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Puzzle Jugs – Sean Kingsley

As an experienced potter who works in the tradition of local craft practitioners Sean draws on the environment and materials around him. He does this through sourcing (digging and processing) his own clay locally and makes work that responds to his regional location. This practice of working with local materials to produce hand-made vessels expresses the authenticity and provenance in his craft practice.

Crafting Deceptive IoT

In the making of the IoT vessels, Sean merged the aesthetic of hand-potted bespoke objects with the necessary circuitry to connect sensors and lights that respond to the user. The jugs are embellished with a taunt that offers clues and gold lustre on the surface as circuitry to connect surface mounted LEDs to the electronics safely housed in the base. Creating an intimate local network of two jugs, two investigators on our project team were invited to solve the taunt and interact with one another through using the jugs. When they explored the jugs they found that there were unexpected connections – holding one jug in a particular way activated a capacitive switch, which then activated LEDs on the other jug next to a particular spout, tempting the other person to drink from it ……….. but!  Embodying a lie, the puzzle jugs purposefully misdirected them.

A starting point for Sean was consideration of the material of pottery – clay. Historically clay has been expressive of local geology and culture. Within architecture it can be recognised as playing a part in the expression of a local vernacular (e.g the material make up of wattle and daub/adobe and the forms it facilitate, or the varying colour of bricks being dependant the underlying levels of iron in the local clay/geology). This focus on local resources, methods and forms (i.e. local specificity) contrasts with the aspirations of global ubiquity and standardisation (of form and interaction) that are prevalent in the offer from large technology companies[1]. Sean’s puzzle jugs, in terms of material, aesthetic and interaction explore what vernacular IoT might look and feel like.  

In conversations we talked about the lack of transparency in IoT artefacts regarding their role and function. This drew Sean to think of historic puzzle jugs – objects that were designed to deceive[2]. When using a puzzle jug you try to drink from one spout, but in response the jug leaks liquid from another spout. The deceptive aspects of using puzzle jugs have an affinity with the trust we give to our IoT embedded electronic devices – they appear from the user perspective to be doing one thing but are actually doing other things as well; there is a form of trickery going on. This work therefore alludes to IoT products, and the wider internet, that can lure users into a relationship that can turn out to have unexpected and possibly ‘messy’ consequences[3].

Sean testing a pot for integrity
Sean testing gold lustre circuitry

[1] BBC News. 2023. Australia news code: What’s this row with Facebook and Google all about? –  . Retrieved February 6, 2023 from

[2] Wikipedia Foundation. 2022. Puzzle jug. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 7, 2023 from

[3] Sarah Pink, Debora Lanzeni, and Heather Horst. 2018. Data anxieties: Finding trust in everyday digital mess. Big Data & Society 5, 1: 2053951718756685.