Nora & Torvald and Et Dukkehjem

Scripting user-object relationships.

Mediated furniture (after Henrik Ibsen)

Nora & Torvald embeds sensor-controlled digital media in custom-designed pieces of furniture.

There is an accelerometer in the rocking stool, Nora. When rocked, this triggers a line of her dialogue from a library of selected lines from Henrik Ibsen's play “A Doll’s House” (1879) to be played via a Text-to-Speech engine as audio and uploaded as text to a Twitter feed. There is a photocell embedded in the seat of the armchair Torvald. This sends a message when it registers darkness (i.e., when someone sits down). This also triggers a line of his dialogue from the play to be played as audio and an external camera to upload an image of the sitter to the project website.

The starting point for this work was a re-reading of Henrik Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House” (1879) to explore relationships. We wanted to draw attention to the intimacy of the user-object relationship. We focused on the relationship between the play’s main characters: husband and wife, Nora and Torvald Helmer. For us, the Helmer’s relationship is a metaphor for the taken-for-granted and often disposable nature of contemporary products. The play explores the delicate balance and inherent conflict between valuing the self (Nora) and society’s expectations (Torvald).

Sample randomized dialogue (when two people are sitting; and rocking):
T: This time, I needn’t sit here and be dull all alone. You have just come at a fortunate moment.
N: It’s wonderful! Wonderful things don’t happen every day. Take this armchair; I will sit here in the rocking-chair.
T: Has anyone been here?
N: What a thoughtless creature I am, chattering away like this.
T: You can depend on me.
N: It will make me so happy to be of some use to you.
T: Don’t disturb me. Look straight at me.
N: I am in a silly mood today. Come and sit down here, and I will show you something.
T: How unreasonable and how ungrateful you are. What sort of madness is this! Can you not understand your place in your own home?
N: What do you want of me? Have you been sitting here waiting for me?


The first time we exhibited Nora & Torvald was in 2008 as part of our installation ‘Et Dukkehjem’ at the ‘Chain Reaction’ festival at the Museum of the City of Skopje, Macedonia, curated by Elena Veljanovska.

This was the 3rd Upgrade! International meeting that brought together artists, curators, and art producers from more than 20 cities worldwide hosted by art and technology organizations from Belgrade, Berlin, Sofia, Istanbul, and Skopje. For this opportunity, we invited some Michigan-based designers to contribute digitally-fabricated items to be shown together in a domestic setting.

‘Et Dukkehjem’ (Norwegian for “A Doll’s House”) had a rocking stool (Nora), an armchair (Torvald), a coffee table (Krogstad), and a lamp (Mrs. Linde) all characters from Ibsen’s play. Roger J. Berent and Kyle Hulewat of Metropolitan Architecture Practice designed the table, Karl Daubmann of Ply Architecture designed the lamp. We added the interactive media to Krogstad and Mrs. Linde – they responded to the behavior and activity of the audience. Krogstad played audio clips of the character’s lines triggered by a vibration sensor. Mrs. Linde changed from a warm to a cool light and back again.


The designs for ‘Nora & Torvald’ were shown in ‘Drawing on Sculpture’ (2010) at the Beatrice M. Haggerty Gallery, University of Dallas, Irving, Texas curated by Phillip Shore. ‘Nora & Torvald’ (the romance novel) is included in ‘The Love Library’ (2012-13) and has been shown at iMOCA (Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art) in Indianapolis, Indiana; Printed Matter Inc. in New York, New York; Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, Kansas; MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit) in Detroit, Michigan. ‘The Love Library’ is curated by Chido Johnson.




Date: 2008-2012
Location: Originally shown as ‘Et Dukkehjem’ at the Museum of the City of Skopje, Macedonia, curated by Elena Veljanovska.
Client: Self-initiated project

Design: Summer 2008
Completed: Fall 2008
Reworked: Spring 2009
Romance Novel: Winter 2012

Trust for Mutual Understanding

Cézanne Charles (rootoftwo)
John Marshall (rootoftwo)
Karl Daubmann & Craig Borum (Ply Architecture)
Roger J. Berent & Kyle Hulewat (Metropolitan Architecture Practice)
Assisted by: Sherman Finch, Michael Rodemer

Dimensions: Nora 18” (L) x 18” (W) x 18” (H), Torvald 18” (L) x 18” (W) x 30” (H)

Media: Birch plywood, Arduino micro-controllers, sensors, speakers, digital audio.

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