In the final semester Screens Class Richard Clarkson has been exploring different ways to embody his thesis in an online or onscreen format. The taught by Brent Arnold, creative director at Door3, is an immersive 15-week class that emphasizes a hands-on approach to creating digital content and services. Richard utilized previous branding work done in the Thesis I class, simple serif fonts with bold titles and headings.
Particularly helpful was the work done towards defining the target audience, both the online audience and the thesis topic audience as a whole. Richard came to the conclusion that rather than define his audience demographically it was more suited to define his proto-persona’s using a time-based, life-stage segmentation. Due to the nature of the thesis problem that:
“Today there is an imbalance in the way people perceive themselves in relation to the world.1 As people, now more than ever, have higher expectations of themselves than they can ever fulfill this problem is growing.2 This is fueled by competitive western capitalist-culture, supportive upbringings & human nature itself.3”
One of the key contributing factors towards this is human nature itself. Richard plans to utilize the class as an opportunity to develop his expertise in HTML and CSS. This will become useful in the design and implementation of the thesis website and in the digital interactive exhibition pieces he plans for the final thesis performance piece.
The service and entrepreneurship class proved exceedingly challenging for Richard. Using his thesis topic – Super, Richard Clarkson explored models, maps, systems, 1st and second order cybernetic feedback loops and conversation theory. At the very beginning of the 7-week class students were taught to map out their thesis topics, to define key themes and to clarify key connections. For Richard this was particularly difficult, mapping out a space as malleable and shape shifting as superpowers forced him to carve out his own definitions and being to put stakes in the ground.
As the work moved towards cybernetic feedback models and conversation theory the service opportunities and structures began to become apparent. By exploring the idea that everything is a system, even a toaster, Richard created a system around an alternative therapy using superpower experiences and insights from positive psychology & cognitive behavioral therapy. This would exist in a performance art space and be focused on the idea of reframing participant’s scales of perception (their perceived world and the perceived relation/affect upon it).
This world proved exceptionally helpful for clarifying the why, what and how of the thesis.
It’s a bird, It’s a plane, no it’s a superhero training camp party. If your son finds superheroes fascinating and intriguing, consider throwing him a training camp party to “transform” him and his friends into their favorite superheroes. From the invitations to the games, you can organize a memorable training camp…
Super is the final project of Richard Clarkson’s MFA at SVA. The thesis is an inquiry into why superpowers hold so much sway over specific western populations and exploring why Richard was so enchanted by them. Through the research he found that historical superpowers were derived from abstractions of human nature, fears and desires and later used as a way to mitigate paranoia and social unease. Personally superpowers became Richard’s coping mechanism during his transition from New Zealand to New York, into an enormous world with truly insurmountable problems.
In further research the artist found this goes much deeper than standard escapism but can actually be leveraged for lasting meaningful change. He argues that small bursts of sudden unexpected success can be carried over as sense memory into other moments of significant social challenge. For example: Sally convinces Sarah to come to a spin class at the Gym but Sarah is reluctant because she doesn’t think she can do it. When she completes the class she feels amazingly powerful, like she could tackle any challenge – a feeling many times stronger than that created by the boost of the endorphins released during the exercise itself.
The opportunity to create exuberant delight and empowerment that can carry over into other areas of life is what this thesis is really about. Richard utilizes performance art as a frame to deliver this, creating an interactive gallery show drawing from elements from cognitive behavioral therapy, positive psychology and entertainment narrative structures. Through the gallery participants will be guided through personalized selection of 10 coping mechanisms & scenarios, such as escape (flying), invulnerability-(immortality) and hiding (invisibility) etc, that will ultimately help each participant to reframe and rescale the perception of their own world and their ability to positively impact it. The mechanisms and scenarios create the context that make these reflective conversations and discoveries possible.
The focus of the second half of the thesis timeline has been to set it through another series of lenses including; information architecture & systems, services, screens, events & experiences, strategies, business models, ethics, professional practice, and further writing exercises.
I have continued iterations of the speculative objects and constructed environments leading towards reaching the goal of a sensory and meaningful experience for the specified audiences of modern generations. This was done in parallel with continued primary and secondary research with a more direct focus on experiential design & positive psychology.
The scope for the next 10 weeks involves two key points, a prototype gallery event in mid April and the final presentation on the 8th of May. From here I have laid out my focus point for the next nine weeks. While I will continue to develop the thesis as a whole and keep up with homework deliverables the task noted here will be the focus.
Week 2: Gallery
In preparation for this Gallery I need to define a scale. Target number of guests may be determined by the space but should be considered. For this reason the Gallery space is the top priority at the moment. I plan to use my classmates & faculty to refine this – specifically looking for medium sized spaces in Brooklyn that would be open to a one-night event. The backup to that is to go through the SVA streams to try and secure a section of a space somewhere in SVA. Plan C is to use the space here in the department between the PoD and the VFL. It would be a good idea here to investigate any permits required and such.
Week 3: Invitation & Investor & Ordering Supplies
Working on both the invitation and Money. Work done in both the Business plan class and the service entrepreneur class will help identify revenue streams, however to reach the scale I am aiming for may need upfront investment or corporate sponsorship, perhaps Red Bull would be interested, or the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store – perhaps they could run the gift shop at the event and I would take an appropriate commission from those sales. This event will likely have to be partly funded by my personal funds. In many ways it is an investment on publicising my work and myself. Here supplies will need to be ordered for the making period coming up.
Week 4: Actors, Catering, Bar-staff
This week will be about booking people. I suspect I may have underestimated the difficulty and cost of this stage, specifically in relation to Actors. Plan B is to use friends and classmates as actors & catering. I plan to serve light superhero themed snacks and basic drinks, standard beer (PBR), standard white wine, standard red wine and seltzer.
Week 5 & 6: Build Objects
Intense making period, use the supplies ordered two weeks ago and make any last minute orders. This will be predominantly workshop time used to refine the design of the object experiences. This is fabricating not concepting, hopefully the designs would have been more or less finalised before this stage.
Week 7: Gallery
Having completed the bulk of the building of the objects here is where the space must be fitted out, painted, structures built, lighting sorted and sound arranged. Bar setup and storage of objects, Wi-Fi if necessary, security if necessary, music, coat rack, door staff. Actors also need to be trained to become Guardians. At the end of this Gallery preparation the event itself will take place on either a Friday or a Saturday. The event will be heavily documented with both still photography and videography – decision to be made about weather this will be done professionally or by friends & classmates. The aim is to have all of the jobs taken care off so I can float and greet important guests.
Week 8: Writing
The gallery event needs to be analysed, any data that was collected needs to be collated and presented in a readable format. A report on the event needs to be written up, with points such as failure points, improvement opportunities and unexpected outcomes. A recommendation for a follow up event during design week will also be included in this report. Any sponsored data such as PERMA needs to be sent away. The report will then be the catalyst for the final writing of the thesis book, any refinements or elaborations will be made in earlier sections. A conclusion and future vision offering will be written up. Here the editor will play a large role in helping to identify sections that need reinforcement or clarification.
Week 9: Book / Presentation
This is a graphic design week. Using the writing and assets generated throughout the thesis – especially those collected during the gallery event, will be blocked out in book format in Adobe InDesign. As soon as this is done 5 copies will be professionally printed and bound. The layout of the book will be followed using a refinement process to get to a presentation format-using Keynote.
Week 10: Presentation.
Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse. Using the presentation that was made in the previous week the goal of this week is to refine the presentation of the work. This will include a dress rehearsal in the actual presentation theatre a few days prior. This stage is also essential for recovering and catching up on sleep for optimal performance.
I renewed my excitement and enthusiasm for this thesis as it enter the final phase.
“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves. Where we had through to travel outward we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had through to be alone, we will be with all the world… and then come back with a message.”
– Joseph Campbell.
A particular study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports findings of experienced based interventions affecting emotional and social factors. The report: Superman to the rescue: Simulating physical invulnerability attenuates exclusion-related interpersonal biases, by Julie Haung, Josh Ackerman & John Bargh conducted three studies of how invulnerability can lessen ones need to cope with exclusion. The simulation methodology involved participants to read a statement of guided visualization. This involved imagining themselves accruing a particular superpower. The participants selected for the invulnerability read:
“On a shopping trip, you wander into a strange store with no sign out front. Everything is dimly lit and the shopkeeper calls you by name even though you have never seen him before. He tells you to come close and he says to you in a weird voice ‘I have decided to give you a gift. Tomorrow, you will wake to ﬁnd that you have a super-power. It will be an amazing ability, but you must keep it absolutely secret. If you purposely tell anyone or show off your power, you will lose it forever.’”
They then read:
“That night, you have a hard time sleeping, but when you wake, you ﬁnd that you do indeed have a super-power. A glass falls on the ﬂoor and without meaning to you accidentally step on the broken glass. It doesn’t hurt you at all though, and you realize that you are completely invulnerable to physical harm. Knives and bullets would bounce off you, ﬁre won’t burn your skin, a fall from a cliff wouldn’t hurt at all. You don’t have any other super-powers though (for example, no super-strength). Everything else is exactly the same as it was yesterday.”
In the control condition, they read a similar passage, except they imagined being able to ﬂy instead of being invulnerable. The study found that those instantiated with the invulnerability power felt more positively about stigmatized groups (M=51.25, SD=18.90) as apposed to those with the flying simulation (M=41.73, SD=10.48). Together the findings suggest not only that there is a correlation between perceptions of physical and social dangers but also that one can be leveraged to effect the other.
Also interesting to note was the differentiation in non-pain powers versus non-injury powers and increased mental salience of the simulation could be reinforced via participants writing narratives about what it would feel like to have the powers and how they would use them.
Lastly the article hinted at a body of recent research pertaining to vicarious behavior of pain, self-control, cognitive dissonance and goal completion. This is supportive of my hypothesis about vicarious heroism in comic and superhero narratives.
Huang, Julie Y., Joshua M. Ackerman, and John A. Bargh. “Superman to the rescue: Simulating physical invulnerability attenuates exclusion-related interpersonal biases.” Journal of experimental social psychology 49, no. 3 (2013): 349-354.
Perhaps this conversation arises from thinking about my future, looking into potential jobs & making important life decisions. Perhaps it comes about because of my discontent with the way things are in the world. Perhaps I need to talk about it now because I am face to face with my own
mortality normality. While this conversation may sound presumptuous, arrogant and ignorant it is not intended to.
I fear I may not be as special as I thought I was. I fear I am normal. I fear I am not going to change the world. I wonder what people want in life? Balance, happiness, money & power? But we hide in these ambiguous answers. If life is not a competition nor contains the possibility to change it then what is the point? What sad insignificant lives we must live if that is to be our destiny. Living day to day, struggling to find reason or purpose. To be forgotten within a few generations. Perhaps we create our own destruction to give ourselves a collective purpose. I was told that I can change the world, I was told I was destined for greatness. I was told I could save the world with design. But I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t know what I want. I no longer see what I am destined for.
As I began externalizing these thoughts and feelings I began asking people, classmates, faculty & stranger alike: what do you want in life? What is the purpose of your life? What is the meaning of your life? If you cannot change or save the world then what is the point? Why do you matter?
While there were the usual comments of money, power & happiness there were few answers that actually surprised me. One from Damon who said: “the world is only a matter of perception and scale, someone’s world can be their children, their family or their work. The real world is made of everyone’s’ micro-worlds.” This intrigued me, rather than despairing at the insignificants against an unachievable outcome one could re-frame the obstacle into something immediate and malleable. In these micro worlds one could affect outcomes, make changes and be remembered – even idolized. In these worlds one really could be the superhero.
This ideology was further reinforced by Andreous’s comment that he, “wanted to do the best he can do with the time that is given to him.” Similar to Gandalf’s quote in J.R Tolkin’s Lord of the Rings – The fellowship of the Ring,
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Both Gandalf and Andreous accept their mortality yet are able to flourish within it.
In this light my thesis is using the gallery event to challenge people to realize and use their own unique powers to reframe, affect and change their micro worlds. In this way they really can become superheroes.
Surprisingly, it can be the little things that have an outsized impact on our day-to-day happiness levels.