Around high noon, my pal Blair and I arrived at the NEPO house. We were ready to spend our Saturday setting up my artwork for the 5k Don’t Run. Before any assemblage could take place, we volunteered to block off the roads. Power, authority, art, sun – it went to my head. Eventually the perimeter was secured and we started building, just to the east of a giant gold pyramid that would eventually give birth to Hulk Hogan… but I digress.
Blair and I were up and running, setting up the main structure of my piece called You Are Here. At the top of the device was a signpost with 8 spokes, one for each of the primary bipolar emotions as suggested in the theories of psychologist Robert Plutchik. The emotions were tethered to blocks, representing more complex feelings. Instructions on how to interact with the piece were written on the central post:
- How are you? This device is called You Are Here. It’s an experiment in emotional cartography. The main structure is called the circumplex.
- The spokes represent basic emotions. Blocks are more complex feelings formed when emotions combine. The cord is the range between.
- Take your own emotional pulse. Choose a marker and hang it on the circumplex. Select a location that represents how you feel.
- We are often pulled between two or more emotional states. If you are here, choose another marker and repeat.
The more I explored Plutchik’s classification system for human emotional responses, the more I was enamored by it. However the way he assigned and grouped emotions by color did not resonate with me. I don’t really associate yellow with joy, or green with trust, and so forth.
For You Are Here I made more than 800 sparkly markers of different colors, patterns and levels of reflectiveness. I loved the way the prismatic surfaces interacted with the light; this was much more representative of dynamic human emotions to me – shifting, ever changing, reactive to their environment. This way people could find a marker that appealed to them, or one that was representative of their own emotional state.
Once the structure was up, it was time to watch. Surely the day’s events would have an effect on the outcome of the experiment. As people came by and started to interact with the piece, it began to grow. An afternoon of sunshine, exercise, and creativity led many participants to tie markers around love, and joy, and awe. Others were gauging their emotions on a broader time line, perhaps choosing contempt because of a work situation, or remorse for an opportunity missed, or sadness over a loss. I watched to see if a pattern developed in people’s color choices, but it didn’t.
I spent the majority of the evening near You Are Here, but on the fringes. It is always fascinating to watch people interact with themselves through your artwork. One woman danced beneath the circumplex with a tambourine before selecting her marker. I wasn’t sure if she was cleansing the structure or celebrating. Either way I felt joy at what I was witnessing.
One man, who I have never met, was pretty good at explaining the piece. He would stand by the table and tell others how it worked. I thought he was quite articulate and helpful. He had no idea I was the artist.
People seemed to like sifting through the markers to find one that worked for them, especially kids. Each of the markers had at least one mate, except for one super secret, unique marker. I didn’t tell anyone that it existed and was watching to see if someone used it and where it might land. Of course, my friend James found it right away and hung it near aggression, where anger and anticipation join forces.
It was also interesting to watch people steal the art. I say steal because sometimes it didn’t seem so innocent or accidental. I would watch people choose a marker, look around to see if anyone was watching and slide it into their pocket. One person tied some onto her dog. He was feeling prismatic orange, apparently. Most of the time I simply observed, amused. I did intervene with one lady who was loading them into her purse by the handful. She told me to hush, she was “taking them home for her kids”. She looked fantastic for having 27 children.
When I made the markers, I figured there would be sticky fingers. I hadn’t anticipated how often I would have to witness the act, or how it would make me feel. I guess people really can’t help themselves around shiny things. Still, I left my marker where joy and anticipation join to form optimism – it was a good experiment.
I had to take the structure apart while the party was still going and get back to Bremerton, where I’ve been house sitting. I hurriedly cut down the cord, tossed the tangled mess into a box and split. On my drive back, I started to feel really bad about my actions – it occurred to me that these were a lot of people’s feelings that I had handled rather carelessly. Today I decided to remedy my mistake, so I found a special place and put yesterday’s used emotions out to warm up in the sun.