BY YANNIC RACK
A new cooperative musical installation just opened at Brookfield Place, where a giant set of musical swings invites passers-by to have some nostalgic fun while collectively composing tunes.
The Swings: An Exercise in Musical Cooperation features a set of 10 giant swings, each of which represents one of four instruments — piano, harp, guitar and vibraphone — and triggering a sound when participants swing back and forth on them.
“We found something universal in people just loving to swing, having great nostalgia and attachment to it,” said Melissa Mongiat, one half of Montreal-based design duo Daily tous les jours, which came up with the project.
“And the whole music-making element is a great icebreaker between strangers,” Mongiat explained. “People usually feel amazed at how comfortable they can feel in a public space.”
Together with her partner, Mouna Andraos, Mongiat originally designed a larger set of 21 swings that has been a mainstay in Montreal’s arts and entertainment district every spring for the past five years.
The smaller version, which will stay on the Waterfront Plaza at Brookfield Place until July 7 and is open every day from noon to 8 p.m., has just kicked off a whirlwind tour through the US — but it will be more than fun and games. The contraption will gather data on how the swings are used and how participants collaborate with each other to make music as a spontaneous community, making it more than just a fancy plaything, according to Mongiat.
“We got a Knight Foundation grant, and we decided to have a study made around it to better understand the impact. We feel it’s a project that, depending on its context, can relieve a lot of tension,” she explained.
The installation has already shown results in other locations in serious need of fostering social cohesion, Mongiat said.
“We were in West Palm Beach, where there is a lot of social tension, and Detroit, which has a lot of economic tension,” she said, “and it has quite a lot of power to relieve some of that and attract a mixed crowd. It just gets people to take down their barriers.”
The fun of literally playing on the musical swings can quickly gather a diverse group of people — as evidenced during a preview session last week, where both men in suits and mothers with toddlers gave it a go.
“I actually went to Colorado when it was there, and I had such a great time — swinging myself, and experiencing the installation,” said Elysa Marden, a senior producing director at Arts Brookfield who helped bring the installation to the Hudson River waterfront. “So I came back to talk it up.”
Before The Swings’ grand tour, when Mongiat and Andraos were planning their original installation in Montreal, they studied the space it was going to occupy and found both a symphony orchestra and a science faculty nearby.
A few meetings later, the musical component was incorporated, and a biology professor came on board to contribute insights from his area of expertise — cooperation among animals.
“He got involved, and he helped us find the whole interactive pattern,” Mongiat said. “We look at human behavior, he looks at animal behavior, and somehow there is some nice overlap of how you can get people to do more together than alone.”
She also thinks that, on a grand scale, The Swings’ latest location is particularly apt — even if Downtowners don’t associate Battery Park City with the social problems of Detroit.
“It’s a nice message for this particular area, because if you think the World Trade Center is just behind it, it’s quite historically charged around here,” Mongiat said. “So it’s nice to see what can happen when people come together.”
The Swings will be at the Waterfront Plaza at Brookfield Place until July 7. Playing on the installation is free and it’s open daily from 12–8 p.m. No registration is necessary, but visitors are asked to sign a waiver before getting on the swings, which is available online at artsbrookfield.com/event/theswings.