But How Are You Really Feeling? Two Kohler Fellows challenge the way we communicate in exhibition

kohler artMany people have felt the challenges of good communication during the COVID-19 pandemic particularly when asked, “how are you feeling?” During their time as Kohler Fellows at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID), Hong Huo and Kushin Mukherjee chose to use their expertise to explore the limits of verbal communication through animated imagery.

Hong, a 2022 Master of Fine Arts graduate, is a visual artist that utilizes multiple disciplines such as drawing, performance and mix-media installation to expand the boundaries of animation. She joined the Kohler Fellows as an Art Fellow, while her team member, Kushin joined as a Science Fellow. Kushin is a third-year Ph.D. candidate studying psychology in the area of visual perception and communication using computational models like neural networks. “Kushin was the ideal partner to be paired up with,” Hong recalled.

The pair discussed different ways that they could demonstrate how humans communicate and express non-verbal emotions. Every week during virtual calls, they exchanged the typical, “how are you doing?” But one day, instead of the using the standard response to one another, they both seized at the opportunity to open and exchange sincere remarks. They connected on a human level and over time developed medium and format they wanted to use for their project.

Kushin and Hong recognized that everyday interactions begin with greetings. However due to social norms and pressures it is common for people to feel challenged about truly opening up. People are typically averse to exposing vulnerabilities, and this can be a barrier to many things, such as genuine relationships, mental health, and other stigmas we face daily. Hong and Kushin wanted to find a way to convey these types of verbal communications through nonverbal language and imagery.

The team designed an engaging animated visual depiction that captures concealed expressions reflected in everyday questions that people encounter. Resourcing sentiments through surveys from around the UW Madison community, Hong and Kushin created a collaborative art exhibit with a dancer, animations, and a variety of shapes and colors to abstractly describe how people feel. The installation itself consists of two projectors projecting animation on one side and text on another.

Kushin and Hong both hope that the audience can find a sense of relief in being honest with how they feel. It may be hard to communicate our complex feelings in our daily life, however there are other creative ways for us to express ourselves. Understanding the limitations of the spoken word and the effectiveness of using visual communication, can perhaps one day make the question “how are you feeling?” not seem as daunting.

The How Are You Feeling? exhibit will be on display at Communication Madison from May 28-June 3, with the opening reception on May 28th from 3-8PM (masks required).

This project is sponsored by the Marie Christine Kohler Fellows program under the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery’s Illuminating Discovery Hub.