Billie Tsien on creating experiences that are bigger than the buildings
by Meghna MehtaFeb 27, 2020
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Meghna MehtaPublished on : Feb 08, 2020
The Women in Design 2020 +, an international conference and exhibition curated by the HECAR Foundation, witnessed the participation of extremely talented women from the fields of architecture, planning, construction, design and other allied fields.
Held at Nehru Centre in Mumbai, India, from January 8-10, 2020, the three-day conference saw more than 35 women speakers and panelists from India and abroad sharing their work, thoughts, ideas, successes, techniques and challenges as they discussed a gamut of disciplines such as photography, art, film, literature and more.
Among the many women supporting and guiding each other was Morag Myerscough, a London-based artist and designer who stood out for her bold, colourful and unique work.
Here, STIR speaks to Myerscough on how she developed the enigmatic personality that she has, her approach to work and the sensitivity that women bring to design.
Meghna Mehta (Meghna): One of your works that I found very interesting is the Make Happy project. Could you tell us about it? Also, you have taken inspiration from a Chinese proverb. How does it connect to your work?
Morag Myerscough (Morag): When I was asked to do this project in Hong Kong, which is now China, many thoughts came to my mind about the fact that they were having a little bit of trouble demonstrating who owns what and how people should go forward in Hong Kong to be more democratic.
So I thought and felt that the Chinese proverb ‘make happy those who are near, and those who are far will come’, was absolutely true to that space. The place was intended to bring happiness to those people who are there and isn't necessarily what the whole of China wants, because those people have rights of their own. Hence, Make Happy resonated with me because I think it is really important to think about who is close to you; that can be family or can be a community and that feeling makes it a better place.
I ended up drawing that and I was confident enough, though there had been few demonstrations, and then we saw the kids playing there and it was relieving. It was an interesting thing that sometimes projects come along and you are in the right place to do it and it seemed like the perfect place and the perfect time.
Meghna: So you believe that things do happen for a reason?
Morag: Yes, and that just happens. Like the project I showed, Love at First Sight in Aberdeen that happened just after my mom passed away. It so happens that my dad had met her in Aberdeen, where they fell in love at first sight and I had actually never been there before. I was invited to work on this and it immediately came to me, ‘Oh, this has got to be about my mom and dad’. It just seemed to make sense. So, I think sometimes you can't see something until it comes in front of you and then you can make those connections.
For me, some other things are also very important that if you are coming to another country and you are working with them in their country, you have to understand why they might want you there. They might want you there just to do your thing. It's very fascinating. It's a very sensitive moment and I think we should all realise that. – Morag Myerscough
Meghna: This reminds me of something that is happening in India as well, the idea of migration, about how the sense of belonging is changing. Is that something that was at the back of your mind sub-consciously?
Morag: Yes, I do focus on belonging. I want to find out from people what it means to them. Because it may mean different things to different ages, like for the older ones it might be family, while with young ones it might be friends.
I also try to see what part of it makes you feel belonged; is it just your culture or is it about talking with each other? It does not matter that you do not come from the same place but can still belong together. You have got to have shared values and that is what religion has done in the past. They have brought diverse people together.
The schools I have worked on had lots of kids who were given a place so they could escape their families, where they were may be 10 kids in one room. They went to the school and they thrived, because it makes communities thrive if they feel belonged.
Meghna: So you think that design can really facilitate people to find this sense of belonging? If there are certain policies that the governments are changing, is there a way that designers can be a part of it?
Morag: Yeah, I really do, definitely! Many projects we have seen in the last few days at the conference show us examples and precedencies of how things do change.
It does not need loads of money, but it needs a lot of effort and it needs a lot people to bind to. – Morag Myerscough
But then it is much better that the governments give support to small projects, which may only need small investments. Rather than big utopian projects that draw people away from their place of belonging.
Meghna: Is there an idea of feminism, or the aspect of humanism that a woman in design brings in?
Morag: I think there is. It is interesting where I felt the word ‘home’, I had ‘home’ in mind in the hospital project and then Billie(Tsien) had ‘home’ in her presentation and somebody else had home as well. Home is certainly a place where women do thrive, where they feel belonged. I know this with my partner Luke, he always thinks I have too many cushions.
I think it is a more female thing to have empathy, because sometimes I will go to a project meeting and if I really don't think that they should make something, I don't have a desperation to produce it, I will express that.
There are distinct differences between men and women and what we need to do is celebrate those differences. Not want to be like men, because we are different. – Morag Myerscough
But I think it takes a long time for a woman to thrive, she had to feel like she has got to be seen like a man. But it is hard to understand too because we have been conditioned in so many ways about what and how we think.
When I was younger, I used to speak out a lot and people used to be annoyed by me, so I thought I was doing something bad. But I think they were just boring. They were not open and they did not like the fact that I argued, especially in England.
Meghna: That is a very important thing that you spoke about. It is a patriarchal society in India as well. You have developed your personality and thrived, and lots of women see you as an inspiration.
Morag: I hope so, because I think, this is me. It took me a really long time to say, this is me. You should always just be happy with where you are and who you are. I definitely feel much more empowered now than I used to and that has been only in the last five to 10 years. But that is also because my work is everything to me and I do not have children. Earlier it did get frustrating, but now when I am absolutely doing what I want to do and it shows in my work. I have truly been able to express myself.
I have worked on children's hospitals and the patients there are getting better. People go and say, ‘look, there's bright colours’. When I first did a corridor in the hospital, I really pushed it with the clients and then all the artists felt more confident to do such things in a space like a hospital.
And I think in the early years everybody would stop you from doing things and people seem to be able to tell me if it's good or bad. I will listen to people, soak in as much as I want to and approach it singularly.
Sometimes it works and obviously it doesn't always work. But if you don't do it, how are you going to find out? – Morag Myerscough
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