SHIFT

SHIFT is an exhibition exploring and representing the feelings of anxiety to encourage discourse and empathy surrounding mental health. With the current economic, environmental, and political crisis more people than ever may face uncertainties about the future. Anxiety is a complex disorder that has many types, causes and characteristics, this negative valence emotion that often stems from fear has distinct effects on both body and mind.

This research project sets out to analyse and create a representation of anxiety in a virtual environment and gauge emotional response to such space via biometrics. Using biometrics, analysis on anxiety and theoretical underpinnings about atmosphere a narrative led exhibition will be created to express the feelings of anxiety into interiors and encourage discourse surrounding mental health.

With this project I aimed to explore the capabilities of Virtual Reality as a tool to analyse Interior spaces, to learn more about the feelings of anxiety and to represent key characteristics in an exhibition to encourage discourse around mental health and explore our bodily interiority and how it could be used in crafting Interior spaces. It was important to me to incorporate aspects of technology and interaction into the project as it was something I had a keen interest in that I haven’t had a chance to explore yet.

 

 

RESEARCH


Due to anxiety causing such negative thoughts about potential outcomes of the triggering situation, there’s often a change in behaviour which leads to avoidance of situations surrounding anxiety triggers. This can for example represent itself in not going out to meet friends or new people due to the fear of negative perceptions and outcomes. Although avoiding an uncomfortable situation seems like a logical thing to do it actually prevents people from getting better.

While there’s medication that can be prescribed for managing anxiety in some cases, most advice points towards cognitive behaviour therapy and self-help through various techniques. Such advice often focuses on the negative thoughts that someone is experiencing, what is the reason for them and acknowledging the thought process behind it. Techniques encourage to re frame the negative thought processes with more positive once and focus on one issue at hand instead of worrying about the future.

Since anxiety affects not only mind, but the body as well, there’s also techniques for relaxation of tense muscles with often is based in grounding yourself, paying attention to the body and positive affirmations. Breathing exercise may help to slow down, focus on the present and help ease panic attacks and exposure to triggers which is important in treating anxiety.

VR EXPERIMENT


For the VR experiment I chose a tunnel as a typology, often a threshold space used as a connection between places, a tunnel is ultimately about a journey, a transition. There’s usually a definitive start and an end to such typology often with wide openings at the limits of the tunnel. However, since the VR environment in this sense is purely interior, there’s no entrance nor exit to the space, it is no longer a threshold between two places the tunnel encapsulates the entire experience itself and even when “outdoors” are created in the virtual space it ultimately acts as interior without architecture as it is not bounded by the physical walls (Kang, 2020).

This VR environment was used to gauge participants emotional response to the built environments through the use of ECG sensors and to gather participants biometric data and to find out:

Can Virtual Reality be used as an effective tool in exploring an analysing interior space?

TOUCH DESIGNER


To incorporate the results of this experiment I decided to experiment with Touch Designer, a node based visual programming language for real time interactive multimedia content. Visual programming allows artist and designers to make visualisations, projections, and audio without the extensive knowledge of coding. Nevertheless, there’s quite a steep learning curve for the software that was new to me.

To create visual outputs to be used in the exhibition, I used ECG gathered from the VR experiment. As the ECG comes in a PDF form with a lot of text around such as date and time, I edited it to remove unnecessary text and changed the background to black. Next, I imported it to the software and applied various ‘noises’ which transformed the original image into abstract videos. Although I wasn’t able to record a video of live ECG’s from the participants in the experiment due to a fault with sensors, I had a previous recording of my own heart rate, which I also experimented with to create an abstract image.

Although I only recorded short videos, the visualisations are generated continuously and can run for hours. The visual outcomes were used in the design to represent racing thoughts as multiple interferences to replicate the feelings of being overwhelmed with worrying about potential negative outcomes due to anxiety.

FINAL OUTCOMES



With the ways in which anxiety affects the body and mind, I decided to focus on 4 things in creating a narrative for the exhibition. The first would be a representation of the anxiety triggers that one has to face in their day to day life, for this I decided to make physical obstacles that visitors would need to walk through to go forward. After this, I wanted to focus on the mind, since anxiety presents itself as racing thoughts and the feelings of being overwhelmed, I associated such feelings with having many too many stimulants such as noise or TV screens, and urban environment with many things going at the same disorientating at times. The third space will be about grounding yourself and focusing on the present, I wanted to reflect on the physical effects of anxiety, in this case the body’s temperature. Lastly, since the general advice is to avoid avoidance, I wanted to create a space that represents taking a leap of faith in confronting fears and doing it consecutively to re-affirm the action.
User journey through the exhibition.

VISUALS


Trigger room which was used in the VR experiment was heavily influenced by the Jewish Museum Berlin. I adopted the use of concrete columns and used it to represent the hurdles that someone with anxiety would experience.

The columns start with exaggerated angles creating obstacles for visitors to get through forward, as they progress the columns start to straighten up creating a glimmer of hope that things will get better if you forced yourself onwards. The irregularity and the weight and coldness of concrete aids to create unsettling atmosphere.

This room marks the start of the exhibition and the starting point of Anxiety Cycle.
The MIND room focuses on representing the racing thoughts about potential negative outcomes, the over thinking that cause avoidance of the trigger.

The design is inspired by urban architecture of modern cities such as Tokyo, where crowds of people pass each other, lights and adverts overwhelm the eyes from every corner. It's about getting lost in your own mind.

The design represents the architecture of the mind, and getting lost in it due to the negative thoughts stemming from anxiety. It contains different size Light boxes, and boxes with Touch Designer generated outcomes from the biometric data gathered during VR experiment.
BODY is about slowing down and focusing on the present, here and now. Since often the coping mechanism for anxiety involve body scanning to understand and manage the physiological effects of anxiety on the body I wanted to create a space within a space that visitors would have ownership.

Touch activated temperature sensor in a middle of each pod allows visitors to represent their body’s interiority outwardly into the immediate built interiors . Depending on visitors skin temperature the pods take on a different colour represent their unique biometric measurement.

The pods itself are made out of frosted acrylic with LED lights inside. The material translucently allows only the slight shadows of the users occupying the pods to be seen. Although the pod creates a sense of interior within interior the cut outs throughout the design allow visitors to stay connected to the rest of the exhibition.
The last space is about confronting the anxiety, acknowledging the negative thought processes that are caused by the mental disorder and about actively trying to challenge those perceptions. The design features multiple screens displaying the Touch Designer generated videos from participants ECG’s on the sides and the ceiling of the room. The screens are connected to the pressure sensor activated steps that upon the weight of visitors change the output of the coinciding screens from the representations of negative racing thoughts to a bright light representing a glimmer of hope.

The steps are surrounded by water that aids to an atmosphere of reflection, it forces the visitors to use the steps to move forward and finish the exhibition. Repetition was key to the design of this space as only the repeated behaviour of confronting fears leads to getting better. The gates emerging from the water represent moments in time of anxiety that pass as we go through life.