Seriously Playful

Introducing this year’s MoMA/P.S.1 Young Architects Program installation to a group of journalists yesterday, MoMA’s chief curator of architecture and design, Barry Bergdoll, likened it to a playground—but then quickly qualified that assessment. “Turns out it’s an extremely serious playground,” Bergdoll said, adding later that the installation is “about our contemporary condition and not just about fun.”

You could have fooled me. Pole Dance, as the installation is called, is in fact quite a lot of fun. The brainchild of Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu (SO-IL), the Brooklyn-based firm founded by Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu in 2007, it consists of several dozen 30-foot-high fiberglass poles connected by bungee cords, with an open net slung over the bungees at a height of about 15 feet. Weighing down the net at intervals are 120 colorful inflated balls. As wind blows through the courtyard, the poles sway and the balls bob peacefully above your head. Things get more interesting when somebody decides to give one of the poles a nice violent shake, sending convulsions through the entire installation and maybe even launching a few of the balls skyward.

IMG_5283Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu

As for “our contemporary condition”—Pole Dance, Idenburg explained, is also supposed to function as a sort of commentary on the increasing prominence of the virtual in our lives. By creating an “instable system” affected by human action, Idenburg and Liu hoped to “redirect people’s attention to the physical, to the sensorial.”

Ironically, visitors wanting to take full advantage of Pole Dance’s interactivity will need to get out their iPhones. Eight of the poles in a side courtyard (below) are rigged with accelerometers; as those poles swivel and vibrate, data is sent to a piece of software that converts the poles’ motion into eerie electronic tones emitted from a ring of speakers. (The sound design is by Arup.) And iPhone-toting attendees can visit www.poledance.so-il.org to adjust the quality of the sound in real time.

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Whether this succeeds in bridging the gap between the virtual and the real is up for debate. But I doubt that anyone visiting P.S 1’s courtyard this summer will fail to be charmed by the whimsy and inventiveness of SO-IL’s extremely serious playground.

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Pole Dance is on view at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, in Long Island City, Queens, through September. Earlier this year, Idenburg talked to us about SO-IL’s initial concept for the installation. Last year, we were pleasantly surprised by the 2009 Young Architects Program winner, a “weird furry factory” by MOS.

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