Dominican designer Gigi Polo is a Parsons graduate from the Communication Design Department. She launched her studio—Myellow Boots—in 2005, offering services to small and starting businesses both in the non-profit industry and publications like Domino Magazine, The New Yorker and Redbook Magazine, among others. As a design instructor, Gigi has taught abroad at Altos de Chavón, the School of Design and the Museum of Modern Art, both in the Dominican Republic. She is an adjunct professor at Parsons The New School for Design, for onsite and online classes, teaches Time Embodied for Parsons First Year, Branding online for Continuing Education, and Designers Toolkit for SPACE. Her passion for teaching lies in the intersection between student-centered teaching and brain-based learning. She is currently working in creating tools that help design students develop cognitive flexibility—the ability to organize knowledge in many different ways—as a way to enhance creative insight. Gigi is currently enrolled in the Parsons’ MA in Design Studies program, where she is creating an educational model that helps design students—and eventually preschoolers—develop cognitive flexibility. The aim is to enhance creative insight in everyday life in order to propel innovative thinkers. Also a filmmaker, Gigi produced, and edited a documentary about bipolar disorder and the artistic temperament called Madly Gifted, which has been screened in several international venues, in Hawaii, New York City and Dominican Republic. To see some of her work, please visit www.myellowboots.com and www.madlygifted.com.
What current projects are you at work on or have you just completed?
I am currently working on several projects simultaneously.
One is my thesis project for the MA in Design Studies, called: Osmotic Bubble: Creative Insight by Dint of Synchronized Atmospheres. I’m researching various educational models—from early-childhood education in general, and design education in particular—in relation to neuroscientific theories of teaching and learning, in order to re-think education based on brain science. My main purpose is to develop new, open-ended, creative processes that nurture children’s creative insight while they produce and assimilate tacit knowledge through a process of implicit, experiential learning. I’m looking at the learning space—the classroom setting—as an “atmosphere” that could potentially stimulate the minds of children in becoming creators, pioneers, and innovators—the new designers of possible futures. This project involves the design of new curricula for instruction, and of the physical space as a multisensory, shared, incubator where the learning experience occurs.
Osmotic Bubble, preliminary sketches.
The second project I’m working on is the distribution of a documentary that I directed, produced, and edited, about Bipolar Disorder and the artistic temperament, called Madly Gifted (www.madlygifted.com). This is a four-year project that started as my thesis for the MA in Media Studies in 2009-2011, and extended one more year afterwards, in post-production. I created this piece as a tool to bridge gaps of communication between health professionals, people suffering from bipolar disorder—especially artists—and their families.
I also designed a class workshop geared towards first year design students, in which students work collaboratively while being instructed in a multisensory space of visuals projections, oral narratives, and sounds. For this workshop, called Design Synchronicity: De-constructing the Creative Process, I used Script Analysis Theory and Theory of Practice to analyze space dynamics, and deconstruct the design process into sets of individual and collaborative exercises based on Jungian Psychoanalytical Theory of Archetypes and Exquisite Corpse Pedagogy; inception, conception, and emergence become paramount to enabling creative insight. The exercise is featured on 72 Assignments: The Foundation Course in Art and Design Today, from the Paris College of Art.
As for my work at Parsons, I am currently developing a class for the SPACE Summer Intensive Session to take Parsons students to Dominican Republic; the class will be taught at Altos de Chavón, the School of Design—my alma matter. Borderlessness: The Souvenirs of Happiness is a class that will teach students practical digital-design and editing tools, such as Adobe Suite and Final Cut Pro while taking them through an ethnographic exploration of Dominican culture, using Design Synchronicity as framework. Instead of perpetuating otherness as a concept that separates us, this class is an opportunity for our students to understand, and maybe see themselves, in the other. It is otherness that really makes us the same—human. That is why I have called the class Borderlessness. The course will embody the meaning literally, in terms of geography, but also metaphorically in terms of our own bodies, and our ability to extend ourselves to touch others. In a world saturated with hardship, we all need a spark of light that reminds us that “everything will be all right”: a moment that gives us the strength to keep going and be resilient—a moment of happiness. The class is still on the works so more information will be available during Spring 2014.
I have always been passionate about education. I’m a graphic designer by trade and, although I enjoy my practice as a design consultant, being a design educator is what gives me the utmost satisfaction. I started teaching high school kids at Parsons, in the Pre-College program at SPACE in 2006, and soon after I started teaching freshmen and sophomores in Design and Management at the School for Design Strategies (SDS), and Continuing Education both on-site and online. Being able to teach such a wide age range has been a constant learning experience for me, and has given me new perspectives in teaching strategies. It was very curious for me to hear my students complain about “losing their creative juices” once attending design school, so their preoccupation became my quest. My starting point was to design unconventional class exercises that enabled students to think creatively while exploring their personal interests within design. From my observations when using those short exercises and unconventional directives with my students, I created Design Synchronicity: De-constructing the Creative Process.
Because of this same concern, which over the years has become a struggle for many of my students—and in some cases made them drop school—I am working on Osmotic Bubble: Creative Insight by Dint of Synchronized Atmospheres. This is a long-term project that I am continuing to develop, with a projection of around 5 years.
In Borderlessness: The Souvenirs of Happiness, I was inspired by Boym Studio’s “Buildings of Disaster” as a new perspective on the concept of souvenirs. Traditionally, souvenirs are reminders of places visited, a record of a time worth remembering. On the other hand, for designer Constantine Boym, souvenirs are tokens of human catastrophe; a stance reflected in his best-known work, “Buildings of Disaster”. In contrast to these two kinds of souvenirs, our students will have the challenge to capture moments of happiness, elation, hope, etc. from Dominican culture to the world. This class will be about borderlessness as the extension of Dominican culture, and the universal feeling of happiness, through souvenirs.
Madly Gifted is a project very dear to my heart. After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008, I started researching the illness as a way to recover and try to manage my illness. The documentary is my testimony that recovery is possible, and that quality of life can be achieved with the right treatment and support but, most importantly, by taking control of one’s own life and not letting a disorder, or others, define who one is.
If you’re pursuing more than one project, are you finding connections between these pursuits, or do they feel separate?
I feel all my projects are intertwined; they all deal, in a certain degree, with education awareness and self-discovery. They are all meant to empower people to achieve great things by understanding their true potential, finding their passion, and managing their limitations.
Do you find connections between these projects and your current, future, or recent work for Parsons?
Parsons is, for me, a platform were everything comes together. As a graphic design consultant, my design practice concentrates on small businesses and start-ups of various industries, and keeps me grounded and current in the industry. Being current and actively engaged in the design world makes my teaching more relevant since I give my students glimpses of the reality in the design profession. One the other hand, my interactions with students inform the development of my projects. Madly Gifted has been an important learning experience that allowed me to offer support to many of my students who have suffered from a mental illness.
How have New York’s resources contributed to your current work?
New York is a city rich with experiences and people. Being here has allowed me to become a hybrid creative who is able to navigate many spheres and pursue many interests while still making a living. From conscious awareness and teaching, to commercial design, I feel I have been able to explore a wide creative spectrum that makes me feel more energetic, passionate, and fulfilled every day.
Is this your first project of this kind? What unique challenges and discoveries are presenting themselves?
Although I have been designing curricula for various institutions since I started teaching in 2006, all my projects are “firsts.” They are the open-ended answers to questions that have been sparked by my everyday life experience. They have not been defined by a set of skills I own but instead these projects have pushed me to learn more skills, fine-tune the ones I already have, and keep searching for new, unexpected twists and turns. Because of my curiosity, the questions continuously shape who I am as a professional and as a person. But that journey is sometimes overwhelming because I feel I’m everywhere and belong nowhere, so keeping my goals clear is always key.
If this project is part of a long-term interest, how have you seen your work shift through time?
Over time, my work has become less formulaic and structured and more exploratory in nature. As a young designer, my work was all about designing “stuff” for somebody else. Today, my work is about solving puzzles, and playing!
If you are at the culmination of a project, do you have plans for your next endeavors? What should we look out for from you in the future?
Definitely look for 72 Assignments: The Foundation Course in Art and Design Today, at Parsons Gimbel Library.
We hope to have Madly Gifted available on iTunes and Netflix in Summer 2014. We are waiting confirmation on several screenings so I’ll keep you posted on those events.
The Osmotic Bubble will be the main project I’ll focus on for the next couple of years, so producing and testing the physical space and the curricula will be the next stage. I will be posting progress of the research in my profiles (Gigi Polo) at academia.edu and researchgate.edu.