In June 2014, twelve graphic design students from MassArt participated in a student exchange in Japan through the Kakehashi Project: Bridge for Tomorrow. The exchange included traveling to three prefectures in Japan—Tokyo, Nagoya, and Gifu—to promote a deeper mutual understanding of the capabilities across Japan and the United States. In response to our exposure, we curated a gallery exhibition in MassArt's Student Life Gallery and designed artwork to showcase our individual and collective experiences.
The exchange started with a competitive selection process within the Graphic Design department. Completed submissions could take any form in response to the prompt "Why do you want to visit Japan?" Of the applicants, twelve students were selected to participant in a two part exchange.
To kick off the exchange, we hosted a group of 24 graduate students visiting Boston for three days from the Tokyo University of the Arts. These days included visits to the ICA to see a short film reel of winners from the Sundance Film Festival, to the MIT Media Lab to meet the team behind Scratch and the Learning Initiative, and sharing our favorite local spots to eat.
A few months later, our group from MassArt took a ten day trip across Tokyo, Gifu, and Nagoya to tour art and design origins within each. Our trip included collaboration workshops with other visiting schools, viewing a Kabuki performance, and meetings with experts of their craft—like industrial designers at Korg Inc., puppet masters in Gifu, a manga artist in his studio, and traditional dance and music performers at Geidai—and countless more compelling demonstrations.
We came together as a group of designers who wanted to not only share what we gained taking part in the exchange, but also to pay it forward to the rest of our school. We decided before even leaving Japan that we wanted to host an exhibition to share the message of The Japan Foundation.
We planned out individual pieces to contribute, as well as breaking off into groups to tackle planning, branding, and promotional pieces to find a location and gather an audience. My initial contribution was to write a proposal to our school's gallery staff to rent out the Student Life Gallery for a week, with a packet of project statements with schematics for each piece.
Besides our designed pieces, we also showcased our travel journals, designed and bound by Evan Eagan, and a video to gather excitement about the designers by Alex Norton. On the night of our gallery opening, those who took part estimated that over 200 people attended.
The biggest thing I wanted to achieve with this piece was to allow myself the room to play. I set out with the intent to explore technology that I've never touched before, and tinker with the process without feeling limited. I didn't give myself a project brief, and this wasn't for any client work. I was open to experiment, even if it came out weird or failed. In the midst of simultaneously putting together my graduating portfolio, this project was a breath of relief, without demand or expectations.
I got exactly what I hoped for out of this. I played with dynamic media—cutting up videos and layering audio clips to create several sound compilations, spent hours over the course of several weeks sitting with a programmer to learn the basics of Arduino technology, and even practiced my vector illustration for poster designs.
The piece is organized by four themes. With this trip being my first time out of the country and exposed to a culture that’s unique to my own, each theme represents an emotional response to what we were exposed to. Each stage was then accompanied by two manifestations: First, a compilation of sounds that we acquired along the way, brought together to portray the experience in an isolated space. Second, an illustration of an evocative object that inspired the greater theme in the first place.