Social Design

I think the biggest social problem, universally, is disconnection. Let it be disconnection from oneself (eg. depression), of different human beings (eg. wars), or between human and nature (eg. disruption of the environment). There are many great designers trying to help us to connect with each other, to drop the phones or to start a conversation with strangers, but personally, I see connections we have with others inseparable with those we have with our natural environment.

Therefore, my question becomes, is there a good metaphor to address both disconnections? The first one came to my mind is, once again, air pollution.

I try not to isolate any social issues, as I remind myself any problem is the outcome of more than one system. In the case of air pollution (in China particularly), of course it is a result of industrialization (coal-fired power plants), urbanization (the surge of car ownership), and the lack of environmental consciousness; in the meantime, however, it is undeniably an ugly child of the global economic system.

During my research, I studied air pollution that has occurred in other regions in the past (London, L.A., etc.). One interesting thing that came up was that the U.K. “solved” their 1950s “Pea Soup Fog” not only because they discovered oil and gas drilling in the North Sea, but also, some British manufacture factories were transferred overseas (to developing countries mostly) so the need of power supplies have dropped.

The essay Global Environment and International Inequality by Henry Shue, published in 1999, has specifically pointed out the relationship between capitalism, colonialism and today’s environmental injustice. It argues that developed countries should shoulder the responsibilities of fixing environmental issues in developing countries, for they have taken advantage and planted the seeds of pollution in the past. This led me to think, what role does capitalism play in China’s air pollution?

A big one, of course. “We find that in 2006, 36% of anthropogenic sulfur dioxide, 27% of nitrogen oxides, 22% of carbon monoxide, and 17% of black carbon emitted in China were associated with production of goods for export. For each of these pollutants, about 21% of export-related Chinese emissions were attributed to China-to-US export. ” (from Beijing University’s study China’s international trade and air pollution in the United States) The scientists gave this particular type of emission a name: Consumption-Based Emission.

So there is the cross point of my two lines: disconnection between humans and our disconnection with the environment. Exporting and importing so many products that we don’t even need to begin with, we are not just wasting materials, but also contributing to air pollution. At the same time, ordinary consumers in the U.S. have no idea a dress they bought from Forever 21 is causing so much death to people on the other side of the world. How could I address the problem?


Instead of hipsters living in Brooklyn, I am especially interested in talking to those who are more different from myself, for example, white American families from the Midwest. These are my audience who have less knowledge about the effect of climate change, the possible damage of capitalism, or China in general. I want to raise questions about environmental justice, people’s consuming habits, and hopefully bridge some gap between the different groups of people.

My proposal is a shopdropping project. Shopdropping refers to the public art that “sneaks specifically marked items into a shop and places them on display”.

Some shopdropping art:

What I’m going to do:

First, grocery stores and malls in the midwest are huge, one can easily get lost in there:

Now, imagine yourself picking up items in the ocean of products, and you see this:

Would you be intrigued? Why are words “MADE IN CHINA” on top of the products instead of hiding in the back? And with such nice font? Would you pay a moderate price for something like this, just to satisfy your curiosity?

It turned out, the package contains several “ingredients”, telling the story of China’s air pollution: you may find nicely packed sulphur, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or some coal dust.


I was very excited about the topic of Energy and Sustainability. I see the importance of energy not only existing in the natural environment sense, but also in the realm of human interactions. Why do we “feel” good (or bad) sometimes for no obvious reasons? Why could we “sense” other objects, people, events without actually using our five senses? Is this “energy” fundamentally different from the electrical or the nuclear energy? Is it different from the energy that connects us and the Moon (like Buckminster Fuller put it)? How could we utilize, intervene, and play with this energy?

We also looked about the Doomsday Clock as an example of energy in class. I found it fascinating. It is not only a response to the energy crisis itself, more poetically, it lives on the certain kind of human energy and produces the same kind as well: fear. In this case, it is almost sustainable itself.

How could we produce other forms of metaphor (that’s not a doomsday clock) take human energy and make it sustainable?

I drew many diagrams like this, and tried to search for the perfect metaphor for this cycle of energy. A good example in my mind is Marina Abramovic’s performance: The Artist Is Present:

I see the form of eye contact the perfect way of conveying and receiving human energy. However, the most powerful “eye contact” piece has already been done, and I myself have also in the past experimented it in a participatory group. In the end, I decided to stay with the form of performance, for the intensely “present” and interactive energy it nonetheless creates between the performer and the audience.

Apart from human energy, could I also address the natural energy? The first topic comes in mind, no surprise, is the air pollution situation in China, caused mostly by coal mining and traffic, both are energy. Then what is the setting? Who am I talking to? Eventually, I found the irony in the air as well.

(Video coming soon)

Connector: Language Collision

For this week’s assignment, we were asked to make a “connector”.

– Content

I ask myself, who or what do I want to connect? Or rather, who or what do I think are poorly connected? I thought about ideologies cross culturally and environmentally: how do people from different environment view the same things completely differently? What are the connectors that are malfunctioning here?

Eventually, I found myself blaming the use of language in our cultures, media particularly. I then went on to different news websites and searched for the same headliners. Expectedly, results came back vastly different. Take yesterday (Feb 22, 2017) as an example, one common headline was found in both Chinese and the U.S. media: “the assassination of Kim Jung Nam might affect the relationship between China and North Korea”. Here are the headlines about the same news from a Chinese news site and a U.S. site, respectively:

Chinese site (People’s Daily):

Full article:

U.S. site (Bloomberg):

Full article:

Needless to say, they are different (if not other things). Could I “connect” them?

– Form

I think in most cases, especially when it comes to physical connections, we would like to see connectors acting seamlessly, let it be a conversation with a stranger that just “feels right”, or a plug that fits perfectly into an outlet. However, in an art context, there is also undeniable power in bringing things together by force, intentionally not quite smoothly – juxtaposition, as we call it.

A literal crack on the museum floor could connect immigrants with native citizens, and a fountain installed under Brooklyn Bridge might bring us urban residents closer to nature.

– Output

I decided to create a python program that merge different texts together by force. Or rather, let them collide into each other. With such force visually, I’m interested to see what results I can bring to fill this communication gap.

I placed the two texts side by side (in this case, People’s Daily on the left, Bloomberg on the right), randomized them by sentences, and let them collide.

Below are a few generated results:

The same program can be applied to other texts as well. I’m looking forward to colliding more words in the future.

Week 2: Module

(notes from class)

A few months ago, I was in upstate New York visiting some friends. In their apartment I saw an abandoned bird’s nest collected by them. Never looked at a nest close up, I was amazed by its structure. It was made of many strange parts: branches, leaves, plastic… Yet they were pieced together in an extremely careful and efficient way that every piece grabbed onto each other tightly. The whole nest could be lifted by one finger, but it had the most fascinating structure that could keep your eyes for hours.

I was inspired. Ever since the trip I wanted to make something out of the nest’s structure: something that has a collective effort, that isn’t picky with materials, that resembles the sense of acceptance of a bird’s nest. When we were asked to make modules this week, I thought it was time for the nest.

It’s worth to mention that I also intended to make this project an opportunity to practice the method of “making something from materials to concept”. I often practice the other way around – concept first. However, I’ve realized that it is helpful as an exercise to start from the materials, any materials, and see how far I can go from there. Therefore, from the start I decided to use a collection of materials – especially the ones that seemed raw and abandoned. I found bundles of wires at the ITP Junk Shelf.

The method I chose to connect them was to braid the wires. Such a universally feminine gesture, I believe the movement is a proper reflection of a “womb”.

Week 1 : Make a Thing

For “the thing” I made, please see here.

This week we read Axis-Thinking from Brian Eno. I found it very inspiring. Brian talked about how there are two extremes of most things, and often times we find ourselves somewhere in the middle of the axis. Moreover, there is likely to be more than one axis for almost everything we encounter. Therefore, we are constantly balancing on multiple axises, the questions we ask, the problems we are trying to solve, etc. To find a metaphor: we are not only just going to avoid thinking black and white, a gray scale instead, but also a “3D gray scale”.

In another class I’m taking, Temporary Expert, we have just talked about the concept of System Thinking. I saw an immediate connection between these two. An axis is not balancing on itself, rather a part of many other bigger axises/systems. Every issue is inter-connected. Every question has different answers. Every strategy we take has many effects, visible or not.

For this week, we were also asked to observe one thing every day for a week. Describe the observation under four sentences, and how it makes us feel.

Here are my observations:

I was in the elevator talking to a girl.
The entire time she was talking to me while checking her cellphone.
I felt awkward.

My friend from college came to visit me in the city.
We used to be close but I haven’t seen her since graduation.
I noticed she was still wearing the same beanie she had in college, different color but same style.
I felt both nostalgic and strange.

I was at a party and I was in one of the bedrooms.
I sat on the floor and noticed the ceiling was very high, much higher than my own room’s.
I was sitting among piles of soft clothes. I felt relaxed.

I was in uptown Manhattan today for the first time in a long time.
I noticed people were dressed differently from me, from those in BK.
Here, there are lots of coats, dresses, and heels, less jackets or boots.
I found it interesting and felt a bit uncomfortable.

At the subway station I noticed new ads from Spotify were all over the station.
The posters have nothing but the color purple, and the logo “Spotify” on it.
I loved the minimalistic design, however, I thought it was very odd they chose the color purple rather than Spotify’s signature green color.
I was impressed, curious, and a little overwhelmed by it.

Some guy was having a seizure on the subway platform at 11pm.
The conductor stopped our train and came down to call for help.
Lots of passengers came out and started helping.
I was moved by New Yorkers’ kindness.

I faceTimed with my boyfriend at night.
once again I noticed how soft his facial features are.
When he smiles his whole face melts.
I felt loved.

All That’s Left

All That’s Left is an installation piece that resembles a futuristic archeology museum exhibition.

After human beings extinction in the future, the civilization on Earth holds an exhibition displaying what they have discovered about Anthropocene:
a piece of sedimentary rock that contains “steal”, “glass” and “cement” as well as traces of severe water pollution;
a partial piece of fossil from an insect (referred to by human beings as “butterfly”) which, unlike most other “butterfly” fossils that have been found up north, has been discovered at a lower latitude, thus proved scientists’ theory of Anthropocene’s human activities causing major animal migration;
a sample of pollen from a vegetation (named by humans as “corn”) that has been grown at an extensive amount on the surface of Earth to fill human’s needs for food.

The project will be exhibited in a traditional museum setup: on top of a pedestal or inside a cabinet, protected by glass, and labeled respectively with a brief description of each object.