Tag Archives: space hijack

Cultural Hijack: [The Cocoon]

For many, many weeks, the only question people would ask me was: “so, how’s the cocoon?”

Admittedly, because of this, the cocoon felt successful before I had even installed it: people were talking about it, and that is the first step to public art.

This all began in a class as we discussed Heimbold, the visual arts building at Sarah Lawrence College. Heimbold has three intensely obvious characteristics: it is built with steel, concrete, and glass; the space is large and intimidating, with little emotional or physical access to the building itself; and, much like its typical occupants, Heimbold is suffocatingly white.

We framed Heimbold as a problem to solve. How do we work with and against the building itself to create successful, affective art? One student commented that “your eyes are welcome, but your body is not.” This comment is what created the cocoon.


Initially, the cocoon was a hug machine. Taken from another project series, the Hug Machine extends from the walls of the building it is installed in, and envelops the participant in a comforting, human-like hug. However, there was something incomplete about the Hug Machine. Andrew Boyd, editor of Beautiful Trouble (a text I read towards the end of my time with the cocoon), writes quite smartly in his manual to good art: “praxis makes perfect” (Boyd, 162). After trying to digitally construct The Hug Machine, it became clear that certain elements were more important to me than others; the softness, enclosure, and positive intent of the Hug Machine were what really appealed to me.
At a loss and needing a project, I reviewed some of the texts from the semester. I spent 90 minutes in a bubble bath rereading Edward Bernays’ Propaganda, a 1928 classic on the nature of Public Affairs, business, and the public. In Propaganda, Bernays gives several stories of companies working with the public in a sleight of hand; they would promote their projects through public works, contests, and academic studies. (Bernays, 70-79). He explains why this is justified:
“The development of public opinion for a cause or line of socially constructive action may very often be the result of a desire on the part of the propagandist to meet successfully his own problem which the socially constructive cause would further. And by doing so he is actually fulfilling a social purpose in the broadest sense.” (Bernays, 73-74)
Bernays’ idea of social uplift or change happening in conjunction with and for the intent of business made me think. Earlier, we also studied Nikeplatz, a piece by Mattes & Mattes.



Nikeplatz was created as a reaction to people placing company logos, and therefore brand identities, both on their body through clothes and in their spaces through advertising. However, the piece itself was simply a performance of Mattes & Mattes unveiling a building-sized sculpture of the Nike logo in a public park and interviewing passing people about it. This proved much more effective than a simple statement like “corporate logos are bad” or “where are you putting brands?” Because Mattes & Mattes’ piece was not necessarily the construction itself but rather the reactions, people felt that their opinion was their own, and in natural reaction to the over-the-top commodity occupation. Much like Bernays suggests, the most potent propaganda isn’t direct, but conscious of how to influence social dynamic. I desperately wanted to join in on the fun.  

The Hug Machine’s redesign involved three necessary components: soft materials, a feeling of enclosure, and an enforced distance between participants and Heimbold itself. My mission was to redevelop Heimbold as a space, sneakily, so that people would feel both welcomed and comforted in a typically hostile space. The combination of these key elements are what lead me to the cocoon. Cocoons wrapped their occupants in soft, shapely domes that were produced naturally in high-bug/butterfly/worm areas. The metaphor of nature invading a deeply removed and unnatural space excited me, as did the easy recognition of the material and shape. It was going to be wonderful.

Silkworm_&_cocoon chrysalis_macro_close_up_cocoon_pupa_metamorphosis_transform_cycle-419018

For the cocoon, I studied many naturally occurring cocoons. The shape that appealed to me most (and seemed most iconic) was the shape of a moth’s cocoon; the silkworm’s cocoon had a texture that fit my ideal balance of softness and ephemeral weightlessness; finally, in considering how humans should interact with it, I referenced Nacho Carbonell’s Cocoon Seats, an installation that allows people to interact from the shoulders down with their heads in a cocoon. Although I wanted a singular experience for the cocoon, the way that Carbonell creates a simultaneously singular and social experience greatly appealed to me.


After a consultation with our fearless art leader, Angela Ferraiolo, I began experimenting with fabric. This featured a bucket of cornstarch, several fabric samples from the internet, and a tiny knife. My process was testing each fabric (felt, cotton, wool, and raw cotton) for two things: rigidity and fluffiness. I distressed each fabric by sliding the small knife into the surface layers of the fabric and pulling up small tufts; this proved most successful for felt and the raw cotton. However, the second test for rigidity eliminated the felt, as a few days after applying the cornstarch, the felt molded. In sight of my research, I ordered six feet of raw cotton batting for my cocoon.

wool unnamed 2

This is where the real construction began. I spent several days cutting the sheets of batting into two panels, designed so that when they hung together, they would look like the moth’s cocoon. To support and set this style, I also sewed in over 25 ft of copper wire so that the cocoon could bend in odd shapes and styles, but maintain its overall shape. There were two wire inserts other than the outline of the cocoon, which gave the piece its sense of depth and movement.

                 cut sewing

The final step, and my personal favorite, was the lights. To reinforce the ephemeral feeling of the light, fluffy distressed cotton, I sewed in four LED copper string lights, creating spirals and curves along the inside of the piece that later wove up the copper supports that held it in place. The lights were beautiful, and glowed just enough that they were visible from the inside but somewhat hidden from the outer world, helping to divide the conceptual cocoon space from the real world Heimbold Space.

                  scissors close spiral  

The installation itself both succeeded and failed, in my opinion. When hanging the actual cocoon, I ran out of the copper wire that I used to suspend it from the supports of the second floor staircase. Although tragic and frustrating at the time, I nudged, angled, and twisted the wire until it came to a satisfactory, semi-closed shape. The final touch was two small stitches that closed the cocoon from the back and a single red chair underneath, to encourage people to not only interact with the piece, but do so leisurely.

unnamed  inside outer2

There are several things I wanted to do differently in this piece, but I consider them lessons for future projects. My biggest regret is, like the cautionary tale that Seres Lu tackles in Graffiti vs. Street Art, my piece was art. There was something inherently limiting and classist about my piece being art, which was counter to the intent of an equalizing, sheltering space. Still, in my many trips through Heimbold, I caught several people resting in that red chair and staring up at the lights that twinkled around them.

As an artist, I see many conceptual and aesthetic flaws in my piece (namely, the uneven hand stitches that secured the wire within the piece and oddly bourgeois nature of art)— as a student, I thought that the cocoon was a perfect respite.

Space HiJack: Jenga

For my box project, I also started with confusion. Since we’ve been talking about cube mappings during class and the lab on gum box. I wasn’t sure what the project is. Whether making cube mapping or making a huge box and tape over it. So I take some note on what other students in the course are doing. I realized just to make boxes and interfere with the space! So I talked to my friends advises for box project. They have all crazy ideas and we came up with the Jenga idea! The unique aspect of Jenga is that it is played all around the world. (at least China and America, haha) Since we have a great amount of international crowd, having a global box project is awesome! So I installed the box here: FullSizeRender FullSizeRender_1 The result came out great. People play around with it. My friends were telling me how people interact with it while they are just hanging around in Heimbold. I am really happy with the outcome!

SpaceHiJack: Let’s Play Together

Remix the City Sketchbook211Remix the City Sketchbook210                       My box project focused primarily on the creation of an event. The event was up to the participants discretion. I simply provided the small and self referential gear in a specific location. People could wear, hit, stomp, or take any of the objects provided. However I saw that people either chose to play or do nothing at all. 4 weeks later the items are still in the location which I provided, in almost perfect condition. I wanted to make the objects and boxes uniform in their aesthetic, choosing to draw from the purchased objects the beaded pattern and colors of the flip-flops, to accentuate the uniformity and game aspect of the project. I think it was successful in the goals which I set forth.

Space HiJack: Living Room

IMG_20141110_163658_227 IMG_20141110_164156_223 Here are some photos of our hallway-livingroom intervention. It represents my idea of a new urbanism. Contemporary cities, though shaped by humans, are devoid of humanity. They are overly structured and lack individual engagement. They are built to maximize efficiency, not to inspire and allow for creativity. In my ideal notion of a new urbanism, spaces like this hallway would be open to creative reframing, like we have done here. As a result the sensory feed back we would get moving through the city would not be from advertising, but from individual creative input.

Space HiJack: Donuts

For my space intervention assignment I decided to fill a box with donuts and hide it somewhere in the main lobby of Heimbold. What inspired me to use donuts as my point of intervention for this box assignment was the inevitable reaction that donuts bring: happiness. I knew that this was the emotion I wanted my box project to inspire because it is the opposite emotion that I interpreted when analyzing the visual code of Heimbold a few weeks prior. When I walk through Heimbold, I always notice the unpleasant demeanor of my peers. The students in Heimbold tend to look forlorn, upset, and extremely preoccupied with the art they’re making. I wanted to try and reverse this negative environment and bring the people of Heimbold a little bit of happiness. unnamed-1   unnamed What amazed me the most about this assignment was the immediate success of my box. Within seconds of hiding my box, I saw students flocking to the box to grab a donut. I was confident that dessert would stimulate a positive response, but I didn’t expect the response to be so immediate. Within 10 minutes, all of the donuts were gone and there was a crowd of students in the lobby of Heimbold smiling. I am extremely pleased with the success of my box assignment, and even more satisfied knowing that I managed to wipe the frowns off of cranky SLC students’ faces, if only for a few minutes.  


My box project was funny. When I thought about what makes me happy, I said dressing up. I love clothes. I love everything about a dressing room littered with textiles. So I wanted to create a dressing room. On gimp  – my idea to create a dressing room didn’t go as planned. It looked like an odd, pixelated, rotated room with bad lighting. So I dug a little bit deeper and pictured my ideal showcase of textiles. I decided to create an EXTREMELY simplified Turkish Bazaar. I love Bazaars because they appeal to one part of my personality, the more feminine, romantic, and ornate side of me. Heimbold’s sterility appeals to the other side of me. So today I dressed like my friend, Arlen/ Not because she is feminine (I really do look like an intergalactic 80s rapper…) But because she is shockingly ornate in every way. She is also an artist and I felt the need to get into character. I am way more sterile and simplified than Arlen. I appreciate minimalism. She rejects it completely. She dressed like me (think culturally appropriating witch) because the world she is doing is more technical (editing videos). So today, In Arlen’s clothes, I created a box. I took a white cube that I found in SoulCycle’s dumpster and built propellers to place on top of it. I took all of the tapestries and scarves in my house and cut off the bottom of each one – then I draped it on top of the wooden propellers so it alludes to a rotating textile rack. A rack coated in persian rugs and wraps and cloaks. Then I created a VERY simple color-coded collage and pasted it to the box. Each panel represents a different color I have red, blue, gold and black. Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 3.44.54 PM Lastly, I installed it. I chose the elevator. I don’t know anyone who uses the elevator besides me (it’s my favorite room in Heimbold), but the box looks playful does an extreme job of juxtaposing the cold, chrome elevator. I wanted to add warmth and comfort through color, patterns and materials. Then I installed it in a contained atmosphere where it could be the center of attention, even though it sort of looks like it’s cowering in the corner. I felt sort of embarrassed in the elevator when two professors asked why it was in the way. Naturally, I denied affiliation.