Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Research Project - Phase 1: Chaz

Possible working titles:

Comfort Situation


Autonomy Bag

There is no blanket federal policy of the public consumption of alcohol in the United States, instead alcohol laws are determined by regional authority. Although a state legislature has the ability to create state-wide rules for alcohol consumption, few make such state-wide policies and often alcohol policy is derived from very specific micro-polities. Policy is often determined at the county level, but it is not uncommon for the ultimate rules to be determined by the city, town or even village level. It is a rare category of American legislation which is allowed a wide spectrum: one village may be under complete prohibition, while the next town over has several liquor stores and public houses. Often these neighboring alcohol situations create cross-pollination creating a consumptive eco-system even though contrasting values are expressed by the public policy placed on the differing community. In this way public alcohol policy offers one perspective on the cultural conditions and human relationships in very specific localities. Public alcohol consumption laws can be seen as reflections and expressions of cultural ideas and boundaries, as well as actively enforce and influence behavior in social space. The lack or presence of alcohol in public space, private space, or "third-spaces" has a real impact the subject's and collective's relationship to, and behavior within, space.

In personal experience I have been incredibly struck by the stark difference in human performance between the public spaces of Chicago and New Orleans. Statistically Chicago is rated a as a far more alcohol-consuming town than New Orleans (per-capita). In fact it consistently ranked in top-placements of American alcohol consumption by various sources. Yet, New Orleans is famous for its carnival oriented culture even though statistically less alcohol is being consumed. More important than the statistical comparison is the comparison of how people relate to space and each other when public alcohol consumption policy is on either extreme of a spectrum: Chicago allowing no open containers in public (not counting exceptional public spaces contained by specific delimitations in space and time), while New Orleans allows the free carriage of any drink up and down any street. (In both cases I am comparing the policy of possessing open containers as a pedestrian, in both locations it is of course illegal to carry alcohol in the passenger compartments of automobiles.) In New Orleans the presence of this manner of alcohol consumption leads to many radical pairings of humans interrelating that might not occur in a space that does not afford such consumption, create visits to and behaviors in locations that one might never otherwise, and of course may cause the problematic decisions, behaviors and pairings which can get a subject into trouble. Chicago on the other hand, and its policy of confinement certainly do not curtail the consumption of alcohol but do engender, it could be argued, alcohol influenced behaviors and relationships with also take on a confined quality. This results in the less carnival-esque character of alcohol consumption in Chicago, but does can create an intensity of relationships and community, in in constrast personal isolation, especially in winter months.

In order to delocate the character of these contrasting spaces, and perhaps make a temporary hybrid space of these examples (and possibly others) my project endeavors to exploit a well-known, yet infrequently exercised exception in the blanket prohibition of open containers in Chicago: the "Brown Bag" law. In what has always struck me as a somewhat arbitrary gesture of legal appeasement, a Chicago citizen can legally carry an open container if it is properly wrapped in a brown bag. But with this legal work-around comes cultural biases and class distinctions which for the most part discourage the practice, or at least keep the brown bag practice a far cry away from the carnival streets of New Orleans drinking culture.

This project consideres altering the the conditions of social space, and the human behavoir therien, by embracing the concept of the brown bag rule, while altering it spatially and structurally. If the visual attention of the brown bag in public engenders neither the radical comradery of New Orleans or the intensified drinking relationships of Chicago, perhaps an inversion of what is contained can provide an atomized unit of both. By containing not the beverage, but a small social situation itself within a brown bag, hybrid, radical, and ephemeral social spaces could be engendered through use of very modest materials.

Partially inspired by the methods of the Situationist derive, I propose a portable kit which could quickly deploy or collapse a space for two participants to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, contained within a brown paper structure, within any public space where it would not otherwise be possible to do so. The kit would allow the pair to wander freely through public space, stop to deploy the structure and drink, pack up and continue wandering again. The aim is to alter the experience of many social spaces which would not be normally experienced with the consumption of alcohol, as well as create temporary autonomous drinking zones to ensure the inclusion of the inter-personal imporance of consuming alcohol.

To keep the rigor, thoughtfulness, and legality of this exercise on the level, use of the kit would be strongly prohibited for those under the age of 21 (or of legal drinking age in any locality where the kit is used.) Furthermore a strong guideline of moderation would be emphasized in the design of the kit; the brown paper rule works around the open container rule of Chicago, but public drunkenness laws in Chicago and other localities are another thing altogether.

Here are some initial sketches of what this kit/structure might look like. The first is a box design with legs that telescope and rotate inwards toward the top of the frame. Brown paper is extendable from all sides via rollers attached to all four sides of the frame top. A handle on one side of the frame is used to carry the structure when it is collapsed like an light ironing board or guitar case.

The second design is more tent-like. The kit consists of two parts 1) a lattice which can be collapsed into a walking stick, and a brown paper covering which can be folded into a pouch. The covering is cut to the form of a tent so all you have to do is place it of the lattice and fasten its corners down somehow (method for this is not yet decided.)

The third and perhaps most convenient design doesn't use a frame at all. Instead it is simply a gigantic brown paper bag which is placed upside-down on top of the two drinking participants. The bodies of the participants themselves act as a frame to prop the bag up, with enough space between the two to enjoy beverage and conversation. Optionally, participation could wear should mounts which could hold the bag above their heads, in case supporting the bag with the head is not comfortable.

View 1: Bag Exterior

view 2: bag interior

view 3: bag interior with optional shoulder mounts


  1. The only thing I would be concerned about would be the durability of brown paper bag material. Of course, you can replace this bag if it gets worn out, but should the user be burdened with this task if it is a consumer product? Does the consumer make the bag themselves with instructions or does the bag come prepackaged?

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  3. Prior posting deleted due to bad grammar... Let's start again.

    I really like the concept of compartments. In this instance, I really appreciate that you challenge the notion of what "private" means by compartmentalizing private space and opening a dialogue about what is permissible in the private space vs. the public space... and let's face it. Who doesn't like to see people covered by a big bag (as you have depicted). So yes. I like that the piece also conveys humor and also seems like a play on the concept of anonymity. Although I appreciate the concept and form, I question its ability to stand up to the laws that govern the public space.

  4. Even if in the end it does not stand up to public space laws, the idea is worth executing if just to take a walk around the edge of these laws. My favorite implementation is the enlarged paper bag as a "wink" to the brown bag law. To use a portable folding system seems both bulky and unnecessary as they lack the simplicity that the brown bag has in both materials/"kit-ability" and as visual reference to the brown bag law. I look forward to seeing documentation of this in use!


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