Gifting Tree Interactive Art Installation
Figment DC 2014 — Anacostia Park
In September 2014, Artists Bardia Saeedi and Fonda Nichols decided to conduct a social experiment about food at the Figment Festival in Anacostia DC.
The experiment consisted of a large bamboo structure in form of 5 pyramids, each with bamboo leaves on top. The structure was roped off with a gate. At the gate the visitors were instructed to pick a favorite candy. The candies in the chest were of the everyday Halloween kind. Couple of signs at the front read : “Enter” and “Choose”.
Then through a roped off pathway, they were directed to the entrance where they saw two more signs. A sign reading “Leave it & Stay” directed them to leave their favorite candy in a pile of dirt that was placed underneath the sign in a plastic tub. The sign next it to read “Keep it & Leave” which directed them to keep the candy and exit the installation. Inside the installation, water, juice, milk, chocolate milk, and organic healthy store bought (MOM’s Organic Store) snacks were hung from the “Gifting Tree”.
The following our are non-scientific observations of the experience which lasted two days, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 to 5:00 PM.
The first thing that we noticed was that the signs were not that clear. We added “junk Food” to the sign that said, “Keep it & Leave” and put an extra sign inside the tree that said: “Gifting Tree, take as much as you like”. On the second day, we added a strip of neon pink gaff tape on the ground with “NO JUNK FOOD PAST HERE” at the entrance of the garden. If we were around, we would try to explain the “game”, but a few visitors noted that it was better if we didn’t. They said, thinking about and processing the signs added value to their experience. Some people got it and some didn’t. Some ignored the signs completely and just came in and took some junk food and left. Specially towards the end, the kids acted outside of the game, and some rampaged the candy chest.
Some people were confused by the concept and chose to hang things on the tree in exchange for the good food. The only item they had to exchange was the junk food they had just chosen.
Our personal opinion was that the tree structure looked good enough and enticing for people to want to get in. It had a sense of organic with all the bamboo. You either came in, took candy and left or came in and experienced the art.
In a lot of cases, if we were around, we would talk up the stuff inside the tree structure, which of course made a difference. Kids would hear something like “Juice” or “chocolate milk” which would entice them to get in.
Most parents appreciated the opportunity to present a learning experience for the children and would coach the children to truly understand the conundrum presented to them. Most parents honored their children’s decision.
Almost 100% were honest in their decisions. More adults chose to keep the candy than the children. But either way, it didn’t seem they did something they didn’t want to do.
Most people really thought about it when they got to the decision point. In a lot of cases, it was a hard decision to make. Of course, the organic happy people didn’t hesitate. They loved the experience
Kids who had been through before used the mechanics in an automated way to get organic food over and over. They would run in, pick a candy, throw it in trash and run in to get organic food.
People used the structure as a hangout place and shade structure Some people really wanted to help “pollinate” the tree and replenish the empty hangers with new items (provided by us) in appreciation of the concept.
One person got upset that we were wasting food in the dirt.
The dirt added to the dilemma for the people who loved their candy. Many had no problem taking candy from the dirt to keep.
A few people ate the candy before getting to the entrance. They didn’t however seem upset that they missed their chance. And some who knew there was food inside, just came to eat.
In some cases, it wasn’t clear what they were giving up the candy for. They stood at the gate, looked at their candy and asked what I am getting if I give this up? The candy in their hand was a known reward it seemed. The unknown contents of the garden was enticing and discouraging at the same time.
Kids took the game much more seriously than the adults. They took the opportunity to make a TRUE choice. Several kids exchanged candy for juice, milk and water
No one cried. The famous expression, “Taking candy from a kid” didn’t apply here, since they had a choice.
In some cases, kids explained the game to other kids. They became teachers and enticed the other kids to give up the candy to go in.
Siblings didn’t copy each other. No peer pressure. Although some kids felt at ease and encouraged to go in when they saw other kids go in with ease.
One kid chose to get in but didn’t find anything she liked and left with nothing.
Towards the end, several kids who had been through the process pressured their parents to let them go back so they could choose candy. Some parents caved in and allowed the candy choice, other parents made sure the lesson was not diluted and did not let the children have a “do-over”.