Trapeze Monkey

My aim with this installation/intervention was to try and turn the large, empty space of the Community Room into a reverse ballroom – not somewhere where the occupants all move in coordination, but one where they synchronise standing still.

We learned that people find it very hard to stand still…


Fair play though: most people got there in the end!

With nothing more than a prompt on the doorway to the room to not startle the monkey, it was largely left to people to a) find the monkey, b) decide how not to startle it and c) hang around long enough to find out if they’d got it right and what would happen as a result.

Perhaps we should add d) on to the end of that list: whether (and how) to teach newcomers.

I popped in and out of the room quite a lot (monkey maintenance), but I don’t remember doing a massive amount of explanation, even though I joined in the standing still quite a lot. On quite a few occasions I saw people jumping around and waving their hands a lot in order to try and entice the monkey down. My favourite experiment however, was the family that spotted the stereo in the corner and started playing music at various volumes to see what startling effect that might have. Since the stereo was in the corner out of range of the monkey’s motion sensor, it turns out to have had the effect of making him come down!

Below are a selection of my photos from across the weekend. The complete set can be found at and I’ll also be keeping an eye out for images coming from some of the other people who were around and documenting stuff.

It's always nice when you can prompt people to look up - something we don't do enough of. The height of the ceiling in the Community Room meant that there was a lot of 'up' to look at and the presence of the monkey at the top of it was particularly striking - especially when stood directly below.

This boy was captivated by the monkey (returning to the room several times) even when he had traced the various ropes and strings back to the mechanisms that were making it move.

I really liked watching the monkey-watchers from this angle - the zoomed-out view of the whole room as well as being able to pick out the incremental movements people made in an attempt to not startle the monkey.


One of these girls had encountered the monkey and trapeze as work in progress. She returned with her sister, two of their own toy animals and the unshakable belief that the monkey should be able to do back flips.

Yes the monkey was a hit with the visiting children, but it also seemed to captivate the older audience members. Or is that just an illusion caused by the motionlessness? In either case, I did notice that staff and studio holders frequently returned to the room to watch - or just check on - the monkey throughout the weekend!

It was whilst standing with this group of people that I noticed how standing still also seemed to go hand-in-hand with being silent

There are some technical improvements I would make to this installation if I had the chance to do it again. I also have a hankering to fill the room’s canopy with a whole cartload of monkeys!

I’m very happy with the responses the installation catalysed – and am satisfied with the simple ‘do not startle’ prompt, but one thing I think I would like to explore is better communicating the reason there was a Trapeze Monkey. (There’s a group that uses the room regularly as a space in which to practise circus skills. I had a chat with some of them whilst I was working, and they’ve been coming to Artspace for at least 15 years. I also learned that I’ve forgotten how to juggle clubs…)

Unfortunately the monkey mechanism wasn’t reliable enough to leave running over the next few weeks, but we did talk a few times about what it might be like to have it running whilst the community room was in use by the various pottery, art, acting and circus skills groups that rent it out. Would he just stay in his box the whole time, or would he creep into people’s peripheral vision during a quiet moment?