- A beautiful side table that fits any motif
- Captivating kinetic art installation
- Software functionality is open for expansion
- A bit on the expensive side
- Upgrading the software can be tedious
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We have seen and covered a wide range of tables over the past years, each of them evoking some kind of emotion. Some are begging to be utilized to their full extent, offering a space for books, cups, or even trinkets. Others look more like art pieces that you’d rather have displayed yet remain untouched. Coffee tables and side tables in the living area are often designed to blend harmoniously into people’s lives, but few make bold promises of inducing peace of mind. Even fewer can claim to have succeeded, and the Sisyphus Kinetic Art Table is perhaps the best exemplar of that.
Even in its dormant, passive state, the Sisyphus Kinetic Art Site Table is already a calming presence in any space. The juxtaposition of metal and wood in the Walnut finish we were sent to review creates an earthy atmosphere that is often best associated with meditative practices. These materials also try to visually connect us to the dichotomy of nature itself, with the cold and dark metal base contrasting visually and thematically with the warmth of the wooden sides and ring of the table itself. The randomness of wood grains and color also gives the table a bit of a personality, with almost no two tables looking exactly the same.
The tempered glass top continues that theme of contrasting elements, evoking both feelings of clarity and, at the same time, uncertainty. Glass doesn’t always inspire confidence when it comes to durability, but Sisyphus’ meticulous manufacturing and testing processes ensure that it won’t be as fragile as your eyes might tell your brain. Of course, the glass isn’t merely decorative and serves as the window to the table’s main show.
Inside the wooden body of the Sisyphus side table, you will find a lot of sand. White sand, like the ones you might see on some beaches. Or more relevant to the topic, the kind of sand you might see in some Zen gardens, big and small alike. In essence, the figurative and literal soul of the Sisyphus is a miniature Japanese sand garden enclosed in a wooden basin and topped with clear glass that keeps the sand from ruining your furniture or carpet. But unlike a typical Zen garden where you’d use a fork or rake to create circles, a small metal ball rolls calmly across the white desert, leaving a trail of art in its wake. And unlike its mythological namesake, the Sisyphus table seemingly pushes this silver orb not to induce stress but to relieve it.
It’s not easy to judge a product’s ergonomics if it’s not something you often handle often. A side table, especially one made from metal, wood, and glass, is definitely one of those. Unlike most furniture, however, the Sisyphus does require a few steps to prepare, like connecting the robot to your home network, and there will come a time when you actually need to maintain its electronic parts.
The Sisyphus table can’t be shipped with the sand already inside the table, of course, so you will have to add that yourself. Pouring the sand into the wooden basin might sound like an easy task, but you’re advised to do it slowly, which is probably an opportunity for meditative mindfulness. During shipping, some sand might have gathered together into bigger particles that you need to pulverize with your finger. You also wouldn’t want to accidentally spill sand around in your haste, anyway, especially before you cover it up with the tempered glass top.
All the electronics needed to make the table work are, fortunately, already pre-installed, from the RBGW LED lighting around the insides of the table to the circuit boards, motors, and magnets that make the ball move. The latter set is located directly underneath the wooden body, and all you need to do is to plug the power supply into the cord dangling out of one of the table’s legs. The mechanisms and electronics are completely exposed for easier access when you need to repair or change something in the software, making it easier to update the Sisbot in the future. Preparing and maintaining Sisyphus tables is definitely not like your typical table, even those with lighting or wireless charging built-in, but the initial effort is truly worth it once you get the ball rolling, literally and figuratively.
Calling the Sisyphus a Kinetic Art Table is almost like calling the Mona Lisa a drawing of a pretty lady. It’s technically correct, but it doesn’t exactly do it justice. The name simply indicates the nature of the masterpiece, utilizing motion to create a work of art. It doesn’t completely convey the almost magical way that art is created, nor the mental health benefits this kind of almost meditative art can offer.
Utilizing magnets, stepper motors, and small computers that include the popular Raspberry Pi, designer Bruce Shapiro created the Sisbot, the brains and the muscle beneath the art. The magnets move the ball across the sandbox, guided by special programs on the Sisbot and following patterns that were either pre-installed on the tiny computer or created by people. These patterns can range from repeating shapes, lines, and circles you’d often seen in mesmerizing tapestries to almost any line art you can think of. The RGBW LEDs also set the mood, creating a kaleidoscopic light show to captivate your guests or a simplistic warm glow to soothe your eyes.
Sisyphus takes the drudgery out of using the technology behind the table. The company designed it in a way that using the mobile app is like using a music player. Each complete pattern is called a “track,” and you add these to a playlist that the Sisbot will then run in sequence. Instead of creating music, the Sisyphus table creates a visual performance meant to mesmerize you with the smooth movement of a shiny metal ball over white sand, helping put your mind in a more meditative state.
Unlike a typical music player, you’re not confined to a small set of tracks to play on your Kinetic Art Table. The mobile app gives instant access to more than 1,000 designs created by other Sisyphus table owners, and that collection continually grows as more people add their creativity and ideas to the community repository. In fact, you can do that as well and design your own paths for the metal ball to follow and then share them with other Sisyphus fans to spread the love.
A metal ball rolling on sand isn’t going to be completely quiet, but the Sisyphus table manages to keep it to a minimum. Rather than trying to eradicate it completely, however, it turns the soft “crunching” sound into something that’s part of the overall experience. Just like the rustling of leaves, the drop of rain, or the rhythmic tapping of a Japanese water fountain, the Sisyphus Kinetic Art Table also engages the ears to immerse the viewer in a Zen-like trance even further.
The Sisyphus table almost looks like it works using magic, but all that magic is hidden in what some might even consider as unremarkable technologies. The table requires a connection to a home network to work, and while Wi-Fi is preferred, there is also an option for wired Ethernet cabling. Even if you go wireless, though, you’ll still need to plug the table into a wall socket, though its actual power use is very minimal at 5 to 25 watts, depending on how active it is.
Many designers and furniture makers these days have become more painfully aware of the critical role they play in making the world a better place. Many have switched to more responsible processes and more sustainable materials that can help heal the planet little by little. Except for the circuit boards, the Sisyphus Kinetic Art Table is made in the US, which also helps reduce the carbon footprint when shipping to customers within the country. At first glance, the Sisyphus Metal Side Table looks like a good citizen in this regard, but its score is far from perfect. The use of metal, wood, and glass definitely helps it score points, but the devil, as they say, is in the details.
Sisyphus’ decision to powder-coat the metal base rather than paint them goes towards reducing the use of harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process. However, the company doesn’t mention the type of lacquer it uses to repeatedly spray the wooden tables. Depending on the makeup of the lacquer, it could end up as a red mark on Sisyphus’ report card.
And then there’s the presence of electronics and some plastics, always bad signs when it comes to sustainability, especially off-the-shelf ones that aren’t made with more eco-friendly materials or substances. One thing that goes in Sisyphus’ favor is that it designed these tables to last a long, long time and sells replacement parts when they break. Sadly, it doesn’t offer any guidance on recycling these parts that will eventually end up in landfills.
The Sisyphus Kinetic Art Metal Side Table is not an inexpensive piece of furniture, especially if you go for the wooden Cherry or Walnut finishes. Even for a piece of designer furniture, it might look a tad too pricey for a 22-inch high side. Then again, the Sisyphus also does what no other side table can.
While there are plenty of side tables with minimalist designs, some even have designs that utilize artistic patterns to create artful visuals. All of these, however, have fixed designs that do not grow along with their owners’ tastes and needs. In contrast, the Sisyphus doesn’t simply offer a Kinetic Art installation at your home; it lets owners define their own experiences, allowing their creativity to flow inside the table, drawn on fine sand by a seemingly magical metal ball.
Is it worth $1,600? That’s definitely a “yes” and not just because the table is built to last. Its capabilities go beyond the initial set that its designer has created for it. Those capabilities can grow even more with software updates that won’t require buying anything new, except perhaps for an extra microSD card.
Some homeowners want their furniture to reflect their individuality. Others prefer more minimalist designs that invite an atmosphere of calm into their homes. The Sisyphus Kinetic Art Metal Side Table caters to both groups and does so in an almost magical way with nothing but sand and a rolling metal ball. If you ever need to plop down on the sofa and have a relaxing cup of tea, the Sisyphus offers a soothing distraction that is both mesmerizing and entertaining, especially if you have guests to impress.
Some interested buyers might balk at the price tag, but it’s pretty much like investing in a piece of furniture and an art installation in one. The availability of replacement parts and upgradeable software means that this table won’t be running out of tricks any time soon.
Artist: Bruce Shapiro
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