Yune Kim had been thinking about masks. As she approached the end of her fourth year at Penn, she was thinking about the way technology obstructs honesty. And, perhaps, how it can facilitate it. She saw a listing for Krzysztof Wodiczko’s course Interrogative Design: Cultural Prosthetics and became intrigued. “I was really drawn to the class and began researching his work,” she says. “And one of his topics that really interested me was this concept of candid speech and the obligation to speak the truth for the benefit of everyone.”
Born in Poland and now based in New York City, Cambridge, and Warsaw, Wodiczko has for decades engaged in an artistic practice of transforming urban architecture, from museums to monuments, by projecting images of those who comprise surrounding communities upon them—making masks for them, as Oscar Wilde might have it, that tell the truth of who the city serves, and should. A parallel practice involves his creation of therapeutic devices or, as he himself calls them, “cultural prosthetics,” which not only allow wearers to participate in culture more fully, but in their invention show the culture what it lacks.
“I never wanted to be an artist,” says Wodiczko, currently a distinguished visiting professor of fine arts at Weitzman. “I always wanted to be a designer.” In Poland in the 1970s, he worked for the national electronic and optical industries and was a member of the non-governmental Industrial Design Association. “My colleagues and I were trained to infiltrate the authoritarian system and try to make it more human by working critically and analytically," he says. “Industrial design in this context was a kind of avant-garde group of people trying to teach and educate the administration and engineers how to recognize and creatively attend to unacknowledged human needs.” That relationship to power stayed with him as he began teaching. “I continue to be a designer but under the name of art,” he says, teaching design students “how to become a facilitator agent, a co-agent who also helps other people to become agents [of change].”
The class, Kim says, “inspired me to look into this current social phenomenon where a significant number of teenagers are facing mental wellness issues. But they’re not being candid about what they’re feeling and not really communicating those issues with other people.” As the studio progressed, she began wondering if there might be a technological response. “But not a traditional, one-to-one conversation tool,” she says. “I just wanted to get rid of the obstacle there might be in someone’s journey toward being honest.”
This story is by Jesse Dorris. Read more at Weitzman News.