Creation & Reaction: Living in Harmony
Evolving through time, people and cities
Fashion Institute of Technology
Every individual has their own personal way of assessing, processing and interpreting the world around them, which can provide for diverse and unique conclusions. This paper examines how co-creation, the process through which individuals build upon each other’s ideas, leads to an ever-evolving space with a different experience for visitors at every instant. Thus, personal interpretation can be built upon in an exhibition environment, leading to an interesting fusion of perspectives and evolving scenarios. My assertion is that this process, in turn leads people to create, collaborate and develop a sense of ownership over the exhibition. An exhibition is a place where varied and profound experiences are valued and welcomed. Therefore, exhibition design could be an arena where these subjective experiences could be capitalized upon to create an interactive environment that transforms per the influence and behavior of each visitor.
My design for a travelling exhibition on ‘Circles’, which starts at Bryant Park, in New York proves the theory true. The exhibition, which is tailored toward families with young kids, helps parents to explain to their children and co-companions about how circles are a metaphor for important real life principles. It explains the principles clearly and then provides an environment governed by these principles, for people to experience co-creation and its play. The project would have the impact of a public art installation, actively encouraging visitors to express themselves, permitting them to use the space or the interactive elements as they choose. In doing so, the public art exhibition becomes a space purely for ‘the public’. ‘Circles’ as inspiration and subject further effectuates this concept, as they not only connote community (think “friend circle”), but also have significance in many cultures and traditions. Adopting the Native American custom of the drumming circle seemed an optimal way for me to articulate these ideas by creating an interface that would permit every visitor to express herself/himself, without inhibitions. It is my belief that all the above elements in interplay result in a space that will ever-evolve on physical, as well as intellectual levels.
Description of Methodology Used
As a designer with an eye toward the conceptualization and construction of human experience, I have always looked at public spaces and wondered as to why there are consistently so impersonal and uniform in aspect. Even looking beyond public spaces, it seems any design that caters to a lot of people has the effect of being purely democratic in sensibility; by attempting to appeal to “all”, these designs do not necessarily appeal to any “one” individual. By recognizing and addressing this opportunity for innovation I have conceived of a space that doesn’t prescribe a single correct use or functionality and gives individuals the freedom to do things their way. Giving individuals the freedom to express themselves can be an asset when reinventing the functionality of given object. Every object is built with a purpose (or purposes) in mind, but this purpose, if fulfilled differently, has the potential to push beyond the previous limitations and accomplish much more. The same is true of the spaces we inhabit.
Nina Simon, the author of the book The Participatory Museum has the opinion that when people who don’t know one another come together in public spaces, there is the capacity for uncertainty, friction, and possibility and that these facets of our social psychology actually present opportunities for community-building. The problem, she perceives, is that these public spaces by their very design do not encourage interaction between strangers, but instead let them pass each other comfortably, with minimal threat of engagement or conflict. Here, an opportunity to make public spaces feel not just publicly accessible, but communal, is lost by making them neutral. By activating these spaces with the intent of creating opportunities for strangers to bond on a level that promotes the exchange of ideas, we can strive to establish spaces that achieve more than their basic purpose. I believe this model can only be implemented when there is a common, shared purpose to respond to.
If you were to take a survey of individuals gathered in a specific environment at the same time, you’d likely find they are there because of some common goal or purpose. However, each of these individuals still possesses a distinct identity informed by their background and personal history. The tendency in the design of most public spaces is to ignore this identity, or subjectivity, to create neutral space that implies the conformity of all the individuals inhabiting it. My contention is that by actively promoting and indulging individual expression among visitors, these public spaces could be “activated” to service an organically evolving purpose; one that would be continually determined by the visitors themselves. In a sense, the environment would become a truly “shared” space in which individuals share themselves by contributing to the larger, meta-purpose. Since sharing is regarded as an act of generosity important to the establishment of peaceful, empathetic and harmonious community, it seemed a fitting quality for a public exhibit. The exhibit will focus on the quality of people’s interactions, thus humanizing the space and the experiences it induces.
Jahn Gehl, the author of Cities For People states, “Experiencing other people represents a particularly colourful and attractive opportunity for stimulation. Compared with experiencing buildings and other inanimate objects, experiencing people, who speak and move about, offers a wealth of sensual variation… Furthermore, it concerns the most important subject in life: people.”
When people work towards accomplishing a purpose, it gives them an opportunity to collaborate, demonstrate their self-hood, and leave their mark. These marks, when they accumulate, become the foundation and inspiration for those that follow. Thus, people from across differing cultural, ethnic, geographic, generational, and socio-economic groups can willingly come together in a supportive context, creating ever-evolving vessels to carry positive and purposeful meanings.
It is also a challenge to make everyone express themselves or leave their mark, in a public environment and in front of everyone. Each person is different and has a different confidence level, cultural background and thought process. An interesting practice studied in this regard was the Native American practice of ‘Drumming Circle’. A practice, where everyone and anyone joins the social circle with the instrument or contribution of their own, resulting in making of original and harmonious music. Here no one is the leader and everyone is equal. While studying the same, Community Drumming Circles (CDN) in Singapore community were also studied. The study provided a clear example of how the feeling of communal contribution and engagement oriented around a designed purpose led to a sense of ownership, eagerness to collaborate, development of value and trust. It is an example of an artistic community model that has a strong and successful central foundation, despite its continual and unregulated evolution over time, as more and more people contribute. Given the precedent provided by the Community Drumming Circles study I believe that interactive experience of this nature could have an especially effective application in a space that receives a steady inflow of people from different walks of life. The space should be intimate, so as to be inviting and comfortable, yet open and expressive in a manner that inspires people to lose their natural social inhibitions. The expectation would be to conceive of a multi-dimensional exhibition that evolves in accordance with the diverse audience categories it engages. All these features should work in synthesis to initiate a spontaneous, impactful, collaborative and ever-evolving experience in an urban environment.
Contribution to the Field
‘Creation & Reaction’, an exhibition on circles provides an immersive and interactive public experience in which visitors engage in a perpetual experiment in self-expression and response. As visitors express themselves through the exhibits many interfaces, they not only create permutations in the experience, but they are also exposed to the self-expression of other visitors. Each instance of expression and response creates further permutations in the exhibit experience allowing for a self-sustaining cycle of creation and reaction. As the exhibit travels from city to city, it evolves differently, hopefully creating an idiosyncratic reflection of their varied cultures. This evolution occurs on four latitudes: sculptural, physical, digital and intellectual, in order to default cater to every audience type. These four ranges cohere to provide a seamless point of evolution for the exhibition.
The project demonstrates how circles are metaphors for some real-life principles and suggests potential applications of these principles in a way that would serve to perpetuate an ever-evolving exhibition through which people interact, collaborate on and co-create experiences. My inspiration for the use of circles drew upon their symbolic potency. Circles are one of the earliest shapes a toddler draws, they are often the shapes adults scribble during times of confusion. They are the shapes of self-discovery and search for oneself, and are also symbols of unity and continuity. Thus, the topic is appropriate for an exhibition that explores cyclical themes of interpretation and application; influence and evolution. To my mind, this exhibition celebrates the subjective experience, and revels in whatever each visitor takes from this space.
Circles are a metaphor for the principles and properties underlying our daily lives in a spiritual, biological, physical and psychological context. This exhibition provides a platform for the visitors to confront these principles in a non-conventional manner that invites participation, cooperation and reflection. It also provides an environment that provokes the spontaneous exchange of ideas about these subjects in a simple and straight-forward manner.
The exhibition and the research makes us realize that the above talked about theory can be aptly applied and will be welcomed in the exhibition world, as it is a field where varied and profound experiences are welcomed and valued, and this is what this theory offers, unlimited experiences. Also, it is a very open theory and practice. It revels in whatever the visitors take from the exhibition, making them feel that they have enough freedom to see the exhibition their way. At the same time, it never makes any one person feel less knowledgeable. Since the visitors contribute to the environment/exhibition, the theory also serves as a visitor tracking device and as a database for the experience every person had in the space. The theory leads to a heightened awareness of the show and the surroundings, as one tends to see the reflection of the mood of all the people in the surroundings. The human instinct governs the experiences in such a case and theory.
 Nina Simon, Design for Community is Design for Strangers, www.museumtwo.blogspot.com, 2014,
 Debra Efroymson, Tran Thi Kieu Thanh Ha, and Pham Thu Ha, Public Spaces: How They Humanize Cities (Dhaka: Healthbridge – WBB Trust, October, 2009).
Implications of Theory & Practice
The application of the theory of co-creation, i.e. building upon one another’s meanings being applied to the exhibition project on circles, ‘Creation & Reaction: living in harmony’, is a scenario where expression of people plays the central and the starting point of any activity. The Native American tradition of ‘Drumming Circles’, and the role it plays in people’s expression of themselves, provided a strong foundation, and the potential was seen of its application in the project, to prove the theory. Talking with Mr. Arthur Hull, an exemplary drum circle facilitator, and his agreement to the close connection the practice has to the theory of co-creation leading to an ever-evolving experience, made me gain full confidence to the application.
Applying the theory to the exhibition, seeing the effect of it, and seeing the response of the people and the way they interacted with one another, in the prototyping exercises, prompted me to apply the essence of it, all through the exhibition. In the exhibition, every interaction brings out ‘you’, which builds up with the other person’s ‘him/her’. Even within the activities the flow is such that the compiled expression from one activity affects that from the other activity, leading to an exemplary and ever evolving output.
Thus, I conclude that the conducted research and the presented exhibition project clearly demonstrates the relevance and vitality of the theory, leading to the discovery of a new way in which the collaborative expression could be built upon to achieve a desired effect or left free to see where it reaches. Either ways, it will play a significant role in showing different perspectives, especially in a space where people from different backgrounds, ages and interests co-exist.
Efroymson, Debra, Tran Thi Kieu Thanh Ha, and Pham Thu Ha. Public Spaces: How They Humanize Cities. Dhaka: Healthbridge – WBB Trust, October, 2009.
Onishi, Pamela Costes. “Drumming for community building: The development of the Community Drumming Network (CDN) and its impact in Singapore society.” International Journal of Community Music Volume 7 Number 3(2014): 299 – 317.
Simon, Nina. Design for Community is Design for Strangers. www.museumtwo.blogspot.com. 2014.