The notion of gathering in order to exchange ideas is certainly nothing new; from the 17th century French salons to your local Book Club, interaction and discussion is built into the very concept of “society.” However, in our ever-widening focus on globalization, it can often feel overwhelming to seek the sort of connection we have come to crave.
While many may argue that the internet has fed this desire with its provision of a nearly infinite number of websites, message boards, chatrooms, and blogs (admittedly, this one included!), our Worldwide Web lacks a crucial component: tangibility. What distinguishes physical gatherings from their virtual counterparts are the nuances we receive through experiencing ideas and interactions not only with our minds, but also with our senses.
Enter Studio 400’s WHITE installation, where 20 architecture students transformed a California studio into a grown-up jungle gym in order to ” bring spatial interest and social interaction to the gallery.” In the long-standing debate of “form over function”—or was it “function over form?”—the WHITE installation seamlessly intertwines the two, reconfiguring how we view our gathering space. In this piece, the metaphor is obvious: we are members of a network.
By offering a tangible representation of our current framework of socialization en masse, we are able to step outside of the forest and comparatively evaluate the trees. Online, our networks often allow us to be anonymous—thereby unaccountable for our words and opinions. In person, we are reminded of not only our own personhood, but of others’ as well.
I see a great deal of symbolism in the WHITE installation, namely in that an individual can–quite literally–get caught up in the net. Whereas our computers offer innumerable opportunities for discussion and self-expression, it can be easy to neglect the connective aspect of an online community without a palpable reminder. It is equal parts intellectual and sensory: one complements the other. By acknowledging the necessary duality of both components in our socialization, we are able to connect both to ourselves and, in turn, ourselves to our fellow community.