Awareness for creative sustainability.
Artist Book by Delphine Saira Gomez: The book folds out into a mandala-like pattern and map which guides the viewer through the Seed Life installation. Merging art and communications design in an intriguing hybrid, the Artist Book is an aesthetic experience in itself. It is a limited edition print and collector’s item.
SEED LIFE, A JOURNEY HOME by Delphine Saira Gomez
Working title: Design inspiring creative sustainability
Principle: ‘All are one and One is in all’ as nothing lies in isolation from the whole
Vision: A Flourishing World / The Future Thrives
Mission: Seed Awareness and Inspire for Creative Sustainability
Theme: Design as a Path to a Place / Tao of Shibumi
“We need to include care of the soul as a part of care of the planet.” Kumar 2012
“Mazes can be disorienting; labyrinths can be centering. You can get lost in a maze: you can lose yourself in a labyrinth”
A Whole New Mind by DH Pink
Current sustainable practices are not creating effective results as impoverishment of people and declining ecosystems continue. The challenge lies in creating real sustainability for a flourishing and thriving world. With this end in mind we can begin to redefine sustainability as an objective to achieve the goal. As designers we can never solve the complexities of problems people face which affect the world at large, however we can be a source of inspiration provided that our cultural objectives are aligned with the right goal. Living sustainably involves both individual introspection to understand who we are in the larger scheme of things and collaboration, to create environmentally sensitive communal systems/structures with others. Peter Marshall aptly describes this, “as a mental and spiritual journey; a quest to understand the world, our place and purpose in life.” (Nature’s Web 1992). Seed Life explores a shared language which expresses itself in concrete social action to heal, restore and preserve. I wish to help bring about a shift of consciousness within people so that they may strive to live in a way that preserves the environment, rather than degrades it.
The installation titled Seed Life, A Journey Home is a space for contemplation. The labyrinth symbol was explored to stimulate a process of awakening for harmony and creative sustainability. Working through this study which is essentially about renewing our relationship with the earth, I attempted to examine the present and particular context in which we live. One might connect this with the modern period of mass consumption and the violence of the capitalist system for example. Moving on to an alter-modern era may signify a change in the way we choose to connect and resonate deeply with eachother, nature and the world at large by returning to one’ self first. Similarly if we can see ourselves as working to build the butterfly– a better world– we will also see how important it is to work together, each with qualities and different capabilities. The Seed Life labyrinth explores how we emerge with love and light in a world full of darkness. As we evolve in stages, gradually transforming and blossoming I believe that patience and understanding are needed in this metamorphic transition and cycle for life.
In Seed Life, the work titled, A Journey Home, explores a space for contemplation to stimulate a process of awakening that leads from an anthropocentric to an other-centric, holistic view of life and creation. In other words we are able to connect and resonate deeply with eachother, nature and the world at large by returning to one’ self first.
I also explore design as a creative expression to promote sustainability. This is much needed in the design industry as many of its practices are ecologically destructive and encourage rampant consumerism. Using waste materials to create an installation and recycled paper for an Artist’s Book, the work sends out a message of transformation from a culture of waste to society that preserves, sustains and flourishes.
This interdisciplinary study will fill the gap in literature and practice, by examining the relevance of an ancient cultural symbol as a contemporary design mediation in a cultural context. This work seeks to be an inspiration and comprehensive study that contributes to a new philosophy of sustainability in design and, bridge an understanding between wholeness as a creative process of humanity and creating sustainability for a flourishing world, the vision for Seed Life.
An opportunity to create awareness
In our time Lauren Artress, an Episcopal priest, has been responsible for reviving the popular use of labyrinths in the US and around the world. She describes labyrinths as “blueprints of transformation” (Artress 2006). According to her, when people walk into a labyrinth they “shift consciousness from the linear to the non-linear” and bring to the surface “the deep, intuitive, pattern of ourselves.” Its circular shape is highly significant. “The circle is an archetype for wholeness or unity. So when people walk into the labyrinth, they begin to see their whole life.” (Pink 2006, p.230)
Labyrinths remind us that no matter where we are at any given point, every moment is open to us to be a creative expressions of the whole. For example, through movement such as dance we naturally express ourselves consciously and intuitively. Research shows there are no limitations in place, materials and mediums in which this symbol may be represented and used. For example children run through labyrinths, in the Nazca rituals, people have danced through their labyrinthean totems to gain or assume the power of the particular animal.
Creating sustainability for a flourishing world involves a creative process. My scope of interest is to provide design that inspires, supports, enhances capabilities and effects behaviour change where social innovation is aligned with healthy eco-systems. Ezio Manzini, Italian Design strategist has observed the notion of ‘capabilities’ by Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winning economist. Manzini states, It’s the idea of empowering the capabilities of people. In some way when you design, you search for problems to solve. If you take the capability approach, you search for capabilities to support.
A visual tool can facilitate in the creative process but has not been studied holistically. Despite excellent research on themes such as ‘Into the Labyrinth/Excursions and Applications for Creative Process’ by Janice M Francisco and A whole New Mind by DH Pink, which synthesise concepts in a cultural context, none of these studies provide a cohesive method to facilitate in the individuals creative process for sustainability. Practitioners who are fully aware that creative industries need to spur creative sustainability are curious as to, “what a creative toolbox for social good would look like” says Chris Sherwin, head of sustainability at Seymourpowell. In my view the closest design achieved a pathway to wholeness and sustainability was the use of ancient symbols such as mandalas used in art therapy and the labyrinth as a contemplative experience.
The artefacts for the Seed Life project will be an Artist’s book and installation.
Artefacts of labyrinths created thousands of years ago are still relevant today and seem to be surging in popularity. According to The New York Times, “You can find them everywhere: in downtown squares in Switzerland, 4000 public and private labyrinths in the United States” and a growing number have rediscovered the labyrinth as a path to prayer, introspection and emotional healing (Pink 2006, p.228).
In Seed Life the concrete, material physical world is interwoven with the intangible, invisible world in a ‘relational network’. Arata Isozaki, a Japanese architect, uses this term of his own works. He believes that everything we create should be a microcosm of the universe, reflecting the harmony and balance of the larger cosmic order. The unique quality about this work communicates a ‘relational network’:
1. Tangible: the unique quality of Malaysia as a melting pot of diversity and originality of cultures and life forms brought together in one place.
2. Physiological: mirrors the spiralling vortexes of energy that make up the energy field of our bodies conceptualised as colour-coded seed principles for a metaphorical and introspective journey of discovery.
3. Intangible: transformation and alignment between consciousness of the individual and life;
4. Transcendental: interconnected as nothing lies in isolation of the whole.
Definition of real sustainability
Creative sustainability is the need to create sustainable societies (Toolan 2001, p.231, 236). Environmentalists tend to place great emphasis on scientific research and social/political action. But there are some who think this approach is limited. Environmentalist, Satish Kumar (2012) states that,
The contemporary environmental movement, in the main, follows the path of empirical science, rational thinking, data collection and external action. This is good as far as it goes but it doesn’t go far enough. We need to include care of the soul as a part of care of the planet.
Seed Life reveals a metaphorical journey of life through four key stages of human progression for wellness. The work attempts to seed awareness and further engage the individual in an activity for relaxation and creativity by taking time out to appreciate the simple things and moments in life.
The target audience is people who lack sufficient understanding of the way their own lifestyles contribute to environmental degradation as well as those who are disillusioned with current social conditions and seek a healthy green living environment.
The project also targets individuals in the creative industry who are disenchanted as practitioners in their fields, frustrated with the industry’s lack of ethics, quality and transparency. They wish to strive for meaningful objectives that enhance human potential and preserve the natural environment. Some even might be thinking of leaving the industry in pursuit of a different vocation. I want to inspire them to explore the creative possibilities of design as an environmentally sensitive mode of communication.
Research and case studies reveal that people can change with a more positive outlook on life with new meaning and purpose through cultural mediations. For example, in today’s world, Labyrinths are still used as a form of moving meditation described as centering and relaxing. Case studies (Appendix 1) reveal positive effects, responses and support for greater use of the labyrinth by which individuals make a symbolic journey of awakening to reality and a method to uncover a deeper pattern underlying the system of life; a creative process described as a pivotal turning point, a revelation, insightful, liberating, empowering! Reports reveal a growing number of labyrinths used as a source for relaxation, intuitive experience, introspection and emotional healing (Pink 2006, p.228).
Applied in other areas such as in industry, the labyrinth has been used as a business and enterprise strategy for a skills learning process. In Malaysia however the use of labyrinths is currently limited to Christian groups because of its religious connotation and possibly lack of general knowledeg. In fact, the labyrinth which may have existed pre-historically is found all over the world such as stone tablets in Greece, a mosque in Pakistan, Chartres cathedralin France where visitors are invited to walk its circuitous path as a form of pilgrimage.
Labyrinths are gaining popularity throughout the world because of its historic connections and spiritual possibilities (New York Times 2000, Pink 2006, p.228). Estimates vary, but about 10,000 labyrinths have been constructed worldwide in the last 25 years in a remarkable variety of locations (labyrinthbuilders.co. uk). In our contemporary world, Mark Wallinger for example has implemented the labyrinth in London’s tube stations as a metaphor “for the millions of journeys that are made across the Tube network every day.” He invites the viewer to trace the route with a finger, and to understand the labyrinth as a single meandering path into the centre and back out again – a route reminiscent of the Tube traveller’s journey.
Although the project seeks to to reach a wide audience, the most likely segment of people to invest in this body of work is a niche market of art collectors and inbound visitors estimated at 28million in 2014, and expected to rise to 36million by 2020. Reports indicate as Malaysia is positioned as an Art Tourism destination, contemporary works may draw increasing interest and investment by serious collectors on a global scale. (The Star 2013 and Oxford Business Group 2013).
Seed Life aims to provide an opportunity for diverse individuals and communities to explore its core themes, concerns and visions. Various platforms are used to target both mass and smaller audiences via art galleries and implemented in social blogs like tumblr.com and the Seed Life website.
The interdisciplinary genre
An interdisciplinary research process was used to integrate knowledge and create new meaning and purpose through this body of work for wholeness. (Repko 2008 Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory)
The installation is displayed in a multidisciplinary space that is becoming increasingly popular in Kuala Lumpur’s contemporary art scene (Stephanie Chang 2014). Synthesis of art, design, technology, a blurring of creative expression, is an attempt to forge a poetic link between the rich history of visual language and meaning.
The labyrinth is showing and teaching centeredness as a one way in, one way out path. Similarly Seed Life attempts to inspire a clear vision and positive social action for creative sustainability by communicating a powerful message that is best understood as we grow in contemplative silence and awareness. Perceived as guided reflection or experience, the work explores the possibility of complex patterns becoming more straightforward to use and enjoy. For example the audience is guided through a singular path as a way in to the centre and out again to the wide expanse of space. The inter-change and connection of spaces may inspire an intuitive sense of harmony.
Interdisciplinary projects such as Mark Wallinger’s ‘Introduction to Labyrinths for Art on the Underground’, reflects the human psyche by highlighting a potent symbol of a journey which returns one to oneself. Wallinger believes that just as we are physically transported from home to city or city to country and home again, the labyrinth signifies an imaginative and introspective journey very much close to the heart.
Other successful interdisciplinary works of communication such as Traditional Tibetan mandalas (6th Century), Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man (1490), Shirley Miller’s sugar murals and icing cake graffiti (2012) highlight the creative art form as a forum for discussion of a variety of issues and more importantly as cultural mediations which deeply connect with human consciousness for health, clarity and balance.
Research by Michael John Gormon points out how Leonardo Da Vinci’s keen observation of measurements and proportions in The Vitruvian Man inspired mystical art works such as Glad Day by William Blake (1795), is also associated with health and fitness, with the practice of medicine (Dr Adrian Nguyen, Stanford) and architecture (Steadman). Leonardo’s work signifies how various elements are merged for essential attributes “of a ‘compleat’ physician – science, humanitarianism, and artistry” (London University of Arts 2014).
According to Williams, the square represents science, the circle represents humanitarian service, and the triangle starting at the pubis and reaching the two extended feet (shown below) represents the art and practice of medicine. He explains, “enclosure by the square symbolizes the scientific paradigm and the corollary that through science eventually humankind can understand everything. With a broad-based stance on earth and upper limbs uplifted to the heavens, a physician also subtends a circle centered upon the umbilicus but rising above the square - symbolizing holistic, maternal, generative, nurturing, encompassing, and transcendent humanitarian service...Conjoining components of both geometric figures, with the center of the scientific square as the apex and the circle of humanitarian service as the base, a physician subtends another geometric figure - a triangle - symbolizing the art and practice of medicine.
The visual language as a powerful medium of communication appears to be a driving force. Leonardo’s work that clearly represents his passion for Art, Science and Philosophy signifies what it means to be holistic as various elements are merged to create the perfect balance for unity in diversity. Such works serve to inspire collaboration involving various practices, industries and skills for progressive sustainable development and civic action.
The brand story: Seed Life for creative sustainability
A combination of ‘seed’ principles, metaphors and a shared language of symbols (Thomas J, McDonagh D. AMJ 2013), the work reveals four key stages of development for an individual to gain a sense of identity and value in a socio-environmental context - 1.Awareness, 2.Motivation, 3.Interconnection and 4.Recreation. The four areas identified as the ‘The Four Pillars’ are based on a foundation of essential qualities such as centeredness, patience, empathy and empowerment.
Individuals have attempted to promote health, recreation and sustainability through an experience within a space that allows you “to pause, to orientate yourself, to take a breath for a moment and plan the next step of a journey” (What If projects Ltd: London Borough of Havering 2008-2012). Design factors for health promoting spaces also have been explored in the construction of the public Khoo Tek Puat Hospital in Singapore (KTPH 2010). The hospital was conceived based on the concept of a ‘hospital in a garden’. A healing environment was created through the re-introduction of natural habitat and ecosystem within the residential Yishun vicinity. Sanmarie and Cilliers have explored layout and design approaches that could be adopted in planning for sustainable communities. The idea is to transform ordinary spaces into livable places where people can interact and connect with their environment through lively activities. Another important initiative is by a group called Artscape DIY who collaborate to transform places by leveraging “the power of the arts while driving broader agendas for change, growth and transformation in a way that also builds character and quality of place.” (Artscape DIY 1986)
Creative place-making: design as a path to a place / the tao of shibumi
Creativity may be conceived as manifesting in terms of qualities such as compassion, simplicity, naturalness. Manifesting these qualities within ourselves first will naturally reflect in everything else that we do. Author Matthew E. May suggests a way towards ‘shibumi’; a journey of wholeness or an ideal state of being by examining our lives conscientiously through events, lessons learnt from these experiences and the necessary steps to move forward proactively. Appearing as a playful act, the work also reflects a process that guides the user to first establish goals and translate principles into action to achieve those goals through meaningful experience (Dillman 2011: 3). Seed Life is based on the Classical 7-circuit or
Seed-labyrinth (Pre-historic or neo-lithic era):
Aligned with the brand principles for creativity, balance and harmony, I researched various design methods with the intention to communicate clearly and connect deeply to promote qualities (Minick and Ping, 2010). A visual metaphor was chosen to encapsulate the essence of the brand with subtlety and clarity as noted by Garr Reynolds for aesthetic Zen principles (2009). A diagram was created to achieve a focal point and natural sense of proportion (Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, 1490) whereby the image of a flying bird is overlaid on a grid of a spiralling circle within a square. The unicursal pathway was based on the mathematical proportion of a square (Vitruvius, 1BCE), and symbolic natural pattern of nature such as the spiral found in seashells and formation of stars and galaxies, the square signifying earth in asymmetrical balance and the spiralling circle, as the continous life-cycle of creation. Two diagonal lines criss-cross at the centre to form the axis or focal point that directs the viewer into a central space, at the heart of the message for creative sustainability.
The ‘De-Re-construction’ of the artwork is based on the underlying principles of Gestalt theory summarised as ‘All are one’ and ‘One is in all’ as nothing lies in isolation of the whole. Void of rigid boundaries, modular pieces are placed together to signify that diverse elements are part of the whole, “with its place, role and function” (King and Wertheimer, 2009, 1-3), and reflects the natural lifecycle as a continuous process. The diagonal position of the image follows the earth in its north-south axis that currently points to Polaris, the North Star. The numerological and philosophical significance of the earth’s tilt of 23.4 (2+3+4=9) degrees indicates movement from a central point in space and the installation comprises 225 modular pieces that reflect the symbolic, mystical numeral 9 (2+2+5=9). Nine being the last of the single digit numbers and also the highest, signifies the absolute-creation-transformation-Love.
To create the Artist’s Book, I employ a craft and design method, drawing inspiration from diverse artistic techniques explored by others. These include Mylene Poison who used a wine glass to stamp hand-printed designs, Barcelona-based graphic design studio, Atipus, who applied ‘template stamping’ for text (Computer Arts Co. UK 2012) and Briar Mark who united graphic design with handcraft to create a thread-work pattern for a poster (The Font Feed 2012). The idea to replicate a printing technique using the three process colours in a stitched medium challenged the designer to conclude that handcraft such as embroidery could be a graphic design application. Similarly, each book is made to feel unique with special papers, finishes or cut-out sections. It also folds out into a mandala-like pattern and map that guides the viewer through the Seed Life installation.
The use of unconventional materials such as plastics and post-consumer waste is apt and appropriate for a project promoting sustainability. The mixed medium pieces will vary in execution which are sustainable in nature such as non-toxic inks, re-purposed scraps, recycled or post-consumer waste paper. The intention is to approach the work holistically by unifying separate components as one. The layering of texture, colour and imagery seeks to capture the imagination of the movement in Seed life. The objective is to transform the viewer’s perception of what is seen to be ‘immaterial’ or insignificant through a heightening of the senses.
Installation ‘Think cyclical’
The Seed Life exhibition is being held at the Lim Wei Ling Gallery in Brickfields which is thematically appropriate. Literally raised from the ashes of a fire in 2004, the building epitomizes sustainability because of its “adaptive re-use” (Gina 2012). In keeping with Seed Life’s theme of sustainability, the installation requires a circular flow. The gallery layout is suitable as the space naturally flows clock-wise and spirals upwards allowing for a bird’s eye view of the “big picture” (Marshall 1992, 2000). A sense of journey is experienced directing people through the space to make them participants as well as viewers.
The core values of Libertarian Ecology (Marshall 2000) drives this brand through its development process, described as,
Holistic– in approaching things from the perspective of the whole, Deep– to question in a profound way which leads us to the root of things, Social– as it traces the ecological crisis to the presence of hierachy and domination in society, Libertarian– seeks to free humanity.
The vision for Seed Life reaffirms a positive outlook of humanities progression for a flourishing world. Seed Life which brands a set of values for creative sustainability attempts to establish the theme, ‘All are One and One is in all’ in a space for contemplation.
Research indicates that there are diverse forms and uses of the labyrinth. I resonated with the labyrinth as a symbol for harmony. More than a symbol, the major study considers a central space from which we can move, live and have our being with care.
Just as creation and our life’s journey mirrors the spiral that is never static, symbols can remind and ground us to discover the point of gravity from which we can regenerate, evolve and flourish. Perceiving the outward physical environment and inward space as consciousness, we can draw parallel lines between journey of the outer and inner landscape as open and merging spaces forcreative expression.
Just as earth is the fourth element in the solar system and the heart is located at the fourth chakra/energy vortex in the human body, Seed Life draws awareness to a space to be absolute. A Journey Home means grounded in a space for which I feel and express the deepest affection no matter where I am. A popular proverb comes to mind,
Home is where the Heart is.
Copyright © Delphine Saira Gomez.