Boring Benches

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What is it like to be in a state of mind-numbing boredom? What kind of special features can be found in places that cause staring, boredom and standing stiffly still? In what kind of an environment will your eyes start to wander around the walls when walls are actually of no interest to you?

Is it possible to purposely produce in another person the experience of stopping, doing nothing and becoming bored? Can space design be used to consciously promote idleness? Is it possible to build a visual identity with no ambition to achieve anything, or with the ambition to achieve nothing? Can you carry out service design for boredom while feeling bored?

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The primary function of service design is to provide users with experiences and functional models, using the help of various affective touchpoints such as human contact, digital applications or route suggestions. Instead of creating physical objects, images or spaces, the job of a service designer is to create a functional model, a kind of choreography that guides the fulfillment of a need or completion of an everyday chore like going to the supermarket, so that this becomes an experience, and in many cases, grows more efficient. Good service design can make life smoother and contribute to great customer experiences. At the same time, service design can be perceived as manipulation of human actions and moods, and as a tool of industrial engineering.

When we addressed the subject of service design of boredom, we became aware of the need to be particularly careful about the representations of boredom and the starting points from which the spatial and visual elements of boredom are first approached. It is very easy to get carried away thinking about the outcomes of boredom. The actual phase of becoming bored —the one that feels frustrating and ambiguous and includes feelings of paralysis, loss of power and insignificance— is easily overcome by the positive effects of boredom, such as rediscovering the world and inspiration. However, it is just that avoidance of the mundane feeling of insignificance that keeps us from achieving the possibility of being bored in the first place.

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In September last year, we visited the Rauma Art Museum for a weekend. It was our first visit to the museum building and its surroundings. We were given instructions on how to turn off the alarm system. We were allowed to wander through the museum space and the outbuildings on our own and at our own pace. We peeked into basements. We took pictures of the gravel of the courtyard, the rooms with their visible layers of different eras, and the lights and shadows drawn by the low-lying sun.

A new exhibition was being built in the exhibition spaces. Their half-finished state and lack of furniture highlighted the delicacy of the facilities and the lovely mismatched appearance and casual nature of the rooms that represent different eras. Vinyl floor covers in different colours, strips of wood added later, walls intended to stand for a brief moment but left standing for years. We walked from one exhibition space to the next. We went in and out of doors. We found ourselves staring at the wooden wall of the building facing the museum. We examined the floor materials, the cracked concrete slabs, the surfaces that had been painted over several times, the corners, the gaps between structures and the building and wood joints.

We wondered how would it be possible to encourage such slow-paced exploration and illogical movement during the In Praise of Boredom exhibition. How to build exhibition furniture that seeks to produce, instead of successful, predetermined museum experiences, emotions and moments whose dullness and monotony will cause them to be overshadowed by other feelings? How could we slow down time without making a big deal out of this stagnation? We sat down to think about this.

Can an ordinary bench, built of raw board, become a piece of furniture that doesn’t feel it has the obligation to produce services to avoid boredom? Could we rely on the viewer’s independent ability to come to terms with insignificance even when it feels distressing?

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The benches at the In Praise of Boredom exhibition were built in cooperation with local youth at the City of Rauma’s workshop for young people. A big thank you to Ari Ruusuranta and all the young people who participated in the building of the benches.

Kaisa Karvinen and Tommi Vasko
The writers have created the visual design and exhibition architecture for Rauma Triennale 2019

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