intermedia / participatory art

Fort Making

Last Monday I had the brilliant container of a Sandbox in Multidisciplinary Arts class.  Each of us have had the opportunity to bring a creative knot or question to the group through participatory activities, conversations and workshopping as an open ended entry way into our individual projects.  Throughout the semester I have been considering possibilities of collaborative creativity and intimacy that re-imagine public interaction. I’m influenced by José Esteban Muñoz’s’ articulation, in Cruising Utopia, of “queer world making” performances as “outposts of an actually existing queer future existing in the present” to create environments that allow for the protection and sacredness of contained structure, while allowing possibility for new ways of being facilitated by past memories and imagined futures, a space that hosts horizonal temporality. My goal is interactive performance that calls participants into a state of becoming.

Collaborating with Hillary Reed, we gathered materials and arranged the Motion Lab at Sullivant Hall into stations with various materials: cardboard boxes, pipe insulation and pvc pipes, fabrics, blankets, pillows, and papers with texts gathered from classmates related to fort building memory, materials, assembly and purpose, and a series of photo projections curated by participants representing security, protection and boundaries.  Additionally, using Isadora programming, I designed a soundscore that responded to participants movements and presence or absence in different areas of the space with the intention that participants would be able to affect the volume or content of sound based on where and how they moved.

We invited participants to take a passive, notice what you notice, walk around the space before laying on the floor and checking to see what remained in their minds from the noticing.  I asked participants to draw attention to their own contents, the fluid inside, then to their container, the skin and finally their context the floor and air around them that their skin comes in contact with. I might develop this into a little more movement, sensing the waves of their contents through their bodies, including imagery of waves through the body and the shifting of water within a water balloon gently rolling on the floor, drawing from an activity described in Andrea Olsen’s, The Place of Dance, A Somatic Guide to Dance and Dance Making. I am interested in developing our sense of being held and supported while remaining porous and receptive, a membrane-fortress.

From here, we invited participants to interact with the space in a variety of ways:

  1. return to an area of the room that called their attention and to go ahead and manipulate the space.
  2.  leave behind their projects to sit back to back with another, sensing their support and their boundaries
  3. move to a new area to manipulate
  4. collaborate with another person
  5. Speed-building (“make something in 30 seconds”, then 20, 10, and 5)
  6. choose your own activity, perform it
  7. make something collectively that supports everyone

karenThe group responded willingly, having had time earlier in the week to consider the significance of fort building ahead of time. They were invited to include their own fort objects in the space. Most building appeared in sort of parallel play, without much discussion.  When upbeat music came in, I sensed an increase in activity and movement. Some stayed busy making, while others took time inside their structures.


A highlight for me was a moment when two participants lounged while sharing a pint of ice cream contributed by a classmate to represent comfort.


Most people collaborated with another person some of the time, but there was a general sense of internal focus and vision. This started to wiggle loose during speed building and performance, which provided some support for the shift into a collective project that ended the exploration.

My soundscore effort was the least effective, because my computer vision (a Kinect camera sensing depth from the ceiling, and a standard video camera receiving images from one corner of the room), covered only a limited range of the space such that shifts in the sound happened both too quickly and too infrequently for participants to engage with effectively. Additionally, on top of the physical materials they were manipulating, the number of sound variables proved over-stimulating and unnecessary. To do it again, I would want to set up more computer vision devices with less sound outputs: one sound output for each quadrant of the room triggered by the presence of people, with the volume being increased alongside increased movement of participants.

For me, just witness everyone was hyper stimulating, and feeling responsible to the as we guided them through gave me a little nervous energy. I know at times, I moved things along because I was afraid they were anxious to do something else, but general feedback is that th could have taken longer on everything, but were mostly okay with being asked to move on.

Highlights that came up to continue thinking about around fort making, imagination and play:

A place to: play with friends, go when parents are fighting

Creating a kingdom and being the ruler of it

Speed making required letting go of specific outcome


“memories of things that are important to me”

“I forgot what being inside a cardboard box feels like and smells like”

for some: Tension between child and adults selves including new understanding of emotions and memories from childhood (territorialism for one), new knowledge of architecture and physics brought into childhood activity

for others: considering their own creative process applied to arranging objects they wouldn’t have considered creating with

Questions about what do you do with the adult? Are you supposed to be quiet? Can you just have hang out time? Could there be a space already made for time out of making/doing?

Could there be instructions hidden about with concrete activities to engage in, that might encourage interaction (ie “be a roof builder”, “offer someone a material”)

What is the play between active outward physicality and somatic introspection? For some the introspection inhibited interaction and risk taking.

What about the orchestration of events? Hillary and I acted almost as DJs announcing when it was time to do the electric slide or the funky chicken, from the outside.  Interested in the possibility of loose performances planted in the midst as well as the written instructions I mentioned before.

How to move from this place of parallel play and territorial responses to this environment and into an environment of permeable barriers, boundaries as points of connection is a lasting question for me in response to this.

Nonetheless, I’m starting to see something that involves public performance alongside these buildings that engages intimacy and collaboration and of course, the question “What might happen to us if we stayed in this space (state)?”


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