The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to the importance of wellness (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) in our daily lives. Focus on a specific community and design a creative solution that incorporates wellness as a main theme.
My partner and I decided to design our project around the needs of the Asian and Asian-American communities in regards to the recent spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. Refactoring Peace: Reclaiming Safe Spaces for the Asian Elderly is an interactive art installation project aimed at promoting community wellness for Asian and Asian-American elders as well as encouraging bystander intervention in culturally significant spaces often targeted with anti-Asian sentiment.
We presented our design solution and won 2nd place among all University of Michigan submissions.
Components include: (1) video projection of calming fractal imagery, (2) types of call-to-action posters on surrounding trees which delineate the occupied space, and a network of youth volunteers who patrol the area, run errands, and escort elders.
Brainstorming & Ideation
We found that many responses to anti-Asian violence called for sheltering the Asian elderly indoors, increasing policing in Asian neighborhoods, or encouraging the use of guns as self-defense. These methods only served to treat symptoms rather than address the root cause of violence and scapegoating against Asians and Asian-Americans.
With only 1 week to organize our research, conduct user testing, and design deliverables, my partner and I were working on a time crunch. We blueprinted a myriad of potential design projects, including a live-update map delineating 'safe' spaces in Asian neighborhoods and a grocery service app for Asian elders. Though these tools seemed useful for our target demographic, our original dilemma of how to respond to anti-Asian hate crimes without cloistering elderly Asians indoors still remained. With these spatial considerations, we began to craft a more fine-arts approach.
Our revised objective became:
To channel the Asian and Asian-American communities' collective anger and fear into creating a peaceful and tranquil space where art, traditional Asian wellbeing practices (e.g Taichi, Qi gong), and community support will aid the elderly Asian and Asian-American community.
Asian elders, specifically Asian and Asian American people age 65 and up, have faced a disturbing increase in harassment and physical violence since 2019.
These malicious attacks seek to strip Asian neighborhoods and other former safe spaces of feelings of community and belonging, as well as threaten the wellbeing of Asian and Asian American individuals.
We conducted three interviews: two qualitative interviews with Asian elders, and one informational interview with an Oakland, CA-based grassroots organization with a mission to protect Asian elders in Oakland Chinatown. During the qualitative interviews, both Asian elders expressed that they felt unsafe walking around their neighborhoods, often crossing the street to avoid walking by strangers. Not only did exposure to media violence contribute to this fear, but casual racism in the workplace also heightened worries of becoming targeted. Both interviewees expressed feelings of helplessness, such that they felt speaking out against anti-Asian violence might endanger them as well.
“I feel uncomfortable walking downtown even if I’m familiar with the area. If people don’t recognize you, they label you. We don’t walk outside or practice Tai Chi anymore at the park.”
When asked what could be done to encourage bystander intervention, especially from passerby who enter Asian spaces, our respondent wrote that more education, workshops, and trainings were necessary. Bystander intervention and de-escalation trainings empower individuals to disrupt the xenophobic and racist harassment of Asians and Asian-Americans in areas with high Asian populations, such as Oakland Chinatown.
Our respondent also brought attention to the importance of solidarity with other BIPOC communities: This starts with dismantling anti-Black and reactionary attitudes which are used alongside the model minority myth to divide Black and Asian communities.
Storyboards and Concept Validation
We devised three scenarios for how our target populations would interact with the art installation.
1. Asian elders use the safe space to practice their daily self-care activities.
2. Bystanders interact with Call-to-action posters.
3. Youth volunteers form a safety network to escort elders and deliver groceries.
I used the Processing IDE to code a calming animation of a sun rising out from a branching fractal tree. The tree imagery serves as a sort of simulated "forest bathing" therapy, a term coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries to describe the health practice of taking a nature walk to improve one's health. I was also inspired by research documenting how fractals in nature, as well as computer-simulated fractals, can lower one's stress levels by up to 60%.