Dried Beans Models of the Universe

From the Department of Household Sciences & Advanced Proverbs · 2014

John Shipman, Dried Beans Models of the Universe, 2014On Toronto's southeast corner of Queen's Park Circle and Bloor Street West is the Lillian Massey building (1908–1912), once a faculty of the University of Toronto. Engraved on its western facade is Department of Household Science. In remembrance of this forgotten category of higher learning, the recently formed Department of Household Sciences & Advanced Proverbs pushes a renewed vision of household sciences across gender lines, out the of the academy and into the city.

Beansticks. Beanbags. Bean Baths. Beanets. Bean Sorts.

Using everyday materials and domestic techniques, we invited Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Toronto 2014 visitors to construct personal models of the universe at a listed heritage structure and a place of spiritual exploration since the mid-1800s.

Volunteers encouraged participation, listened with empathy to alternative explanations, admired unstructured reflections, and offered very good cookies as needed. Visitors of all ages were able to watch, examine, listen to, play with, and assemble models of the universe at St. Matthew's United Church, 729 St. Clair Avenue West, from 6:53 pm to sunrise on 4–5 October 2014.

An estimated 600 visitors found Beanets with lensless telescopes, made 165 mini bean bags, played Bean Star, sounded giant Beanstick, constructed a table-top dried bean model of the universe, and emptied and filled the Bean Bath again and again and again.

Comments and tweets

« I can't express my gratitude enough for yet another wonderful exhibit. Every year I look forward to visiting and every year is a wonderful soothing, reflective experience. Truly one of the hidden gems of Nuit Blanche. A chance to laugh, to play, to think. I will be reflecting on this for a long time. »

« Love my neighbourhood #snbTO stroll. Best projections ever @SpadinaMuseum and gently provocative, deeply creative @StMattsUnited. »

Slideshow · photos from Dried Beans Models of the Universe

New conversations and new models of the universe 

« How did the center of the Milky Way get its distinctive bulge? A new mathematical model developed by a team led by Alice Quillen, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, New York, may explain why the orbits in the interstellar mass at the centre of our spiral galaxy follow a peanut-shell pattern. » — Rochester Review, February 2014

The relationship between science and the arts is fraught. The abstract and mathematical language of theoretical physics intrigues and repels non-scientists so we sometimes forget that astrophysicists also talk about peanuts. How can art bring forward a playful storytelling that includes all of us in conversations about the universe?

Dried Beans Models of the Universe

Dried Beans Models of the Universe is the first public presentation of the new direction in the development of user-friendly models the universe taken in 2014 by the Department of Household Sciences & Advanced Proverbs. Established in 2013, the Department is an art initiative that believes that using the domestic to consider the unfamiliar is a powerful but often undervalued means of living inquiry. The Department suggests using methods of the kitchen, the basement workshop, and backyard play to extend human understanding.

New Models include:
  1. Giant Bean Star Game Model of the Universe · A four-foot, six-pointed star game similar to what North Americans call Chinese Checkers will be available for continuous play by up to six players at a time. The object: To relocate their beans from one point in the star to the opposite point by moving one space at a time or by jumping other beans.
  2. Bean Sort Model of the Universe · The huge pile of mixed dried beans on a large slowly rotating table in this model of the universe approximates their cultivation in Canada with large numbers of a few kinds and relatively few of most others — similar to the distribution of the atomic elements proposed by astrophysicists, e.g., lots of hydrogen, very little uranium.
  3. Two-Dimensional Bean Model of the Universe
  4. Seven Beanets of the Beanetary System Model of the Universe · To find the seven beanets, visitors will need to search the ceiling in the church's magnificent main hall.
  5. Your Own Beanbag Model of the Universe
  6. 500 Bean Recipes Model of the Universe · As they are read aloud by software voices, bean recipes will be displayed crawling across a video monitor.
  7. Bean Sound Model of the Universe · Visitors will be able to play rainsticks, percussive musical instruments filled with beans.
  8. Twelve-Hour Pot of Seven Bean Chili Model of the Universe · Visitors will receive a serving of a seven-bean meatless chili with a choice of seven types of hot sauces.
  9. Beans in Every Seat of the Church Model of the Universe
  10. Beans are the Solution to What Problem Model of the Universe.

With my thanks to:
• Ferrier Wire Goods Company Ltd. for contributing the black hexagonal wire mesh
• Crooked Creek Acres in Strathroy, supplier of the organic soybeans grown on Jen MacDougall's farm, Strathroy
• Pat and the Volunteer Association of the Textile Museum of Canada for contributing the bean bag textiles
• The City of Toronto Special Events team for organizing Scotiabank Nuit Blanche and promoting and insuring independent Nuit Blanche projects for the past nine years
• Lauren H, Sheila, Sonya, Renwick and Xing of St. Matthew's United Church for providing encouragement, assistance, and a performance space for nine years in a row
• Nuit Blanche night volunteers Veronica, Tony, Josef, Tiffani, Marcelle, Emilie, Clara, Lauren K., Liz, Manu, David, Victoria, St. Matthew's youth, Lauren H, Jane, Andrea, Sonya, and Jenna
• David and Liz for making room for over 20 hills of beans in their forest garden
• Lara, Mical and the children of Hippo Nursery School for arranging an early demonstration of the large beansticks
• People's Potato Project Collective for their 300 person chili recipe
• Emilie and Marcelle, and the Hippo Nursery School for making available their big pots
• Liz for cooking direction and David, Kay, Clara, and Marcelle for helping make the chili
• David and Jerry for sourcing and transporting the soybeans and David for sourcing the 85 gallon stock tank
• Joy for designing the invitation, poster, banner and labels
• Clara for printing and mounting the banner signs
• Kay and many others for trying out the bean star game
• Veronica for her enthusiasm, suggestions, promotion, and help during set up
• Emilie for her help with set up
• Myung-Sun for hanging up the beans in Finland
• Stacey and Myung-Sun for suggesting hot sauces
• Colin for suggesting Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances
• Sheila for providing breakfast, encouragement, and clean-up help
• Victoria for sharing her birthday with Nuit Blanche
• Marcelle for her confidence from the beginning to the end, feeding the volunteers through the night, all event photography, helping with the clean-up, finding the textiles and preparing the bean bags

For additional information about Dried Beans Models of the Universe, please contact John.

More · Images of the University of Toronto's Department of Household Science / the Lillian Massey Building circa 1913 are posted here.

Photos · Marcelle St-Amant