In Search of… Loneliness — 7 June 2019 — Curation and words by Chanjuan Li and Shuting Wen Images by Qiong Zhao, Yunjing Li, Chanjuan Li and Shuting…
In Search of… Loneliness
7 June 2019
Curation and words by Chanjuan Li and Shuting Wen
Images by Qiong Zhao, Yunjing Li, Chanjuan Li and Shuting Wen
There has been a growing discussion about how a graphic designer could play a role in the reflection of social and cultural topics, and how design needs to be used to create a more powerful communication among individuals, groups and the public. This session intends to take the topic of “loneliness”, which has been a great concern in the UK in recent years, as a starting point to reflect on it as designers. We wish to learn different research methods used and explored by designers and institutions. This day is a journey to investigate the definition of “loneliness” in art, social activities and history and the influence of loneliness on individuals and society. Enquiring into the specific knowledge of this topic is essential for us as designers to reflect or have a critical position in our design. The analysis of different design works and practices also helps us answer this question: ‘How does design contribute to society?’.
ART AS A LONELINESS THERAPY
The day started with a visit to SHARP (Social inclusion, Hope And Recovery Project) gallery and a conversation with its curator Ana Maria. The SHARP specialist group comprises of mental health professionals and local artists. They organized a series of arts-related workshops as part of their mental health service in the Salome gallery (previously SHARP gallery). Although the SHARP project has now ended, its gallery is still running. Ana led us to its current exhibition, Personal Perspectives on Mental Health, showing us a collection of paintings which expressed the artists’ feelings when experiencing mental health problems. Paintings can show how various mental health problems look like for different people. Exhibited pieces are not placed according to specific mental health problems; instead they fill the wall, being put in irregular order, as a way to imitate artists’ disordered moods under mental pain. For those who experience mental health problems, making and showing artworks can be a way to make sense of and begin to rebuild their lives. Visualising their emotions have helped most of the participating artists to reconstruct. Art became a psychology therapy. The gallery also hosts art workshops. Artworks are created and discussed in groups to explore the methodology of the “Five Ways of Wellbeing”: connect/give/take notice/get active/keep learning. “Connect” allows people to engage in the arts and different practices, to share art with one another and to use it as a talking point while “Take notice” gives them opportunities to volunteer within the arts, to use art as tools to communicate better and to release pessimistic emotions. “Stay active” encourages patients to keep engaging in the arts in order to extract themselves from melancholia or depression. “Keep learning” uses museums and galleries to provide opportunities for learning and acquiring skills, which increase positive emotions. It is a kind of social prescription.
Figure 1. Ana introduces the artworks in ‘Personal Perspectives on Mental Health’ exhibition.
Figure 2. Booklet about the Salome gallery (previous sharp gallery) shared by Ana.
After our discussion with Ana, we realised art or design can be a way to help people to communicate their mental health struggles, including loneliness, to the outer world. We brought two objects -to the session for their capacity to open discussions around loneliness. The Institution of Loneliness by Celina Bassili explores what loneliness would look like as physical spatial or embodied form. The project visualises an abstract emotion as something we are familiar with, where each feature of loneliness is extracted. Are You Lost in the World Like Me by Steve Cutts is a music video exposing the gradual increase of loneliness in the crowd. In the digital era, smartphone-addiction under different circumstances are contributing to the loneliness.
DESIGN EXPERIMENTS WITH/FOR LONELINESS
The Wellcome Trust is our next stop. We meet Natalie Coe, who is the Live Programmes Producer at the Wellcome Collection and is involved in the project called ‘Anatomy of Loneliness’. She introduces their collaboration with BBC Radio 4 through the BBC loneliness experiment project .What is interesting in this project is the way they researched loneliness based on surveys and live programme. She showed us three survey result cards (Figure 4) inquiring people’s opinion of loneliness (e.g. What is loneliness? How to solve loneliness? What is the opposite of loneliness?). The survey results show people’s understanding of loneliness in public. Survey as a research method made it easy for them to gather data and analyse it. The live programme they organised also created an opportunity to bring people together to share their opinions about loneliness. As she mentioned, the museum as a public space can play an important role to tackle the problem of loneliness: it provides a thirdspace where people can come together (the first space is the museum as the building itself, and the second space is the goal of the museum building: a place to exhibit objects).
Figure 3. Discussion with Natalie at the Wellcome Collection
Figure 4. Survey cards shared by Natalie.
Our conversation with Natalie helped us understand how the institution engages with social topics such as loneliness. They held a public event to let people know what loneliness is through talks and survey. We shared another project with participants called The Ministry of Loneliness organised by On The Mend group at Tate Exchange, to invite people to write letters to those in long term healthcare settings. These letters were distributed to those in elderly care homes and those likely to be feeling lonely. This project used a similar method to the Wellcome Collection: it encouraged the public to join, created a chance to let people communicate with one another and understand more about loneliness.
LEVELS OF LONELINESS
Using the rest space in the Wellcome Trust building, we got a chance to skype with historian professor David Vincent whose research is also concerned with the topic of “loneliness”. This discussion helped us understand the definition of loneliness at different levels. The UK government started to be concerned about loneliness in society during World War II. There was a much older desire to be independent, but in the 19th century, only a few people could live by themselves and their anxiety caused loneliness. Nowadays it is easier to live alone but the pressure to live independently also increases loneliness. Government’s loneliness strategy intends to promote more public spaces and access to facilities in order to build stronger social connections. For individuals, young and elderly people are most likely to feel lonely and the loneliness curve follows a U-shaped, with the highest loneliness rate at youth and elder. People who are confronted with a transition point can also feel lonely, for example, when moving to a new place or starting a new life. David explained his view of loneliness as a failed solitude. For people who live alone, some of them feel lonely and find it hard to handle this emotion, while others enjoy being alone.
Figure 5. Group skype with professor David discussing about the history of loneliness.
We learned from the viewpoints given by David that loneliness is influenced by the surrounding environment. A building, an architecture can create a communication space and also have an influence on our physical and mental health. Based on this, we shared the last two objects we brought to conclude the day and inspire more thinking: Living Closer: The Many Faces of Co-housing, a book by London based architecture collective Studio Weave introduces the whole process and research methods of Co-housing, exploring possible ways to develop cohousing while trying to restore a sense of community through architecture. In this book, the studio gathered, typologized and analyzed various living spaces, and then got some co-housing prototypes. 1-6 Copper Lane Co-housing project by Studio Henley Halebrown is a real cohousing community. The studio found that one of the reasons behind loneliness is the lack of social activities, so they maximise the external space to become public places for activities and chattings in the Copper Lane, manifesting the idea of “communality”.
Reviewing the whole day of meeting professionals from different fields informed us of three methods associated with loneliness. Firstly, art exhibitions and workshops can provide opportunities to engage, to confront themselves and to provoke experiences for healing. Secondly, events — including exhibitions and live programmes — led by research can help raise awareness and encourage people to get involved. Finally, architecture has a strong bond with human’s emotion and loneliness is affected by space design. For instance, creating a shared space will encourage people to communicate with others, or redesign a space to reduce the feeling of loneliness. It got us to think about what we could do to tackle loneliness with our own our visual language and methodologies as graphic designers. The knowledge we gathered from varied design area inspired us to try different methodologies, such as surveys and social events, and the background of loneliness given to us by researchers helped us to define loneliness better which will lead us to further practice.