Educational Experience

2021- 2023 MA, Information Experience Design, Royal College of Art

Exploring the “social therapeutic nature” of art

in the process of creating the work, Mr. Vast



The first time I came into contact with the concept of Animism was in the book The handbook of contemporary by Graham Harvey. Influenced by the ideas in this book, I also hope to convey the concept of everything has a spirit to the audience with my own strength. I am keen on the issue that when the audience truly feel the feelings of nature, whether they can better empathize with it, and then consciously reduce the harm to the environment. According to history records, the sea is the origin of all life. Therefore, I think it is appropriate to use the sea as a medium to convey some topics about life.

After choosing the sea as a medium, I began to conduct relevant research, and eventually came across an interview with oceanographer Professor Tang Qunshu in Chinese Science News. In this interview, Professor Tang elaborated the theory of measuring waves in the ocean like the heartbeat of the sea. I immediately contacted Professor Tang via email and he confirmed my project idea, believing that the internal waves are a good medium to convey the life of the ocean. Therefore, I finally decided to make people feel the vitality of the sea by visualizing the internal wave data and appropriately combining the sound of a human heartbeat.

In the selection of data sources, I finalized the South China Sea. On the one hand, the internal wave measurement data of this sea area can be easily measured all over the world, with very obvious waveform characteristics; On the other hand, considering that the first landing of this project is in China, so it is mainly for Chinese audiences. In addition, according to the interview data and the data recorded on the Internet, most of the audience’s memories related to the sea occur in Taiwan, Xiamen, Hainan and other regions, which happen to be in the waters of the South China Sea.

Finally, I completed the projection art project of visualizing the measured wave data in the sea. In the project, the sea area of the South China Sea is the South China Sea is personified as Mr. Vast. By running the code algorithm, the scientific survey data about the sea are combined with real human heartbeat, that is, the so-called sea personification. Then show the visual form to the audience through the medium of projection, encourage the audience to empathize with natural creatures, explore the emotional changes of life in nature, and convey such emotion to those who love nature, especially the sea, that when you tell the sea that you love it, the sea actually loves you deeply, too.

I hope it can stimulate the empathy of the audience, call on the audience to pay more attention to the vitality and emotion of nature, and in turn to treat nature gently.


In Graham Harvey’s book Animism, Graham Harvey explores current and past animistic beliefs and practices of Native Americans, Maori, Aboriginal Australians, and eco-pagans. He considers the varieties of animism found in these cultures and their shared desire to live respectfully within larger natural communities. Drawing on his extensive casework, Harvey also considers the linguistic, performative, ecological, and activist implications of these different animisms. 

The same study is mentioned in Bird-David, N. (1999) ”’Animism”’ Revisited” . (1999), which discusses the value of animism for social and human impact and the political significance of animism. Animism means that it is possible to identify non-human personalities and thus establish a moral relationship with the non-human world. Many scholars and activists have identified animism as a respect for all living things and an intimate relationship with nature and its spirits. However, this argument still presupposes the fixity of the ontological status of being as a living being or person. A different view of animism emphasizes the notion of a fluid and unstable person emerging from a continuous communication process. Inspired by this research, I believe that the spread of animism can change the mindset of some people and arouse in them a sense of reverence and respect for nature and that this respect can change the way people act and regulate the way they currently live, thus allowing them to live in better harmony with nature.

In Sprenger G.’s (2021) study, I learned about animism’s political and social implications. In terms of such a social influence, the kind of preoccupation that drives a fluid personality may support a sort of politics of life that we are currently experiencing: a morally committed perspective on relationships with non-humans. In Yoneyama, S. (2017) , the search for survival in post-Minamata and post-Fukushima Japan suggests that achieving a sustainable future may demand an epistemological change in social sciences so that we can revise concepts such as animism, as well as the concepts of soul, life and nature, in a new light. This means including the unseen in the realm of social sciences. It may sound radical, but perhaps there is nothing new in this. After all, sociology did not exist before Durkheim established the existence of social phenomena sui generis that are independent of the actions and intentions of individuals. Would it be going too far to say that recognition of the existence sui generis of ‘the life-world, the world of animism, where soul, nature, and life are all connected, might be the pre-condition for new modernity where sustainable development is possible? This is why I believe animism is a vital theory that deserves to be disseminated and has a highly significant impact on society.

In CROPPER C. (2015)’s research , Studies of the fantastic and attempts to define the fantastic as a genre have always presupposed a human-centered ontology. But the anthropocentric hierarchies of Enlightenment thought, embodied by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, are precisely what the fantastic seeks to undermine. The fantastic posits a flat ontology where humans and objects stand on equal ground, objects act, and human subjects are frequently objectified. After tracing a line from Kant to Théophile Gautier through E. T. A. Hoffmann, this article considers other fantastic narratives by Mérimée and Maupassant to suggest how the fantastic undermines an Enlightenment human-centered worldview while theorizing the hidden life of things. This reading leads us to tentatively redefine the fantastic as a form of speculative realism. This genre takes the presence and perspective of objects seriously and embeds this object-oriented ontology into the texts in ways that trouble the reader’s subject-centered consciousness. In Object-oriented-ontology’s doctrinal assertions, once again, I have affirmed the importance of the idea of non-anthropocentricity for social reform.

The artist Yiyun Kang once said  that the words are too vague to understand, and the data is too enormous to fathom. Analysis and descriptions are too cold to make sense of. We need to use all sorts of storytelling methods to put some substance and make our connections to it. My recent projects aim to make connections through the immersive, experience-based form of art so that it might inspire us to reposition our activities and thoughts. Inspired by Artist YinyunKang’s website, I realized that she is trying to explore the relationship between nature and humans through immersive media, and her type of artistic medium is worthy of being celebrated.


In a paper on the analysis of Hayao Miyazaki’s artwork, this research paper mentions that the need for a reconsideration of human-nature relationships has been widely recognized in the Anthropocene. However, it is challenging to rethink because there is a crisis of imagination deeply entrenched within the fundamental premises of modernity. This article explores how ‘critical animism’ developed by Miyazaki Hayao of Studio Ghibli can address this paucity of imagination by providing alternative ways of knowing and being. ‘Critical animism’ emerged from the fusion of a critique of modernity with informal cultural heritage in Japan. It is a philosophy that perceives nature as a non-dualistic combination of the lifeworld and the spiritual world while also emphasizing the significance of the place. Miyazaki’s critical animism challenges anthropocentrism, secularism, Eurocentrism, and dualism. It may be the ‘perfect story’ that could disrupt the existing paradigm, offering a promise to rethink human-nonhuman relationships and envisaging a new paradigm for the social sciences. Hayao Miyazaki’s artwork proves that art is an excellent medium to spread the message about theories such as animism support.


The concept of animism is also included in the work ‘Mirages & miracles’ by artists Adrien M & Claire B , which uses the medium of stone, combined with computer art, to present the concept of animism to the viewer from both a visual and auditory perspective. The choice of medium: stone is simple, heavy, and immovable; it is the most real and material thing. While the computer-generated visuals give the viewer a sense of life: what makes life? The works thus offer the viewer an incredible range of scenarios of ordinary life. The boundaries between the animate and the inanimate, the illusion of the real, and the miracle of the false are explored. A viewer, the spectator, can appreciate very many small performances. Through the disorder of poetry, the power of computers, and magical fiction, the artist seeks to question the contours of what constitutes life. Inspired by this art project, I believe that new media art is a better medium for articulating the theory of animism. One of the output forms of new media art is computer art, which can interpret a portion of nature’s data and present it to the viewer using science and technology.

From the above three forms of artworks, I have drawn three conclusions: 1, the importance of artworks, the use of art as a medium to disseminate ideas is feasible, recognized, and yet to be developed; 2, the creation of an immersive projection space is an excellent medium to explore and something I can try; 3, the performance of computer art is feasible, computer art has the characteristics of mystery, at the same time, computer art is a “dreamable” medium, the audience can experience such a medium art output works, feel some visual, auditory, tactile sensations that are unreachable in life.


The winning entry  by Xandra van der Eijk and Han Lindeboom in the Bio Art&Design Award 2016 competition simulates the effects of artificial noise on marine life in the North Sea region, using an art installation to give the viewer an immersive experience. The same creative approach is reflected in the winning entries for the Red Dot Design Award 2019. The project uses an immersive space to allow people to experience a refugee’s existence on the sea, fully recreating such a mode of survival. What is the impact of such an artificial experience? As the project involved journalists and other professionals, their feedback and subsequent reports on their real-life experiences show that such an immersive experience allows people to understand the lives of other groups better.

In the books The Marine World: A Natural History of Ocean Life and Oceans in Decline, it is shown that the ocean is the origin of all things, a medium that has both the power of life. In December 2021, the Royal College of Art’s Information experience design pathway group held a special lecture on the ocean. There has been a proliferation of ocean-related artworks brought to the attention of audiences in recent years. I interviewed people who grew up in seaside cities or who are very fond of the sea, and 80% of them conveyed the emotional appeal that “the sea gives them a sense of healing,” which suggests that the sea is better able to evoke human emotions and is a highly suitable art medium for “healing.” Therefore, I decided to use the medium of the ocean as the core of my work. Once I grasped the ocean as a medium, I began to think about how to exploit it. I came upon an interview with oceanographer Professor Tang Qun Deng in China Science News. He explained his theory that “internal oceanic waves are like the heartbeat of the sea.” I then contacted Professor Tang via email, in which he confirmed my project idea that internal waves are a valuable medium to communicate the life of the ocean. Therefore, I identified internal wave data as one of the media in my work. In his five research papers on internal waves     , I learned that: 1. the South China Sea is the most representative area of internal wave data in the world, with a very stable and distinct frequency, and is usually the focus area for internal wave data surveys; 2. the internal wave data in the South China Sea is constantly producing a regular ‘pulse’ under the effect of two cycles of twice daily and 14-day variations, and it operates in such a way that is very much in line with the frequency of the human heartbeat. The South China Sea’s internal wave data is subject to two cycles of twice daily and 14-day variation, producing a regular ‘pulse,’ which operates in a manner very much in line with the frequency of the human heartbeat. With these two conclusions, I finally decided to bring the data deep inside the ocean to light by visually visualizing the internal wave data.

After deciding on the ocean wave as an artistic medium, I interviewed people who liked the sea more than anything else, asking questions such as: why do you like the sea? What are your memories of the sea? If you could use a color to describe the sea, what would you say it is? If you were to use an adjective to describe the sea, what would it be? In conjunction with the interviews, I also used participatory research, where I asked my interviewees to draw their memories of the sea or pictures of the sea in their minds. The final sample size was 70 people, and the following pictures are some of the pictures they drew of the sea.


During my interviews with the interviewees, I heard very many stories about how they became emotionally involved with the medium of the sea, for example: “After losing a competition, I went to see the sea very sadly, only to have the sea breeze blow on me and see the sea gradually stretching to the horizon, the sea was so calm, vast and beautiful that I was no longer sad. ” The sea gave them this healing quality. Robert Booth (2021) describes non-anthropocentrism as a doctrine of the rational opposition to dualism, and my thoughts began to diverge from the theme of non-anthropocentrism. I began to have new questions: when humans express that they love the sea, does the sea want to say something to them as well? Can I help the sea to communicate its thoughts to humans? And when humans perceive the sea’s answer, the healing system will be more complete.

Therefore, the theme of my project was finally determined to help the sea express its inner emotions. In terms of the choice of data source, I chose the South China Sea as the data source because, on the one hand, as mentioned above, the interior of the South China Sea is the most favorable area in the world for surveying inner ocean wave data with very distinct waveform characteristics. On the other hand, the project was set up in China for a Chinese audience for the first time. According to data from previous interviews and internet records, the audience’s memories of the sea are essentially in Taiwan, Xiamen, and Hainan, which are all included in the South China Sea. In the book “Empathy” (2011) , the author develops various definitions and theories of “empathy,” in which he mentions that one aspect of empathy is the connection in memory. For example, when someone’s experience is the same as the viewer’s, the viewer is more likely to empathize. The locations mentioned above are more strongly connected to the memories of Chinese viewers.

I have chosen to document my creative process in this way because when art comes into the public eye, it is no longer the artist’s prerogative. When we learn how artists are inspired and observe and experience the world passionately and imaginatively, ordinary people can also gain insights and seek solace for their souls through art. For example, in the expressive nature of art, the creator can release negative emotions or relieve traumatic experiences through the direct experience of creative activities such as music, painting, dance, and theatre, which can contribute to self-perception, heal emotional trauma and integrate the development of the body and mind. The interpretation of artistic language helps self-awareness and deep communication and understanding between people by understanding the possible psychological meanings behind each creator’s work. The sensitivity, creativity, and spontaneity present in artistic creation can have many benefits for individual growth.