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Riley Hooker’s Inflatable Slime Mold Seating

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Riley Hooker has unveiled a unique and thought-provoking installation at this year’s NYCxDesign festival. This innovative project, titled SIT(UATION), is a modular and inflatable seating system inspired by the behavior of “slime mold.” The design was fabricated by Rhode Island-based Pneuhouse and created in collaboration with designer Nick Meehan. Installed in Creative Time HQ (CTHQ), a gathering space for art and politics located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, SIT(UATION) offers a dynamic and flexible seating solution designed for collective gatherings.

The inflatable “social sculpture” consists of several large, worm-like volumes, including twisted sections that can be moved and rearranged to form various seating arrangements. Hooker’s design emphasizes collective authorship, collaboration, and cooperation, crucial elements in forming collective bodies as a response to crisis. The modular system is interconnected via zippers, allowing it to be reconfigured to suit different settings. This adaptability was showcased when the installation formed an archway at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Richmond, Virginia.

Riley Hooker

The seating system is topped with textural, cylindrical pillows along some sections. Floor and back cushions, adorned with animal and floral prints, are placed in the curved sections to provide tactile stimulation, especially for neurodivergent learners and listeners. Hooker drew inspiration from several sources, including the radical architecture movements of the 1960s and 70s, alternative education and mutual aid practices, and the seating designs of Peter Opsvik. However, the primary influence was the behavior and bright yellow color of the “slime mold” physarum polycephalum, a single-cell organism that bonds together under threat. Hooker uses this behavior as a metaphor for SIT(UATION), creating a space where people can commune and collectively seek out narratives in short supply.

Installed on a purple shag rug, the seating arrangement was complemented by additional pillows lining the surrounding benches. The forms, initially conceived in 2020, were iterated in traditional materials before the idea of using inflatables opened up new construction opportunities. From May 7 to 23, the installation hosted readings and performances by artists including FT and Courtney Smith.

This installation is a testament to Hooker’s versatility as a designer, working across multiple mediums such as graphic design, independent publishing, art, and architecture. His previous works include posters for a “fairgrounds” exhibition centered around decolonization led by New Red Order. SIT(UATION) represents a fusion of art, design, and social commentary, embodying the essence of innovative and responsive design.

NYCxDesign also features other compelling installations, such as a show by local design bookshop Head Hi in Brooklyn, displaying a variety of lamps and “eccentric” furniture made by a majority of women, trans, and non-binary designers. These diverse and creative works reflect the vibrant spirit of the festival and contribute to the broader conversation within the Design Gallery community, highlighting the importance of inclusive and innovative design practices.

The photography of SIT(UATION) was captured by Mario Miron, encapsulating the vibrancy and communal essence of the installation.

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