Ritual Machines

Ritual Machines
Installation, 2014

On display are Ritual Machines for three different families who experience regular absence from home due to work.

Drinking Together While Apart pours a glass of wine when its counterpart bottle opener is used anywhere in the world. In this way a couple can share a drink together. Placing an empty glass in the machine causes an alert to be sent to the partner’s smartphone.

Anticipation of Time Together is a mechanical flip-dot display that counts down to a family event. As time passes, the display gradually changes like a sand timer, but as the moment arrives the pace changes and a fast-moving animation is shown in celebration. The movements of the dots create a visual and audible sense of anticipation. The display can be seen and manipulated from anywhere with a smartphone app.

A Message for the Moment delivers a message when a lorry driver, the mother in the family, is stuck in a traffic jam. An electronic jam jar in the home allows spoken messages to be stored within and sent to a speaker in the cab. The messages are only played when traffic is detected to be at a standstill.

The machines are playful and provocative; they are not solutions to ‘the problem’ of absence from home, but rather a way of extending the conversation. Each form a conversation the artists had with the families about their attitudes to home and work. Each is a bespoke design for that family as the artists identified existing domestic rituals and created a machine that enables, extends or perturbs this during absence.

About the artist: 

The Ritual Machines are the product of the collaboration between the Digital Interaction Group at Newcastle University and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art. David Kirk (Principal Investigator, Newcastle University), Jo-Anne Bichard (Co-Investigator, RCA), David Chatting (Research Associate, Newcastle University) and Paulina Yurman (Research Associate, RCA) are a multidisciplinary team practising design, psychology, anthropology and engineering from a critical perspective. This is part of the broader Family Rituals 2.0 project that seeks to understand the challenges of working away from home from a sociological and specifically ethnographic perspective. Family Rituals 2.0 is an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded project with partners from Newcastle University and the Royal College of Art, University of the West of England and Bournemouth University.