Aaron Asis is a conceptual artist and activist focused on promoting physical access, spatial awareness, and general appreciation in an urban context. His work explores creative opportunities as a means to inspire public engagement and share ideas related to the significance of under-appreciated environments.
Aaron has spent the past two decades exploring and documenting inaccessible environs, creating temporary installations to activate underutilized spaces. His work involves spearheading initiatives around the country to highlight the significance of under-appreciated urban conditions, and demonstrate the ways in which art/design can share the profound impact these environs have on our everyday lives.
Locally, Aaron is a Co-Founder of Recharge the Battery, a community driven initiative working to promote conservation opportunities for the Battery Street Corridor and the future of Seattle.
Q: TRUST in design is…
A: Communication. Communication. Communication….between people!
Design is a relationship and the premise of any good design process is open communication towards a common goal. TRUST is the product of that relationship, and is built on interpersonal interactions, personal commitments, and mutual respect. Good design is built collectively with communities, collaborators, and clients/agencies, where each participant must consider that TRUST is earned over time and built on a foundation of awareness, appreciation, and understanding of the various priorities and concerns of all parties involved.
Q: Where have you found TRUST in/ through design?
A: TRUST is a part of all design, but the strength of that TRUST always points back to communication.
Q: Where do you see a need for TRUST in/ by design?
A: TRUST in design ideas from non-designers. Then take these ideas and design with TRUST to support the priorities of underrepresented populations and under-appreciated aspects of our built environments.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Conversation. (Surprise, surprise.) But, seriously, there is nothing more inspiring than one, two, or bunches of people sharing words, thoughts, and ideas with one another. From any good conversation possibility can emerge—and that any conversation can catalyze possibility is the epitome of inspiring.
A close second might be the city, both an abstract and a literal inspiration. The city is built on a series of incomprehensibly complex networks and decisions that require us to TRUST how these systems work to support our lives. Something so impossibly complex and requiring of people to ensure it operates (relatively) smoothly—that certainly qualifies as inspiring in my book!
Q: Tell us about a project that you completed that you are most proud of.
A: How about a project that is not complete, or might never be realized?
In either case, the Recharge the Battery initiative is easily the answer to this question, because of the way it has organically evolved, based on open conversations, inspired ideas, and community interest.
Our effort really started with a simple invitation: an invitation to meet the Battery Street Tunnel; to enter and occupy it, interact with other visitors, and walk its length. Just come and experience this piece of infrastructure, before it is decommissioned and wiped from our collective memories. Walk the Battery was a celebratory event with no agenda, but the general public interest and sincere community excitement that emerged from that event became very real, very quickly.
From there, we realized the need to design a new invitation, so this time around we asked people to share their thoughts. Any idea, big or small, practical or outrageous; just share your thoughts. The goal was just to keep the conversation going to see what (if anything) might be possible. Again, no agenda. And again, resulting in tremendous public interest and excitement. In fact, we received such great public feedback and support we felt compelled to formalize a community initiative—born directly from the ideas and input of the public—which has since engaged thousands of people in continuing the conversation.
Each step of the way, new voices would join the conversation. Design professionals joined us in collaborating with neighbors and city officials to continue to help shape an alternative vision for the Battery Street Tunnel. And despite some significant bumps along the way, the TRUST that has been built and the way we have been able to deliberate, discuss, and develop ideas for the Battery and the ongoing conversation that has emerged from this project is easily what I am most proud of.
Q: If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?
A: Pay Attention!
Q: What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work? What do you want to contribute?
A: I really feel like a broken record, but I just want to start the conversation.
Of course I have my own personal areas of focus (physical access, spatial awareness, general appreciation, etc), but being a part of any conversation with the power to draw attention to overlooked places or to give voice to people who aren’t being heard within our urban environments would be my ultimate goal as a contribution.
If nothing else, I am always a believer that meaningful conversations can be catalytic. As long as we can continue to prove that there is still a place for conversation to inspire community interests or grassroots initiatives, we can continue to improve the public dialogue around issues of inclusion in public decision-making.
Q: If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?
A: Definitely the ability to stop time! Think about all the ways stopping time could improve your life. No really, think about errands that no longer counted against the clock or life upkeep that required no commitment of time to complete, holding more hours of the day for various interactions.
But, within the context of a design conversation, consider the benefits of being able to freeze time throughout the creative process—to carefully ponder, further explore, or share with a broader audience for feedback and/or input. Our collective complaint that we never have enough time would become obsolete, and our excuse for not reaching deeper into the contemplative strata would cease to exist. Although, time management and work/life balance tend NOT to be the strength of the creative community, so I’m sure we would all still find ways to misuse or demand more from this superpower. Next question!
Q: What’s next (for you? For Design? For Seattle?)?
A: Hmm. Can I answer in reverse?
What’s next for Seattle is a dangerous question, especially for someone who calls New York home. But I do feel comfortable calling Seattle my “other home” and I think that the city is standing at a junction between looking forward and looking back. Seattle (and cities throughout the country) can do more to engage a wider audience of opinion, identify a broader spectrum of possibilities, and advocate for more meaningful influence in public decision-making. That may be more of a hope than a prediction, but answering what’s next for design is not any easier.
I honestly have no idea what’s next for Design, but in talking TRUST, I think the creative community can do more to actively expand our thinking about the role and responsibility of our decisions. Design at its best is a practice of holistic thinking and inclusive considerations, and I’d like to imagine that a paradigm shift is coming—a shift towards design for sustaining life, rather than for sustaining comfort. And perhaps what we need most is to challenge our fixation with additive solutions and instead focus on re-appropriation or subtractive alternatives as a new design priority.
As for me, I just hope to continue to be part of expanding conversations and inspiring TRUST in community settings—from expanding the decision-making audience to elevating the standard for our built environments.
Learn more about Aaron’s work:
Website – rechargethebattery.org / aaronasis.com
Instagram – @aaron_asis / @rechargethebattery
Facebook – @aaron.asis / @rechargethebattery
Email – [email protected] / [email protected]