Message in a Bottle with a Pulley System: Experiment in Union Square

Field Experiment: Can we develop the original Message in a Bottle experiment in a way that will engage people more physically? What can we learn by installing this project in the same place and time for several different days of a week?

Plan: A clear glass bottle, tied with ribbon to a rope on a pulley system between two fences in the park. A pen, a clipboard with cut paper strips, and a sign reading “Write a Message in a Bottle.” There is only one bottle for two writing stations, so if the bottle is at the opposite end, one must pull the rope to bring the bottle closer. We left a note saying that whoever wanted updates on the future of this project could leave their email address and we would contact them. The messages left behind will soon be developed into another public design project! We installed this experiment from 2pm-6pm on a Monday, a Tuesday, and a Sunday in Union Square Park.

Observations: People were definitely curious when they came across the bottle installation. We were happy to see that many people wanted to touch the rope, even if they didn’t end up leaving a message. Some people didn’t understand the pulley system and walked around to the bottle hanging on the other side of the fence, but this was still moving more! When there were people on both sides of the rope who wanted to leave messages, a social interaction was instigated, as they had acknowledge each other and to work together. So, we were successful at creating a situation where people physically and creatively participated, as well as willingly interacted with new people in a public space. The number of messages on Monday was less than those left on Tuesday, and there was an overwhelming number of messages left on Sunday. Maybe some people who noticed the bottles on Monday but didn’t participate, saw them again on Tuesday and did; and maybe people are more likely to “play” on a weekend afternoon than they are during the middle of the week.

Where this is going: We are planning a more elaborate pulley system for next time, with multiple branches and vertically mounted ropes. With this development we hope to require and inspire even more physical exertion. And of course all of the messages that we’re gathering will soon be developed into another interactive piece so that the public will be able to read them too. We have gathered a long list of emails, left behind so that we can contact everyone about what we’ll do with their messages.

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