In 2009, five doors to well-known public buildings in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius were transformed into interactive installations. Equipped with electronic devices, the doors became a portal to Lithuania’s Democracy Index, a musical instrument, a kinetic sculpture and even the source of an earthquake. Talking Doors ultimately proved to be not only the materialization of symbolic concepts but also a peculiar experiment that evoked a whole series of curious events.

Talking Doors study the door’s poetic power of organising and provoking various psychological, conceptual, and social events in public space. The selected unique door-related and door-mediated events are exaggerated, deformed and deconstructed in interactive installations located in the public spaces of central Vilnius. The project aims at becoming an analytical door 'slaughterhouse' and critical playground.


Sounding Door – the door that acts as a musical instrument and a stage at once.
Democratic Door – the door that is open to democracy.
Counting Door – the door that keeps track of its “users”.
Hesitating Door – the door that is neither closed nor open, never confident about its position.
Door Events Workshop – a temporary creative studio dedicated to door “tuning” and organisation of door events.

Supported by Public institution „Vilnius – Europos kultūros sostinė 2009“ (Vilnius - European Capital of Culture 2009), Lithuania

The project won the Award of Distinction in the Interactive Art category of Prix Ars Electronica 2010!
Concept and design: Julijonas Urbonas
Electronics: Julijonas Urbonas, Dmitry Snegin, Šarūnas Šutavičius
Programming: Julijonas Urbonas, Sebastian Lexer, Andrius Mikonis
Graphic design: Povilas Utovka, Alistair Webb
Photography: Aistė Valiūtė and Daumantas Plechavičius  (aka dualhead)
Editing/proofreading: Jurij Dobriakov
Managing of Door Events Workshop: Egidijus and Remigijus Praspaliauskas
Technical assistance: Paulius Vitkauskas[1200].jpg
Democratic Door

Site: Vilnius City Municipality, Konstitucijos pr. 3, Vilnius.
The degree to which the door of the municipality’s building was open was controlled by a custom-made electronic door-closer reading the current value of the so-called “democracy index”. The latter was being formed in real time by processing the data obtained through the special online poll that asked web surfers to rate the level of Lithuania’s democratic development on a ten-point scale. The higher the respondents’ average evaluation, the more open the municipality’s door was. The door’s position visualised the poll results and thus became a peculiar indicator of democratic development itself. Let’s imagine what would happen if such customised door-closers were installed in the doors of all state institutions. Quite possibly, politicians would be simply physically pressed to respect democratic values and pursue democratic ideals, since otherwise they would be unable to enter or leave their workplaces.
One of the fundamental principles of the democratic system states that every citizen should have equal access to political power. Therefore, democracy means open access to both the legal structures, which ground and protect democratic freedoms, and the very things that symbolise that power – documents, offices, communication channels, etc. Things can empower politics in reality and embody the values promoted by it. For instance, the door is by far the most effective instrument of access control. The right to enter (the key) can stand for the power to govern or control the space behind the door, as well as reject or discriminate those who don’t have this right. The CEO’s and other top-level employees of some business and academic institutions deliberately embrace the so-called  “open door policy” by keeping their office door open unless they are out of the office or have very important work to do, thus symbolically inviting other employees of any rank to stop by and share their concerns freely without prior appointment. Culture critic Jurij Dobriakov argues that active implementation of this practice can be viewed as an indicator of the institution’s democratic culture as such.
Democratic Door sought to shift the public attention from governmental bodies and institutions (for instance, the Parliament), where policy is formulated and validated, to material objects and their capacity to represent political interests. This part of the project also demonstrated that not only the symbolic “sources of democracy”, but also the things we touch or use everyday mediate democratic values.[1200].jpg
Sounding Door

Site: Lithuanian Academy of Music, Gedimino pr. 42, Vilnius.

The sound art installation Sounding Door explored the potential of the door’s sonic aesthetics. The special electronic equipment installed in the front door of the building of Lithuanian Academy of Music enabled composers, musicians, sound designers and artists to sonify the act of opening or closing the door and the ritual of stepping over the threshold. The participating authors shaped the door’s sonic character, created the building’s “voice”, made their contribution to the city’s soundscape or just composed music for the door. The latter became both a musical instrument and a stage, while the composers and the “users” of the door alike acted as performers.

Sound designers create the sounds of mobile phones, crispy corn flakes and even hairdryers, while apparently leaving such essential element of daily experience as the door without due attention. Although sound design and architectural acoustics have become disciplines in their own right, the sound of architecture itself is still rarely discussed. Why are we confined to choosing a door for our home space only based on the visual characteristics of the former and not, for instance, the specific sound of its hinges?

The sound of the door constitutes a unique element of the experience of architectural objects, or even represents the “face” of a building. The door is one of the few architectural elements that actually demand an active and personal involvement on the part of the visitor. When we open the door, we “shake hands” with the building and thus symbolically greet it. The sound of the door (e.g. the sound of the hinges, tapping, gradually unfolding soundscape from behind the door), as the building’s voice, greets the entering one and amplifies the sense of stepping over the threshold. It also has a similar influence on those who are not in direct contact with the door at that moment: for instance, the creaking sound of the hinges informs us that someone is about to step over the threshold and will enter or leave our space soon. This sonic reaction can also have a very personal value – some people may recognise their relatives from the way the door sounds when the latter open it. Thus, the sound of the door, penetrating both public and private spaces, plays an important part in developing the culture of sonic environments.

An international open call for sound works was announced to realise this part of the project. These were to be submitted in standard audio format (up to 30 seconds in length) or as software patches designed to match the hardware used by Sounding Door. Eighteen works were selected, and their reproduction was adapted to the kinematics of the door – the velocity of turning, acceleration and current position, all tracked by special sensors in real time. Unique loudspeakers that turn any hard surface into a sound source were employed to sonify the door, thus making the latter become a loudspeaker itself. The schedule of the door’s “concerts” was generated randomly, with the software loading a new track automatically every two minutes.

Giulio Aldinucci [IT], Eli Chochova [MK], Dora Doncheva-Bulart [BG], Maria Juur [EE], Neil Kaczor [UK], Dagmar Kase [EE], Eimantas Kutra [LT], Kevin Logan [UK], Paul Nataraj [UK], Luciano Olzer [IT], Ufuk Onen [TR], Hugo Paquete [PT], Fred Pinault [FR], Shawn Pinchbeck [CA], Nada Prija [UK/MK], Augustas Ribokas [LT], Julijonas Urbonas [LT], Paolo Vivian [IT][1200].jpg
Hesitating Door

Site: All Saints Church, Rūdninkų g. 20/1, Vilnius.

The door of the All Saints Church was swinging, turning itself according to an unpredictable pattern and at variable speed (the installed equipment had been programmed to automatically disable itself and turn Hesitating Door into a regular door when a visitor came within the 4 metre range – this had been done to intensify the “mystical” experience and solve the safety issues; otherwise, the “ghostlike” behaviour of the self-turning door would be demystified by sound of the active equipment). If this door choreography says anything at all, it reminds us of the fact that buildings are never empty, even when no human being has entered them. Their space contains a spirit of its own – a spirit that can suddenly wish to exit and then come back in through the door. We can “see” it only by watching the movements of this apparently hesitant, swinging, disobedient door – one that isn’t sure if it wants to let us in yet.

The kinetic sculpture Hesitating Door reminds the viewer about the ambiguous, hesitation-inducing aspect of the door as a phenomenon. Such “foreign elements” as an automatic door-closer and the lock create a fake sense of the door’s stability and predictability, turning it into an everyday functional object that instantly conforms to our will. Open – enter – close, that’s it. Yet in collective imagination the door still remains one of the essential metaphors for hesitation and the mute unknown. Even as we walk in through an open door, we often pause to ask if we can indeed step over the threshold and enter a private space. We also feel uneasy when the draught makes the door open or shut as we approach it (this is a recurring motif in horror movies), since this gives us an uncanny feeling that the door moves by itself.

Yet what do we ourselves do with doors that don’t have an obsessive habit of returning to the “closed” position? Sometimes we leave them open, inviting guests to come in; half-open – only for those who really need to enter; closed – when we wish to be alone. Yet what is a halfopen door, neither wide open nor closed? An undecided, hesitating door. It is one of the best metaphors of the human situation itself. We are often eager to open our minds to others, yet at other times we lock ourselves up from all intruders, and sometimes we leave only a tiny gap for those smart enough to unlock us. We always hesitate as to how much outer reality we should let in.[1200].jpg
Counting Door

Site: Contemporary Art Centre, Vokiečių g. 2, Vilnius.

Website stats applications widely use the unique visitor counter, which tracks the number of every user’s visits to the website over a certain period of time. This indicator is used to measure the real size of a website’s audience, referred to as reach elsewhere. For instance, in advertising it expresses the concentration of a chosen advertising medium’s audience.

This indicator’s counterpart in the physical space – the door – can also track a physical environment’s community and measure the “reach” of the former. Access (or right to access) can reflect a visitor’s belonging to the building’s audience, but it also defines the “outside community”. The door invites and rejects, bonds and separates at the same time.

Counting Door is a physical interpretation of the virtual counter. A modified video camera installed in the doorway of the Contemporary Art Centre was tracking the number of unique visitors with the help of a face recognition system widely used in today’s CCTV surveillance systems. A computer-simulated voice informed each entering visitor how many times the latter had come through the art centre’s door. Unlike in analogous institutionalised internal-use systems, the unique number is disclosed here, thus the data generated by the facetracking “peephole” is open to personal interpretation and digital voyeurism.[1200].jpg
Door Events Workshop

Site: Design gallery/shop Hotel of Things, T. Ševčenkos g. 16A, Vilnius.

One of the five “talking doors” was not actually a door, but rather a temporary design studio providing various door-related design* services: custom door tuning, door accessory design, door events, door sonification, doorkeeping courses, door etiquette lectures, etc. Door Events Workshop offered its clients to order unique door related happenings (such as a series of random knocks on the client’s home door), learn alternative ways to open the door and get an insight into the etiquette of door opening, buy a specific door sound or even offer their own door-related service.

Door Events Workshop received six orders, most of which were requests for door events. Several series of door knocks were ordered; one of them acquired the form of a door concert: a professional drummer was hired to tap a special composition. One order requested a course in alternative door opening techniques taught by an emergency lock opening expert. The course’s listeners were trained to open the door without any additional tools, for instance, with a foot kick, or using objects of everyday use like paperclips, rulers, and so on. One order requested the managers of Door Events Workshop, Egidijus and Remigijus Praspaliauskas, to tailor a tailcoat and a business suit from sandpaper for door tuning.

The workshop’s activity culminated in the production of a mass production-ready doorbell designed to transform a slightest tap on the door into a domestic earthquake. This product consists of two boxes: one, attached to the door, tracks the intensity of knocking; the other one is attached to any object (such as the floor, a furniture item or a flowerpot, etc.), to which the amplified knocking is “teleported”. The stronger the guest knocks on the door, the more intensely the chosen object trembles.

* The notion of design is used in its widest possible sense here. In this workshop, design is intertwined with theatre, music, folklore, education, ethics, medicine and politics.

© 2009 Julijonas Urbonas