Monash University’s intriguingly named “XYX Lab” – a team of design researchers exploring gender-sensitive design practices and theory – recently received a prestigious national prize in the inaugural Designers Australia 2021 Awards for the ground breaking work, titled ‘HyperSext City.’
The work highlights the impact of gender, exclusion and sexual violence to encourage participants to co-design a more equitable city.
Here I’m chatting with one of HyperSext City’s creators, XYX Lab’s co-director, Associate Professor Nicole Kalms.
Nicole, congratulations on the award you’ve won for Hypersext City! What is it exactly?
HyperSext City is an exhibition consisting of a series of graphic provocations that tells the story of how gender interacts with urban spaces – revealing the particular experiences of women and LGBTIQ communities internationally.
The HyperSext HyperGraphic (see image above) is an overscaled black and orange information graphic that dramatically confronts its audience with the startling state of our cities through immersing its audience in stories, statistics and data.
Two video works in an adjoining room are a call to action. In an urban montage A Billion Views speaks to the urgency of designing cities that are responsive to gender inequity. Do you Feel Safe shows the precariousness of women’s shared experiences of feeling unsafe in cities.
The HyperSext Repository is a digital component of the exhibition and invites the audience to interactively document and reference data and research. The repository is an ongoing live project.
What is it designed to show?
It’s designed to make public the confronting data associated with gender inequality, harassment and lack of safety in cities for women, girls and gender diverse people. Data like this is usually dispersed across multiple repositories, embedded in reports, and other places the public never accesses. Through the different components of the project, we’ve consolidated the data into one impactful experience, and an ongoing singular website where people can access, read and respond to the data. Hypersextcity.com is an open resource that also permits contributions from experts from across disciplinary fields and geographic locations.
How did you go about making it and collating the information?
‘Making’ is pivotal to any design practice. The hyper graphic was designed as an immersive data visual, realised through the same production processes commercial operations use in cities to promote themselves publicly. Store fronts, advertising and other visual devices contribute to a highly gendered vernacular of the city, and it seemed an appropriate medium to talk back to these messages in an equivalently persuasive mode. The display of data is not easy to make engaging. The work draws on icons, visual representations of cities and countries, alongside traditional methods of representation: pie charts and graphs. The vibrancy and stark contrast of the red-orange (traditionally associated with warning) against black and white (aligned to the pragmatism of statistics and facts) allows for a very easily read collection of data.
Why did you use so many different mediums and data points for the work?
The exhibition space was curated into different experiences and mediums and each plays a pivotal role in the narrative journey. The audience is drawn in by the graphic quality of the wall data, ultimately overwhelmed by its content; and eventually moved emotionally by the video narratives. This complex intersection is intended to drive people to action; whether it be through the embedded gender justice workshops we ran as part of the exhibition experience; through the take-home cards that create a portable ‘wall’ of data; to ultimately the hypersext.com website that exists in perpetuity, providing both a resource for the public to access and place to add expert knowledge.
What’s the desired effect on the viewer or consumer of the project?
Being the immersive, larger than human scale experience, the intent was to ensure people saw themselves IN the data. They’re not just passive viewers, but participants to the overwhelming narrative of the gender inequity that exists in their city and every city across the globe. Utilising data that is connected to acknowledged expert sources, provides an indisputable truth that is difficult for the audience to dismiss. Indeed, most of the audience has seen it in action, and were able to align one or some of the facts to their own lived experience or news stories they were familiar with.
The exhibition is a call to action, not just for designers but all disciplinary experts who contribute to the building and operationalisation of our cities, to address gender as a constituent part of their planning.
How do you think it could actually make cities more equitable?
Women, gender-diverse people and the LGBTIQ community are among some of the most vulnerable groups in cities. Designers, architects, and urban planners can’t make assumptions about what vulnerable people experience. We must actively work with communities and bring forward their lived, sometimes hidden, experiences to co-create solutions.
By encouraging and empowering people to understand the present, and imagine desired futures, we challenge audiences to consider how we might intervene in public spaces to make them safer for women, girls and LGBTQI+ communities. This is a project of change that will benefits everyone.
I found the films very moving. Can you explain how/why they were made this way and what they show?
Co-creation is a core value of the work of XYX Lab. We have collaborated with content producer/creator Ella Mitchell to showcase our work on several occasions. The medium of video allows us to create a bridge between the academic research and a general (non-design) audience. The scripts and images illuminate complex – and often sensitive – materials to bring humanity and beauty to research activism.
- HyperSext City was created by XYX Lab’s co-directors Associate Professor Nicole Kalms and Associate Professor Gene Bawden from Monash Art, Design and Architecture
Feature image: People viewing the HyperSext HyperGraphic, an overscaled black and orange information graphic. Picture: Brett Brown