"ANSWERS TO EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE INSIDE"
Backstory and Location of Piece
In the science fiction story 2001, a black monolith mysteriously appears on Earth that provides advanced knowledge and wisdom to the human race.
Now imagine a wider and deeper version of the monolith pictured above, with enough space for several people to walk inside of.
Sadly, I couldn't find a variation on the 2001 monolith with the larger dimensions described above. So, if you're feeling adventurous, you can try staring really hard at at the monolith and imagine it is wider and deeper!
Now that you've imagined this big creepy monolith that all your friends could fit into, here is a photo of where the project will be installed.
The piece will be installed right in the center of this area, near the arcade and tables.
You might ask "Why in the world would anyone want to see a giant monolith in the entryway of a school building?". Point taken, but the idea is for the piece to draw attention to itself.
Essentially, the piece is playing with our expectations of what we get when entering academic institutions. Like the 2001 monolith, colleges are generally perceived as centers of wisdom and catalysts for personal growth and evolution.
However, there can be an unhealthy expectation that school will provide all of the answers and solutions for how to proceed in one's life. In real life, there is sadly no giant monolith that can magically evolve us into whatever is going on in this picture. Personal growth is messy, long, and complicated.
Design and Interactivity of the Piece
The piece will, at first glance, appear to be a non-interactive black monolith with no entrance. There will be a giant sign on top in a tacky font that reads "ANSWERS TO EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE INSIDE".
However, touch sensors will be covering the entire exterior of the monolith. Speakers will be placed strategically around the exterior as well. If the right area is touched on the exterior, a a circular light will light up, and a musical note will play. A participant can continue to run their hands along the smooth surface of the monolith triggering more lights and sounds as they go.
This interactivity is open-ended. One can simply play sounds on the monolith for fun, or they can solve a puzzle to combine the right notes together to form a chord (Emajor#9). The speakers will intermittently give the player a hint by playing the correct chord for a split second.
If the participant succeeds in this puzzle, a door opens, leading inside the monolith. The space inside is large, but the entryway is narrow, so only one person can fit in at a time comfortably. The participant is led inside a dark room where they are surrounded by video screens.
A motion sensor will detect once a person has entered the center of the room. After five seconds, the video screens will turn on. They will display hyperactive abstract visuals dancing around the screen, loud obnoxious sounds will play, and lights in the room will turn on and wildly spin around the room. On the TV screens, a message will start to count down "YOUR ANSWERS TO EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE WILL ARRIVE IN 5... 4... 3... 2...."
Then, right as the countdown gets close to 0, the cacophony of light and sound stops. All that's left are the video screens, now quietly hitting 0. In the quiet, you start to hear the sound of an old machine printing out a piece of paper. Below the center TV, the participant will see a small printed piece of paper emerge from a slot. On the piece of paper, they will find a three digit number on it. The number will be randomly generated for each time it is printed out.
Finally, all of the lights inside will turn on, and the participant is encouraged to leave via an audio announcement. As they leave, the entrance to the monolith shuts behind them. The monolith will stay open with the lights on until it is cleared of people.
The unifying idea behind the design of the experience is that there is no 'correct' way to experience it. Since you're free to mess around and play notes on the exterior with minimal guidance, you might not even discover there is a way inside.
The significance to the participant going inside and receiving a random number is a playful reference to Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. A computer is asked for the answer to the meaning of life, and its answer is "42". Thus, participants receive a similarly cryptic answer to what everything in the universe means.
The number is randomized for each participant for two reasons. On a basic level, it could encourage interaction between participants to share what number they got with each other and strike up a conversation. On a broader level, the idea again ties back to that there is no 'correct' way to experience the monolith - or no correct way to find all of the answers to one's questions about life, for that matter.
The ideal goal would be to have participants spend more time having fun socializing and making random sounds on the exterior, and spend less time trying to get an art installation to tell them the answers to the mysteries of life.