The feeling of loneliness is something that is felt by everyone in varying degrees. There are also different types of loneliness, which are triggered as a result of different reasons. In this project, I am focusing on the type of loneliness felt due to separation from family and friends, by entering a new environment, to achieve personal goals. I am looking at how people find comfort in their loneliness, in order to deal with everyday tasks and keep a certain state of mind. The two areas that I am looking at under this, are, how comfort food and music play a role in providing comfort. Iam proposing a pantry that aims at providing the feeling of comfort to people who are not only feeling lonely, but just anyone having a bad day. The pantry starts as a part of our college campus, with the goal of growing into more.
Although I started with music and food, due to the time constraints of the project, I was only able to implement the part about food and how that can create a sense of community and act as a means of comfort.
To provide a feeling of comfort to people who are feeling lonely, or to anyone else who needs it.
At first, since empathy is such a personal thing, I was trying to figure out if there are certain senses that could inform an individual's feeling of empathy and then later seeing if this could relate to a person finding comfort through empathy.
Further, I held a survey to see the different kinds of foods that people found comfort in.
I found many studies online that talked about how food could not only make you feel a sense of community, but it is also related to loneliness more than we think it is. Below are a few quotes from these studies...
I also found some projects done in the past that looked at food and how to create a sense of belonging.
How to feed an AI by Xiaowei R. Wang is an example that combined the ideas of eating and meditation. The dinner also included a menu with not just the ingredients, but also versus to make you think about being grateful and mindful. The whole experience was a combination of food and poetry and brought people together to build a space that gave out good vibes and energies. This is what drew me to this work.
(link to artwork - https://www.xiaoweiwang.com/projects/how-to-feed-an-ai)
Another project by Todd Bol called Little Free Library inspired me while walking inside my own community. I came across shelves on the street where people couls leave books for others to read. It is the perfect example of a community based on give and take. There are so many people willing and looking for a way to help others in anyway that they can, and the success of this project is proof of it. People like to share.
The first prototype I made was a comfort pantry with food, that I placed on a park bench. I mainly put in the food that would not get spoiled, from the research above. I also had some poetry attached to the installation, with an option for the viewers to write their own.
This did not work the way I wanted to for many reasons. The very first being, it was outdoors. The weather conditions at the time wouldn’t allow for something like this to be present unless it was within a built structure. Due to strong winds, I could only leave this outside for 30minutes before everything started flying away. Although there was one person who took a packet from chips from the bench while I was away, everything else stayed intact and no one wrote anything on the paper either.
After receiving valuable feedback from my peers and reflecting on the changes that need to be made to make the pantry more interactive, I had a long list of alterations. The very first was shifting this indoors. In addition to that, some of the things that I planned to do were –write poetry on the food items rather than all on one sheet of paper, give some instructions or context of the pantry, give the whole installation a homely feel by making a structure with layers that signify peace or warmth, and finally, create a give and take system so that the people interacting with it feel like they are giving something back rather than just taking something, since this could make them hesitant to interact with the pantry in general.
I decided to make the final prototype on one of the windowsills on my college campus because of the high volume of people who spend time in the space and because of multiple hours we sit there for to finish our work.
I just used wood to make the structure and painted it to make it feel a little warmer and also painted the short instructions that I wanted to provide.
I then filled it in with food and notes and places for people to leave behind their notes as well and left it out to test. To my surprise, just after a day, there were already so many notes on the board and these just kept increasing everyday. The notes were also so very supportive and thoughtful. I know knew my project was successful.
I asked people a few questions after interacting with the comfort pantry and got very fulfilling responses.
Whats the first thing that comes to your mind when you see this installation?
Would you contribute anything to the pantry? If yes, why? If not, why not?
Are you comfortable with being labled as someone who is feeling lonely?
If you saw this in a public space, would you still engage with it?
Short term - This pantry has been running for half a year now, so my short term goal is to make it to a year.
Long term - To expand this in a similar manner as Little Free Library, so a community can be built, helping those who need it, not just financially, but mentally.
The community can eventually host activities like writing poetry together, cooking together, making music together, or more.