ENTRY #590

Parrhesiastic Play by Zenovia Toloudi / Vien Nguyen


Identify a public space

The project explores free speech at the intersection of public space (physical) and public domain (digital). It utilizes the live network of webcams and streaming video cameras in New York, as interstitial locations between the physical and digital. The project aims to bridge activities in public space (physical interactions) together with open dialogue occurring in social media (digital realm) by bringing awareness about surveillance (cameras) through playful interventions (see the description of the design proposal below for more details).

View the Current Space

Design Proposal

Freedom of speech and public space can be addressed according to Krzysztof Wodiczko (inspired by Michel Foucault) through the concept of the Ancient Greek Parrhesia, meaning to speak boldly. In the antiquity, only few privileged individuals, the Parrhesiastes. had the right, obligation, but also the strength to act the freedom of speech and to speak the truth for the others. Wodiczko suggests:

“Contemporary Parrhesiastes should be the people who are least privileged, who have things to say which nobody wants to hear. From that group there should be born Parrhesiastes who should reprimand society and address the situations of authority’s unjust treatment or misunderstanding.”

How can we create conditions in public space for the contemporary Parrhesiastes to open up and speak freely? What are the platforms for the true-tellers to communicate the crucial issues that others need to know? How can they disseminate these ideas to the others?

Parrhesiastic Play is a performance architecture for public space that acts as communication platform for NYC citizens. Parrhesiastic Play is an alternative urban scrabble, a set of spatial elements that are both urban chairs and sculptural letters available to be arranged in different forms, and phrases by New Yorkers. Parrhesiastic Play can be positioned in multiple locations that are currently surveilled. By linking the physical space to the live webcams network, Parrhesiastic Play offers to people a stage to perform in front of the cameras, and disseminate their message to a larger audience while addressing surveillance through play and spectacle.

View the Design Proposal


Description of elements:
Parrhesiastic Play consists of a set of elements for seating, lighting, and forming words. The number of chair-letters to be constructed is between 100 (table scrabble) to 160 (twitter). Distribution can be similar to table scrabble, eg: 9 A tiles, 2 B tiles …, Y tile, 1 Z tile, 2 Blank tiles. Punctuation symbols can be added.

Parrhesiastic Play explores recycled and composite materials (cork, plastic, and metal). The letter-chairs are hollow out from the piece. Glow in the dark paint is integrated to emit light during night. The letters work both in elevation and plan for the message to be seen through the surveillance cams and to be easily shared through social media.

Parrhesiastic Play is going to be introduced to public space in two phases. First phase will include the distribution of the chair-letters in 4-5 locations where a group of performers will choreograph a number of provocative phrases to be disseminated via webcams and smartphones to the public. Audience’s reception and interaction in these various locations will determine the most appropriate next location. In second phase, all the chairs will be gathered to one location and will be available for more complex spatial-text formations, choreographed solely by the public. Letter-chairs may be destroyed or lost, suggesting potential appropriation, the disappearance of certain messages, edits of spatial text, and a possible next phase of the project that will be dispersed to multiple individuals and locations.

Personal Funds, Support from the University.


Zenovia Toloudi is an architect, artist, and educator with an interdisciplinary art-design practice that centers on architecture, ephemeral and adaptive structures, and experiential installations. Many of Zenovia ’s work explore the relationship of an artwork with its audience through participatory experiments and theoretical explorations. For Parrhesiastic Play, Zenovia generated an architectural approach to parrhesia though the dualities of physical-digital, textual-spatial, materialistic–performative, function–pleasure, private–public, to eventually created a transformative mechanism for people to perform free speech in public space.

Vien Nguyen is a designer, fabricator, and creative thinker with an interest in conceptual architecture, craftsmanship, and digital fabrication. For Parrhesiastic Play, Vien proposed a series of graphic representations to communicate the idea in which the chair-letter is developed as a cubic piece having the letter as a hollow. Vien explored the playfulness of the piece with emphasis in the light integration as well as the idea of appropriation by users.