liberate the individual from the generic and enrich shared everyday experience. Referencing the work of Thomas S. Henricks and Miguel Sicart, we argue that play is not only an activity of personal growth and self-realization but also a social way of operating in the world. 
Working in post-WWII Amsterdam, Aldo van Eyck explored and implemented the idea of playgrounds as multi-nodal interventions transforming the experience of the city. More recently Susan G. Solomon has written about the values of playspaces as community space. Pursuing the notion of ‘spatial agency’ proposed by Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till,  we see the projects in the broader terms of their potential urban, social and political impacts.   

At the intersection of art and architecture, and as aesthetic, spatial and interactive objects, ‘Full Circle’, ‘Dialogue’, ‘Hookup’ and ‘Ziggy’ perform as ‘critical spatial practice’ to use Jane Rendell’s terminology. As interdisciplinary works, ‘social infrastructures’ question pre-conceived relationships between people in space and between one another and have the potential to bring unpredictable and rich experiences into the public realm, creating connections through shared physical experiences that can be built upon to have an impact beyond the moment of engagement.

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‘Full Circle’ is positioned where diverse Buffalo communities intersect and is adjacent to International School #45 whose student body represents 70 countries and 44 languages. It was supported by a campaign to engage teachers, parents, school administrators, community activists, and neighbors to take active ownership of this work of art. The installation serves the young and old alike and it has become an identifiable meeting place for the different members of the neighborhood. In particular, it provides a space where recently resettled refugees can interact with longer-term residents in an informal way. (photo by Brendan Bannon)

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Commissioned by LANDstudio in 2017, ‘Dialogue’ is a circle of interlaced sound tubes that aims to create conversations ranging in length and seriousness and connecting individuals in the Eastman Reading Garden at the Main Public Library in Cleveland, Ohio. The sound cones are connected to one another as pairs yet their couplings aren’t immediately apparent, resulting in a game of questioning and movement as one tries to discern the location of an interlocutor. (photo by Coryn Kempster)

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Through simple, small dialogues and moments of spontaneous contact ‘Dialogue’ offers an analog prompt that encourages engagement and conversations between friends and strangers. It provokes interaction between members of the community who may hold opposing views or simply come from different backgrounds or circumstances. (photo by Coryn Kempster)


‘Hookup’ was a self-initiated project that was installed in Silo City, a decommissioned industrial estate, in Buffalo in 2018. The installation consists of seven swings tethered to one another to form one long interconnected swing. Directly linking the experience of occupants to one-another, the project speaks of relationships, demanding communication, negotiation and trust from its users. (photo by Coryn Kempster)


Made from off-the-shelf elements, ‘Hook-up’ contrasts with its rusty industrial surroundings and brings an unexpected playful element to the site. The familiar prompt of the swing is approachable and makes it intuitively clear that the installation’s use is encouraged. Acknowledging the interconnectedness and the complex set of influences of one’s behaviour to the movement of others, ‘Hookup’ is as much about the conversations and interactions it generates as it is about the action of swinging. (photo by Coryn Kempster)

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