OPENNESS


A thesis presented by Qiwen Ju, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design in the Department of Graphic Design of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. 


Abstract
Opening Apertures
Relevant Terms
Multiple Perspectives
︎︎︎ Stereotype
︎︎︎We
︎︎︎ Stop Asian Hate Poster
︎︎︎ On This Day
Interview with Yiyang Hei
Shifting Perspective
︎︎︎ Maze
︎︎︎ Alienation
︎︎︎ Moiré Typeface
Studying Perspective
︎︎︎ Reframing Story
My Perspective
︎︎︎ Escape From Reality
︎︎︎ El Lissitzky And Werner Jeker
︎︎︎ The Grid
︎︎︎ If You Could See What I Hear
Afterword


BACK

OPENING APERTURES


Dear Readers,

Whether we’ve known each other for a long time or just met, I am honored that you are taking the time to read my thesis.

The advent of 2022 means that my journey at the Rhode Island School of Design is ending. I consider myself lucky to have developed a full obsession with graphic design over a period of three years. In the beginning, as a novice, initially driven by practicality, my sole motivation for entering graduate school was to land a stable job by learning design. However, this soon collapsed. I still recall my first class in graduate school when professor Tom Wedell showed us a series of posters he designed with his wife and design partner, Nancy Skolos. I couldn’t help but smile — as an instinctive response that showed my excitement to explore uncharted territory. Sometimes it doesn't take long to be openly fascinated by something. Here began my true enjoyment of graphic design.

But at times, the unexpected arises and life doesn’t unfold smoothly. What happened in the ensuing days negatively affected my new perception of graphic design. In 2020, COVID-19 emerged in the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, and spread to 24 countries within weeks, killing over 1,000 people, and sickening tens of thousands. The World Health Organization immediately proclaimed the virus a public health emergency of international concern. Since then, due to the continuous spread of COVID-19, the whole world has been reshaped. As an international student, I tried countless times to return to my country, but as the entire world was in a state of panic and chaos, I relinquished that effort. The following year, I hardly ever left my room. The only way I could reach the outside world was through the Internet and social media. I habitually checked the news about the pandemic in Chinese and Western media to stay informed. However, the extreme reports and toxic Internet comments made my mindset extremely negative.

Left: Most of the people in Hong Kong, China have started wearing masks. The World Health Organization immediately proclaimed the virus a public health emer-gency of international concern. Photo credit: Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times, Feb 14th, 2020.
Against the background of the pandemic, Western media has delivered staggering criticisms of China's freedom, human rights, constitution, government, and so on. Former U.S. President Donald Trump even named Covid-19 “the Chinese virus” in front of the media, encouraging more Westerners on social media to verbally attack Chinese people and vent long-held feelings of dissatisfaction. However, the tone is different in China. Chinese media portrays Chinese society positively and describes the government's decisions as correct and unquestionable. Additionally, a growing number of “red” articles and movies have aroused patriotism to unite citizens against Western accusations.

So who is in the right? This was the question I frequently asked myself. I assumed that both were either right or wrong. As an ordinary person, how should I distinguish the so-called truth from lies? After I shared my doubts with my dad, he recommended Unflattening by American author Nick Sousanis. In the first chapter, Sousanis explains his understanding of different perspectives through two lenses. The first is astrophysics. The Greek astronomer Eratosthenes used the shadow refraction of two pillars (which can be regarded as two eyes) to conclude that the earth's surface curves. Then, he used the pillars’angles to calculate the earth's circumference. After that, Sousanis proposed a definition that must be perfected, stating that ‘unflattening’ is a simultaneous enga-gement of multiple vantage points from which to engender new ways of seeing. The second aspect is society. For in-depth exploration and further observation, humans have invented more powerful tools and received more professional training, but along with this, the narrower focus has increased social differences and gaps. A solitary vantage point fails to illuminate the whole picture. A fixed viewpoint — a single line of thought — can be a trap that causes us to see only what we are looking for. If we are looking from a different angle, it upends our foundations. To reveal that a single “true” perspective is false. So how are multiple perspectives formed?

Left: Unflattening was published in 2015. The author Nick Sousanis challenges traditional academic discourse through the form of comics. The book stands for a variety of perspectives on science, philosophy, art, literature, and mythology aimed at counter-acting our narrow and rigid ways of thinking.
To further grasp the implications of a multi-perspectival view, I turned to Nietzsche’s defin-ition of perspectivism. He frames this idea clearly by stating that perspectivism seeks to determine truth by comparing perspectives rather than through the correspondence of things. In other words, people overcome the shortcomings of every perspective and understand the truth by reflecting on their different views. I gradually realized the importance of allowing shifts from our certainty and of opening to different perspectives to both individuals and society
while reading and learning.

Familiar to most Chinese is the idiom, “Be prejudiced by first impressions." Though packed with wisdom, it is hard to achieve. Once introduced to a perspective, an initial impression commands certainty. Contradictions incurred by limited subjectivities are ubiq-uitous, and with the emergence of Covid-19, these contradictions became continuously magnified and have led to more tragedies and dis-turbances. In this time of intense polarization, I believe it is crucial to approach design through a lens that broadens and deepens sensitivity to each other, even nation to nation, through multiple perspectives. It is my commitment is to openness that permits me to write what follows.

It was with this goal of conveying a trustworthy message to the public that my design research and process began. The following are three main questions that emerge from this theme:

1) How do I as a designer grow my capacity to respond to different perspectives and embrace these in the work?

2) How can I actually give voice to multiple perspectives through actions of design?

3) How can I invite you as a reader and my audience at large to comprehend multiple messages embedded in the design?

While exploring perspectives, I try to combine graphic design with various media, such as printmaking, photography, music, video, and 3D design. These media push me to think about my strategies from different perspectives and help me to build a visual language of my own. Openness is a summary of my research on this multi-dimensional world in the past three years. I documented the projects and divided them into four categories so that you can clearly under-stand my logic, but I know this is still a thesis to be improved. I welcome any suggestions from different angles.

So, let's get started.