Though life can certainly feel like a running on giant hamster wheel, that comparison isn't often meant to be taken literally. Not so in the case of performance artists Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley, who just wrapped up a ten-day stint living in an actual hamster wheel home of their own making, built from wood and steel and installed at the Boiler, an art gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While Schweder had the rather cozy-looking experience of living on the inside, Shelley spent the ordeal attached to a tether on the top, and to get anything done they had to coordinate their movements, working in tandem to spin the dwelling. Each piece of furniture on the inside had a twin at a corresponding spot on the rim, so If the pair wanted to sit for a spell at their desks—painted in a spiffy shade of orange, like their outfits, lending the whole affair a kind of 'cosmonauts in training' feel—they would have to work together to do so.
For both artists, In Orbit is a natural extension of previous works built on the theme of cooperative cohabitation. In Stability, the pair lived at opposite ends of a suspended seesaw-like home, while Counterweight Roommate saw them sharing a thin, vertical abode while tethered to different ends of a single rope. On the one hand, talk about codependency, but on the other, a physical tether isn't too far removed from the normal demands of sharing a small space with a roommate. Reached by phone, Shelley (the top-dweller) described this last run as "rewarding but exhausting," saying that once you adapted to it, "it's not that hard or out of the ordinary, kind of like being on a sailboat."
What was out of the ordinary with this go-around was the amount of publicity, and the subsequent turnout. "Living in these kind of self-contained, sort of absurd, weird, extreme environments is normally pretty quiet" said Shelley, but with daily levels of attendance that often broke 60 or 80, he and Schweder, unlike many performance artists, were in near-constant conversation with their audience. The pair's 10-day residency ended last week, so the opportunity to be part of that exchange is over until they unveil their next high-concept living situation. For a chance to admire their handiwork, the home they built will be on display at the Boiler until April 25.