Humor is one of those things that is referred to a lot, but what is it? What does it look like? How does it feel? If something can smell funny, what does funny smell like? I began this project wanting to visualize some phenomenon that indicates a moment of funny.

Luckily, some great projects are already out there in the pursuit of making humor tangible. In this work, humorous moments were often noted somewhere on the scale of gut-busting laughter to fast nostril exhales. The projects’ breadth made it obvious that the intensity of someone’s laughter is not always proportionate to how funny they think something is.

Though maybe there was something conceptually that unites all the ways something can be perceived as funny. I asked my friend Martine to record the times she laughed for a handful of days. Here are some of the entries

I experienced a gap when reading Martine’s laugh log. Some entries I understood right away, but in others it was difficult to explain the context around why they were funny. I knew that if I were going to try to capture laughter, I would need to create a controlled environment. There should be a constant input and output in each experience.

The drawing above is a sketch I did of my idea. I wanted to make a small, yet immersive experience that rewards curiosity with a moment of humor. Visitors could peek into a head shaped cutout into a totally dark space. Once “inside” a motion sensor triggers for a small curtain to open, revealing a CCTV display. Visitors see a live feed of themselves with their head in the wall from behind. The intent here is to present a moment of humorous reflection, as peeking into a wall yields the visual of having your head stuck in a wall.

The head shaped cutout is really important, as it is a vetting system for visitors. There is a certain level of lightheartedness required to engage with an invitation to stick your head in the wall. This lightheartedness is also indicitive of someone who is more likely to be able to laugh at themselves.

I modeled the box digitally to get a more precise sense of its construction. This process resulted in an wider front face to flush over the railings of the shelving unit. An overhang was also included to house the motor and Arduino unit which would open and close the curtain.

Situating the experience within a false wall would add to the mystery of what is beyond the cutout. Additionally, the first impression would be only the silhouette of a head, which is instructional just enough to get the ball rolling.

Above are some moments of when I was rigging the curtain and the electronics that come with it. The curtain would be opened by a motor winding up the cord it is on. To close, the cord is unwinded and the curtain is pulled shut by a fishing weight over a simple pulley. Unfortunately, in this first iteration, the motor was tangled in the chord shortly before it was opened to the public in our studio show.

From a distance the my installation looked something like this. I made a simple wall with sheets of foam core situated in the corner of a room. Adjacent to this project, I hid a small GoPro camera under a peer’s project table for the CCTV feed. The inside looked something like the video below.

In the future, I am interested in reiterating aspects of this project. I think that the experience would be more elegant if the cutout were in drywall. I’ve also been thinking about replacing the curtain with a more simple mechanism, like a sliding or trap door.




Carnegie Mellon student raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and working in the city of Pittsburgh. Interested in environments design and animation.

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Connor McGaffin

Carnegie Mellon student raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and working in the city of Pittsburgh. Interested in environments design and animation.