Goldsmiths Design Festival 2017: Wendy Lau re-interprets human rights

For her graduation project from the MA in Design: Critical Practice, Wendy Lau explores human rights through a series of activities that question our own perspectives and priorities on the issue, as well as encourage us to understand other people’s perspectives:

“I started with an observation on human rights nowadays, and I initially thought I could come up with tangible solutions or a design strategy to deal with the situation. However, after research, I found that the issue was really complex, so instead I tried to provide an experience to get the audience to understand, or to start thinking about the importance of human rights. So, this is a proposal and it consists of five sections of interaction which explore different perspectives on approaching human rights. The experience is trying to get the participants not only to express what it means to have human rights, but also to question the response of others, and start to re-think the various interpretations.

– A perspective from a personal angle, inspired by Maslow’s theory, which suggests we have hierarchies of different needs. There is a strong connection between our needs and our rights, so I tried to reapply his theory on human rights: do we also have the hierarchies of different human rights? This section invites the audience to reprioritise several human rights from their own perspective. Some indicated that they did not necessarily have an absolute hierarchy.

-The second section uses the perspective of satisfaction, The Right to Privacy for example. Visitors are encouraged to evaluate how satisfied they are with the current situation in their city. They may consider their daily interaction, the government’s policy and societal practices.

-The third section further elaborates the interpretation of human rights. My research suggested that the interpretation of a particular human right changes all the time. Right to Life, for instance, did not consider the right to artificial intelligence 50 years ago because we didn’t have that technology. This section provides an interactive experience for the public to investigate the issue of human rights across time and contexts. In the past, Right to Life might emphasise more the physical condition of our body by what it meant by life, but nowadays we start to think about mental condition as well because of how the world has changed, technologically, socially or politically. I’ve provided a few keywords as a stimulation, and some empty blocks for the participants to write down new keywords.

-The fourth section investigates the relationship between human rights and different social contexts. I used Right to Marriage and Family as an example, and I projected an interesting scenario by asking a question: “If Right to Marriage and Family disappeared in your country, how would it affect your life, from the aspects of happiness, political, social, environmental etc.?”

-The last section documents aspirations towards the future. I asked visitors: if they had the power to enact a new human right for their city, what would that be? Different territories of human rights are represented by different shapes.”

On the most interesting findings from her research:

“The activities are meant to be done in sequence and one of the interviewees, after the third section, went back to the first and tried to change her answer- to me that is really interesting and it shows how physical engagement with the activity could really get people to re-think and to take it seriously. There was another response that was surprising to me. Nowadays we always talk about how we can improve the situation, but one of my interviewees replied: “I’m really satisfied with the situation of human rights in my city and no new rights are needed”.  I found the different interpretations and perceptions of human rights really interesting, and I think it’s also important to respect how others think in order to have a compromise for the future and a better practice of human rights. After all, we are all living in the same world, and human rights are a global issue.”

On continuing the project:

“I received a sponsorship to participate in an art festival in Taipei and I will be doing a series of engagement events and an outdoor installation. To me, this is more like a new journey of my profession. Coming from a background of product design, this project leads me to a new direction to explore participation art and design with social engagement. I will continue my project with a similar concept and see how it can be applied to the situation in Taipei, and to design a series of activities for the public to interact with and experience.”

On choosing her MA at Goldsmiths:

“This course touches sociology and philosophy beyond design, and explores how they can be applied in the design industry. It’s about design thinking and is very different from my previous education in Hong Kong which was much more practical. That’s why I chose this programme and I really enjoy it. We have designers from different disciplines in my class, from graphic and product to architecture and fashion.  We are from different countries, which results in a different perspective of seeing things and understanding design. Everyone comes up with distinct concepts and ideas. So I really learned a lot and I found it to be a really good environment.”

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