Ton­ski took a 150-year-old sofa and re­con­fig­ured its in­ter­nal struc­ture to al­low it to bal­ance on one leg.

Pasatiempo - - CURRENTS - Bal­ance From Within magic il­lu­sion

“I’ve found that ex­plor­ing bal­ance in a va­ri­ety of ways, even if they seemed strange and un­likely, I ac­tu­ally learned some­thing pretty pro­found about how we main­tain it in our lives and even with our bod­ies,” Ton­ski said. “A lot of this work got in­spired by friends who of­fered to teach me how to ride a uni­cy­cle. It’s un­be­liev­ably dif­fi­cult. It’s so dif­fi­cult that the first time you sit on a uni­cy­cle you say to your­self, ‘This is ac­tu­ally phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble.’ But there was some­thing in me that made me think, ‘OK. This feels im­pos­si­ble, but peo­ple make it look easy. So what’s the learn­ing curve like?’ I have to imag­ine it’s like learn­ing to walk again. You have to get out of the way of your brain and let your body just learn by do­ing and fail­ing.”

is a re­flec­tion on the har­mony in a re­la­tion­ship. A tremen­dous amount of en­ergy is needed to main­tain a re­la­tion­ship, and it is sus­cep­ti­ble to ex­ter­nal pres­sures. The sofa is a sym­bol of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion and do­mes­tic­ity. There’s some­thing sur­real about see­ing a piece of fur­ni­ture placed in an un­usual con­text. “Peo­ple use the words and with that piece a lot, and I un­der­stand why, but it’s im­por­tant to rec­og­nize that it is re­ally bal­anc­ing. It’s not an il­lu­sion of bal­ance. When you feel your­self start to fall, you ro­tate arms and limbs and torso in a way that cre­ates a counter force and keeps you stand­ing up. We do this with­out think­ing about it all day long. Fig­ur­ing out how to en­gi­neer a sys­tem that bal­ances the way a hu­man does, through in­te­gral forces, took me two years. In essence there are heavy wheels in­side the sofa that try to ro­tate the sofa about them­selves. They spin the sofa in space, caus­ing a slightly side­ways twist­ing about the leg on the floor.”

Ton­ski de­signed the sofa to frac­ture into a num­ber of eas­ily re­assem­bled parts when it does fall. “It was a lot of trou­ble to make that hap­pen,” he said. He also had to retro­fit a mo­tor and ap­pa­ra­tus into the sofa’s in­te­rior while keep­ing its struc­ture and up­hol­stery in­tact. To see a sofa up­ended with no ap­par­ent cause and watch­ing it teeter pre­car­i­ously cre­ates a kind of ten­sion in the viewer, who knows it could tip over at any mo­ment. “That feel­ing of up­end­ed­ness — psy­chol­ogy has a name for it, which is cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance,” Ton­ski said. “There’s what you know and what you ex­pect, and when you see some­thing that breaks from what you know and breaks your ex­pec­ta­tions, it’s like hav­ing a huge ques­tion mark light up in your brain. It calls into ques­tion your as­sump­tions, and when we ef­fec­tively ques­tion our as­sump­tions we are in the best po­si­tion pos­si­ble to grow in how we think about things. That’s a very in­ten­tional part of the piece. I think the great­est thing it could do is get peo­ple to let go a lit­tle bit of their grip on what they think is pos­si­ble.”

— Michael Abatemarco

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