Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sculpture, Imaginary Worlds and Home Exercise Equipment.

The Most Important Human Need
There is a deep physiological and psychological need to be in the presence of other human beings. We need other people. Infants are dependent on the care their mothers. Growing children need peers and adults to socialize them. As adults, we need each other to make families, form societies and create culture. What is less commonly recognized is the powerful psychological need for the presence of others. Research has found that isolation is one of the most stressful things a human being can experience. So powerful, it causes the body to flood it self with hormones like cortisol and shuts down higher-lever brain functions. Isolation doesn't have to be as extreme as confinement, social isolation is an equally powerful force.

The Presence of Others
Since the beginning of civilization humans have created effigies and figurative art. Their functions, according academic art history include: practices of worship / sympathetic magic, representations of deities, monuments honoring the living and the dead, and as expressions of idealized form and beauty.

I have always had an additional theory as well. One of the most significant behaviors that differentiates human beings from other creatures is our creation of "imaginary worlds". Every culture is a significantly different assemblage of elements: language, manners, customs, unique styles of architecture and homes, furniture, clothes, eating utensils, a cannon of literature, games, sports and so on. The synthesis of all these elements is a constructed and shared reality. Just 1 in an infinite number of possible worlds.

Figurative sculpture create a sense of presence. They fill rooms and the world with other people. Symbolic people that reflect and encapsulate the culture and age they belong to. They are manufactured beings who's purpose is to inhabit their unique imaginary world. The ancient worlds of Egypt, Greece and Rome overflowed with figurative sculpture. Medieval cathedrals are packed with figurative sculpture creating a world within their walls. The sculptures of the palaces and grand rooms of the 17th century are my personal favorite. 

Fast Forward to Today
Todays mass art forms also create imaginary worlds filled with people. Movies and television place us in the the far, far, away galaxy of Star Wars, the world of Don Corleone and Dawson's Creek. Today's media is more immersive than early art but the function is the same. Imagine how mind-blowing it must have been for the average person to step inside a medieval cathedral. Movies allow us to leave this world and experience other worlds and stories of loss, betrayal, love, murder, etc. All without putting ourselves in harms way.

In the 1970's architects built public spaces that included in their designs areas where people could have a bit of privacy, nooks in which to read and places for quiet moments of reflection. As it turned out, these spaces were rarely used. People don't like being by themselves. The duration from person to person varies but generally speaking, people don't want to be alone. It's why bookstores and Starbucks are such popular places to read, study, or just hang out. Places like this have come to be known as "the third place". Public places other than the 2 primary places, home and work. You can go to these places and be left alone while simultaneously being in the presence of others people.

Sculptural Occupants, Home Alone
Instead of joining a gym, some people buy exercise equipment for their home. Sometimes it's one machine, like a treadmill, and sometimes they create their own little mini-gym. Very often, none of it gets used. It's easy to cite lack of discipline as the reason why. This may be true to some extent, but I believe that being alone and working out goes against our hardwired, human nature. It just doesn't feel right.

There are lots of solitary activities that people do: play musical instruments, read, write, draw, tend to their garden. Most of these are mental or involve some level of concentration. Although they might have a physical component these kinds of activities take you outside yourself, they allow you to escape for a while. In the end most in-home exercise equipment loses it utility and becomes a piece of sculpture. Monuments to the hopeful possibility of reshaping ones body, of re-sculpting one's physical form.

These days most people have more than one TV in their home. Some have TVs in every room. It's not uncommon for people to leave the TV on all day, even when no one in the room. Like figurative sculpture, it add presence to the house. It makes people feel less alone.

I've have an idea for a  product idea. It's based on the fact that everyone loves people watching. Checking people out, watching the all different kinds of amusing strangers walk by. My idea is a series of DVDs that allow you to people watch from the comfort of your own home. Sound and conversations included. They would be in all sorts of setting. The people could be walking by, passing you on the sidewalk or just standing around. There could be different settings: the mall, the park, New York City sidewalks, Vegas casinos, whatever. There could be interactive DVDs that allow you to move to move around a party to check out different clusters of people, eavesdrop on their conversations. These DVDs are a more direct way of fulfilling the need for presence. Most of all, it's what every home exercise room needs. 


kathleen said...

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Turns out, not a very good idea.

Thomas Sherman said...

I'm not sure I understand the Fahrenheit reference? But I do like watching things burn

Bob Ichter said...

I agree totally, I can never work out alone [ unless it's running or swimming ] and the only time I feel really good alone is when I'm painting or practicing the piano...I'm not sure about the Vegas DVD, but sign me up for the strip club edition

Thomas Sherman said...

I'm going to start working on that for you Bob. Right away.

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