DANIEL FERREIRA     ART + RESEARCH

Equilibrist Sofa art
A kinetic metaphor for risk in social relations

The “equilibrist sofa” is one of the first things that the FILE 2013 visitor sees when entering the exhibit. The installation, titled Balance From Within (Jacob Tonski, 2012), consists of an old sofa balanced on one of its feet. [1]

Though it might not look like it at first, maybe this is one of the most interesting pieces shown in FILE for the past years. Specially because it avoids the “interactivity” trap, that seems to attract so many visitors (as well as curators; and artists).

Balance From Within (Jacob Tonski, 2012)

Balance From Within (Jacob Tonski, 2012)

A Kinetic Metaphor For Risk

In the following quote, the artist explains his motivations behind this installation.

The project had two unique technical and artistic goals. The primary one was to create a kinetic metaphor for the inherent risk in social relations, which was authentic, rather than illusory. Secondarily, I was interested in whether an object could actually be balanced perpetually on a fixed point.

Jacob Tonski – Prix Ars Electronica 2014 (emphasis added)

Interestingly, it is not completely clear in Tonski’s statement if both of the listed objectives are technical as well as artistic, or if each fulfills one of these qualities. Either way, the artist states clearly his intention in representing, through the equilibrist sofa, a metaphor for risk.

Obligatory Interactivity

Even though FILE still has great importance in the digital art field, for a while now the festival seems to be increasingly less relevant – this doesn’t say so much about the festival itself as it does about the maturity of the audience. The fact that the general public nowadays is more familiarized with digital language is a good sign. [2]

It seems that many of the artworks and pieces present in FILE tend to reproduce the “technological art” clichés – specially the interactivity cliché. [3]

A warning placed beside the sofa in Balance from Within specifically asks the visitors not to touch the piece. Interactivity happens solely between the computational system and the forces of gravity. This keeps the focus in the aspect that makes “digital language” different from any other art form, which is it’s programmability and autonomy (or, it’s procedural nature).

Appropriation Art

At first I doubted that the sofa was actually being balanced via the mechanisms – it looked like the sofa was simply nailed down to the floor, motionless. Maybe the system was too efficient, and didn’t even allow for slight movements.

The algorithms and parts that make up the installation are not original, but this doesn’t matter. In a way, Balance From Within can be seen as an Appropriation Art (wikipedia) piece, consisting on the appropriation of a series of elements and concepts of different types and sources, the main one being perhaps the idea of balance.

Note: it should be mentioned that there are of course more elements in play in this installation other than the poetics coming from the computational system. The choice for a sofa as the object being balanced, for example, is significant (as the artists explains in his statement – see link in the quote above). I concentrate my analysis in the procedural element because this is the focus of my research.

[Original post in portuguese in 2013/08/13. Translated in 2015/02/02.] [4]


  1. Source for the image: artist’s website. []
  2. I also comment on that subject in another post in this blog, here. []
  3. I approach this subject in greater depth in my masters dissertation (p. 80 – in portuguese). []
  4. Post translated so it could be linked from this post. []