Is This the Happiest Guy in San Francisco?
Interactive artist George Zisiadis is one of those integral-to-the-city San Franciscans who has made it his life mission to make sure locals are having fun. The awesome social experiments he's run here over the last couple years have involved bubbles, balloons, and beating hearts, and, most recently, small mobile stages that look like moveable parklets. He's caught the attention of big corporations (Nestle) and big cities (Boston), for whom he's done creative work. San Francisco could always use more Georges, folks who keep this city weird, silly, and full of new, immersive activities.
In celebration of his recent Pulse of the City installation in Boston (more on that below), we asked George to share his methodology – as well as his favorite fun-making pieces. - Editors
You’ll often hear me introduce myself as “George, like Curious George.” Although it’s simply meant as a tool to help people remember my name, in a way it’s the truest introduction to who I am – someone who can’t stop wondering about the world and all its infinite possibilities. I’ve just always preferred my own whimsical version of reality to the one that exists. Interactive balloon-filled rooms? Sure. Turning heartbeats into music? Why not? But here’s the thing – I don’t think my fanciful imagination is inherently unique to me, but rather something we’re all naturally inclined toward. And I can prove it.
As a full-time artist and designer, I devote my work to drawing out the curiosity and endless fun that lie within us. These qualities often get lost somewhere on the rocky road to adulthood. By manipulating environments, I help people reimagine their relationships to reality. This can be achieved through simple interventions on the street or immersive, interactive experiences. My goal is to engineer situations that induce you into playfulness, to use surprise and delight as a way of inspiring you to not take the status quo for granted. It’s in those precious moments of childlike wonder that your imagination is free to soar. And this is the key. Because in order to create a better world, we must first be able to imagine it.
I’ve spent the past year in SF exploring and applying these ideas (and having a hell of a fun time doing it, of course!). The result has been over a dozen projects and thousands of authentic moments of joy, wonder, and curiosity – moments when stodgy, suit-clad adults are transformed into exuberant, smiling children. I’ve worked independently for major brands such as Nestle and, most recently, for the City of Boston on a public art piece. Each project has continued to confirm for me just how much society is starving for fun.
Play seems to be this thing that only children are allowed to do in designated, fenced-in areas. I think play is a creative necessity for all adults, on par with exercise. Sure, you can go a month without visiting the gym. But think about how gross you’d feel by then. As daily life gets only busier and more stressful, we need to reengage with our inner children now more than ever.
The future of my time in SF holds only bigger and better projects that will help us reconnect with our imaginations. Going forward, I’ll be actively sharing my process and behind-the-scenes work with you. But first I want to share some of my favorite past projects with you.
For two weekends, San Franciscans were allowed a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into a secret Happiness Laboratory, where happiness is engineered into magical bubbles. Visitors experienced them inside “THE BUBBLEVERSE,” which has been known to induce the purest feelings of wonder and joy in all who enter. This project was imagined in collaboration with Nesquik.
The Funk Truck
What could be better than dancing in the streets? On a random, unannounced Saturday afternoon, we converted a flatbed truck into a mobile stage for a live band that spread music throughout San Francisco. Needless to say, there was spontaneous dancing, cheering, and an all-around good time had by all.
This was the world’s first interactive balloon immersion. Over 2,000 San Franciscans rediscovered the playful side of life as they waded their way through thousands of light-emitting, motion-sensitive balloons in a pitch-black room. It was part dance party, part existential crisis, and all fun. You didn’t need an MFA to appreciate this one.
The New Year’s Eve Experience
Everyone loves partying on New Year’s Eve. But all we really care about is the countdown, right? So why not just focus on that? One November night, my friends and I converted a twenty-foot-long truck into a penthouse apartment in which we celebrated New Year’s Eve every 10 minutes. Participants were greeted with overwhelming amounts of champagne, party hats, and confetti poppers. In a few hours, we celebrated over a dozen New Year’s Eve countdowns with over 500 elated participants.
While walking one day, I noticed an old parking-sign frame with the sign missing. It created a sort of window from which to view the street, although it was an ugly one. I wondered how the view would look if I spruced it up a bit. It became a simple and delightful example of getting a new perspective on old things.
Pulse of the City
Cities are full of overstimulation and stress. Pulse of the City playfully helps people take a moment to reconnect with themselves and listen to their bodies. It’s an interactive art installation that turns pedestrians’ heartbeats into music. What started in San Francisco as a prototype has now been installed by the City of Boston in five different neighborhoods to enhance and enliven its streetscapes.
Bubble photo by Galen Livingston