User Research, Art
3 months, individual project
Commissioned by the Chinese Culture Center
Activating the local community via an interactive installation. Combining user research and art, I created a crowd-sourced wishing well that empowers the voices of women in Chinatown San Francisco.
The Chinese Culture Center collaborated with lead artist Laura Boles Faw to kickstart the exhibition Women in Chinatown: Reimagining Symbols of Power and Access. They wanted to find artists to develop work that “explore issues of gender and struggles for equity in the neighborhood and city while building connections with community members.” (Chinese Culture Center)
I was chosen as 1 of 3 artists, alongside Vida Kuang and Shishi Huang, to participate in this project.
As a Chinese-American raised in Chinatown, it was a perfect opportunity. This was a chance to activate a local space and empower the people I grew up and live with.
There were three primary constraints for the project. The project had to be interactive. It should highlight the voices of women in Chinatown. And, the project had to reimagine what "symbols of power and access" meant to the community. My job was to translate this idea into an installation.
It was only right to talk to the actual people this project is dedicated toward. I wanted to know:
Luckily, I had easy access: my mom, aunts, and a number of childhood friends, fit the bill for who I needed to talk to :) Quick chats with 6 people let me understand some things:
There are grandmothers well into their eighties that continue to work, whether by killing chickens for neighbors or by collecting recycling cans. To find empowerment, these women persist not by the aid of an external force, but by their own determination and resilience.
What was the best medium to carry this message? On my walk back to the neighborhood one day, an idea struck: Superstition as an agent for empowerment.
The power of superstition and spirituality permeates across the Chinese community. Chinatown storefronts showcase beckoning cats and small money trees that call forth good luck and fortune. One 80-year old woman delayed a flight by throwing a “lucky coin” into the plane engine. In Buddhist shrines, children and adults alike throwing coins at stone turtles for good omens and longevity.
The simple existence of these objects, gold or plastic, provide the believer with psychological protection through pure symbolism. Whether it is century-old sculpture at a grand temple or a janky figurine on the floor corner, the object embodies equal auspicious power.
The community faced their challenges with a positive spirit. It was important that the project relayed that tone. By personifying each object, solemn topics could be approached in a light-hearted, welcoming manner.
The installation was exhibited for 2.5 months.