[ISEA2009] Paper: Julijonas Urbonas – Gravitational aesthetics


This paper is based on my current PhD study, which sets out to develop a new design approach – Gravitational Aesthetics. The research project examines and exploits today’s unprecedented means of manipulating bodily perceptions of gravity to create experiences that engage the whole body and imagination. Laying out the key findings of the research, this text stands both as an overview and design manifesto.

Gravity impacts upon us – our physical and intellectual selves – to such an extent that it is unimaginable that we could have evolved the way we have without it. Today, because gravity is no longer inexorably tied to evolution, we create and enjoy a myriad of gravity-related activities. Most of them provide unprecedented forms of perception and accompanying aesthetic qualities due to the fact that today the state of gravity can be altered in unseen ways, for example: robotic roller coasters, powered exoskeletons, orbiting satellites, and even muscular fatigue blockers. They not only give rise to new types of locomotion and perception, but also a wholly original and largely unstudied bodily-perceived aesthetics.
How might the study of gravity’s impact form an original aesthetic approach? Responding to gravity’s aesthetic potential, the study envisions a specific design paradigm by studying gravity’s impact upon our perception, our bodily senses, technological development, and the aesthetic possibilities that gravity allows us to imagine. The project is all the more pressing in a time when the body – the very product of gravity – is under threat from new technologies (e.g. telecommunications cause sedentary lifestyles, while visual technologies replace direct bodily experiences). Although focused on design, due to the pervasiveness of gravity’s impact, the study also informs other creative disciplines, especially those of arts and architecture, or for example, how to negotiate gravity and engage the body in new aesthetic ways.

  • Julijonas Urbonas, Department of Design Interactions, Royal College of Art, London, UK.  Urbonas is a designer and PhD student in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art.
    Since childhood, he has been working within the field of amusement park development. In 2004, he became a managing director of amusement park in Klaipeda, Lithuania, and had been heading it for three years. Believing in the aesthetic potential of ‘gravitational theater’ to reinvent or at least celebrate the body before its ‘death’ caused by current technologies, he researches and experiments on the human’s gravitational sensorium. In his leisure hours he creates new design genres where user acts as a protagonist. He lives and works in London and Vilnius