Finalist 2022

Keep Running

Monash University XYX Lab / Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

"Keep Running" draws attention to the challenging experiences of women and gender-diverse people through public displays of data and narratives

Monash University XYX Lab was invited by the curators of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art to contribute to their 2022 exhibition, “Who’s Afraid of Public Space?” Our contribution, "Keep Running", extends XYX Lab’s ongoing local and international applied research into gendered spatial inequality, but in unique and publicly accessible ways. It draws attention to the experiences of women and gender-diverse communities by presenting crowd-sourced data and intersectional narratives of gender that outline how public spaces are accessed and occupied by those who are frequently forgotten in city planning processes.

Design Brief:

ACCA's request of the XYX Lab team was to generate a contribution for their "Who's afraid of Public Space?" exhibition that connected the gallery content to the experiences of city dwellers in their daily exterior environment. While a polished, single A0 poster resides in the ACCA exhibition space, it is the externalised series of poster and billboard interventions on the streets of greater Melbourne that provoked important dialogue around women and gender-diverse people’s right to access public space, and the conditions in cities that cultivate fear. 'Keep Running' is a call to action for communities to develop an understanding of safety and risk in our city, and an opportunity for audiences to consider their own lived experience and/or to develop their understanding, allyship and empathy for diverse city users whose concerns are frequently unheard or trivialised.

This project was designed and commissioned by:

Design Process

The design process began in a previous research project, 'YourGround'. This project (in collaboration with geolocation mapping specialists CrowdSpot and 23 local government authorities) revealed real-time data that responded to how safe or unsafe women and gender diverse people felt while exercising, or simply being, in Victoria's outside public spaces. Women and gender diverse people were asked across the state to contribute to the 'YourGround' project, simply by identifying the spaces in which they felt safe or otherwise. While it revealed significant statistical data on safety, the platform also prompted participants to identify why they felt the way they did through personal narratives of their experience. This is key to understanding women and gender diverse people’s nuanced and frequently problematic engagement with public space.

Data, when it remains a statistical analysis, can provide evidence that change should occur, but does not necessarily indicate what needs to change. It is the personal stories that lie beneath the statistics that genuinely reveal what interventions need to occur and where. The somewhat abstract, depersonalised, quantified statistic is made more visceral and urgent by revealing the personal stories that help explain why a space feels safe or unsafe. By sifting through the stories from the 'YourGround' data, we were able to select key messages that reflected those of many who experienced similar challenges while traversing Victoria's public spaces. The stories personalise the data and identify the powerful ‘felt’ experiences that can frequently be lost in the anonymous and detached statistical data that resides in (frequently inaccessible) reports and journals. Through utilising public facing and inexpensive urban paste-ups we could both tell relational stories and reveal the data that they pertain to, to a broad audience of city users, in the spaces that harassment occurs.

Design Excellence

‘Keep Running’ was chosen as the flagship poster and the project’s name. While it draws directly from one participant’s story, it's a shared response to many situations in which people feel unsafe, where running is the only option to escape danger. It also subtly references an enduring social and political response to the persistent issues of threat in the city; to flee it, rather than confront it.

The entire participants’ story (for every poster in the series) is presented in bold, easily legible type. However, the key words extracted from the quote have been rendered in a bespoke geometric typography created specifically as the key identity for this project. It is drawn from the visual language of data — bar graphs and pie charts — those elements traditionally used to make statistics more visible and immediately understood in reports. In the context of “Keep Running” they overlap and intersect as an amalgam of data visualisations that concurrently reveals the key point of the participants story. The data represented in the poster is no longer detached from human experience, but enmeshed within it.

The intent of the project is to remove the 'abstractness' of data visualisation and ensure its audience recognises that they are indeed represented in it. To ensue this, the stories were carefully curated. They needed to be relatable and reflective of the lived experiences of multiple women and gender diverse people. The statements needed to serve key communication functions: to be familiar and identified as experiences that are shared and repeated daily; and secondly, to provide the human story that lay beneath the plethora of depersonalised data that we now have access to. The project was presented via multiple pasteups, as well as digital billboards in key locations where the spaces themselves are problematic.

Design Innovation

While the use of billposter pasteups does not represent innovation in itself, their use as a means to publicly display personal narratives and statistics related to urban gender-based harassment is. The sites were carefully chosen: alleys, laneways and underpasses: familiar locations that induce fear, whether perceived or real. And like all pasteups they do not operate singularly but are in conversation with their adjacent posters. Located among other paste ups they contributed to the visual language of the streets. These included festival posters, alcohol promotions and women’s apparel ads. They created a provocative dialogue that prompted a reading of the posters collectively; music festivals as potential sites of harassment; alcohol as a significant contributor to assault, and sexualised images of women are questioned for their legitimising of staring, leering and other predatory behaviour.

The project also secured access to two significant advertising sites, the digital display on Grey and Fitzroy Streets in St Kilda; and a carpark billboard at Westall Station. For these sites a single statistic was chosen relevant to the sites: ‘More than 50% of Australian women feel unsafe when walking alone after dark”. The ‘carpark’ is frequently identified as an urban typology that causes anxiety for women as the walk to their car can frequently be dark and alone. The St Kilda site is one well known to be confronting for women on their own. It ran day and night, but the darkness intensified the colour, stressing the urgency of addressing the issue of women’s night-time safety. Among the innovative approaches of the project was the grassroots crowd sourcing of recent data, relevant to the locations in which the posters appears. This could not have happened without the extensive collaboration of Victoria's municipal councils who were key to helping us facilitate participation in the data gathering process.

Design Impact

The project, 'YourGround', that garnered the data utilised in 'Keep Running', was conducted during extended periods of Victoria’s Covid lockdown, throughout which only publicly accessible spaces were available for exercise. The project subsequently yielded far more responses than expected. In excess of 6000 responses were recorded by the project, in itself outlining the immensity of the (frequently shared) challenges facing women and gender diverse people as they navigate the city.

Drawing attention to these voices, and their experience through the project assured the participants that they are not alone, and that their stories are being heard and translated into a stronger public presence and pressure to change. Alongside the poster and billboard series a range of small items were designed for ACCA. These included postcards, an A3 poster, badges, stickers and a teatowel. These items were intended to allow people to identify as allies of the project (through wearing the badges), distribute the knowledge (through posters and postcard), create their own urban intervention (using the stickers, one that identifies a place as’ safe’, the other as ‘unsafe’), and provoke conversation at home through a frequently used domestic tool (the teatowel).

The project culminated with a “make inclusive public spaces” workshop held at ACCA during Design Week 2022. This event drew a unique audience of architects, landscape architects; Journalism students and criminology academics. Each participated in a speculative rendering of how they might, when working together, address the issues relative to each of the stories and statistics located on the main exhibition poster. The event was open to the public, stressing that public safety is very much a shared responsibility and should concern all of us.

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