Illuminated Branch Divider Final Report (Part 2)

In my previous post, I described the process I took to bring this project to completion. It involved the design and assembly of a number of different pieces, and helped me grow my skills in woodworking, electronics and painting. But aside from seeking to sharpen these skills (and complete the assignment for class), I had a number of motivations for this project, many of which are tied to the event that the wall was build for: Quantified Self.

In Quantified Self, audience members are invited to a house party hosted by a fictional technology company called DesignCraft. When they arrive, they meet the hostess, Amelia, who invites the attendees into her home, which is completely furnished with “companion” technology appliances, made by DesignCraft. These companions are designed to make life easier and promote mental and emotional health. Each audience member’s social media data has been pulled before the show to personalize each exhibit in the house to them when they arrive.

But as the evening unfolds, the conventional understandings around the role technology plays in our lives is challenged, and the satisfaction that is supposedly gifted to us through the “companions” is called into question. Amelia, who supposedly invited all of these people to her home, is (spoiler alert!) horrified to find out that she is actually a humanoid android, and that her memories and reality are manufactured to help test and sell these products. As the night goes on, the veneer of this technological utopia begins to peel away, revealing the darker side of how our data is used both for and against us.

For me, the motivations behind the construction of the dividing wall were multi-faceted. As the lead production designer for Quantified Self, I was charged with designing a compelling set and pieces that functionally separated the areas of Amelia’s home. However, as an artist, I also sought to echo the commentary within the play’s narrative. The branches, harvested from nature and painted in unnatural hues, reflect man’s desire to shape nature and humanity into their own ideal, even if it means killing something or modifying it to fit that ideal. The burned box that holds the branches resembles a casket, and its blackened hull calls to mind the destruction of the natural world that is often required to construct our utopian social visions. The lights within the box, along with the colors of the branches, emulate a sun on the horizon, perhaps rising or setting, but reacting only to the presence of a living person, making them complicit in completing the illusion of manufactured beauty.

Much in the same way that Amelia and her home have been designed for appearance but hold little real life underneath, this divider also mixes its message, appearing to be something naturally beautiful, but ultimately proving saccharine and wholly unnatural, and serving to literally separate humans from each other on set, much in the same way that technology often creates barriers between us.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Daniel Rankin
    David Holliman
    May 1, 2016 11:28 am

    Really enjoyed reading this post. The depth of your inspiration and its connection to the human condition is wholly inspiring. Wish I had more background on Amelia and Quantified Self (maybe I can find that in your earlier blogs), but the issue you bring into focus is one worth expressing– and what a great concept to do so! I thought your choice to torch the wood is great… love the aesthetic and would like to incorporate this process into one of my future projects. The final product is very appealing, and definitely captures the attention of its audience. My only criticism is that the wooden box could be constructed to convey more of a coffin look. This detail seems critical to the project’s message–if it could be designed towards more of a dire and deathly form, I think the viewer would be more directly cast into the deeper meaning. Great job

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