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USO (Unidentified Swimming Object) 


Congratulations to Digital Design Major graduate Varvara Solovyeva whose animated film ‘USO’ has been selected in competition for the International Programme at the Melbourne International Animation Festival (MIAF 2023). 

‘USO’ was Varvara’s graduating film for her Bachelor of Design in 2022. Varvara is currently undertaking her Master of Design studies at the School of Art and Design. 

International Program #4 – MIAF 

USO (Unidentified Swimming Object) is a short 3D animated film about a diver traversing the deep ocean in search of sentient beings. 

‘Through the creation of USO, I explored this question; “How can I effectively portray inter-species communication within a comedic 3D Animated short film”. My research led me to create a self-ironizing Animated sequence that investigated Interspecies communication on a wide range of character-interaction examples. 

The term “Inter-species” became the fundamental driving factor behind my project’s outcome. I felt that in order to illustrate such a wide term within my film appropriately, I needed an equally wide cast of creature character representatives to distinguish as the “Other Creatures” to my human Diver. For this film being relatively short, I decided on three such creatures – a peculiar crab, a giant fish, and an amorphous shapeshifter entity I have dubbed “the Jelly”. The Diver meets each creature in turn as he swims through deeper and deeper water – with every meeting revealing a distinct communicative dynamic between the Human and the Inter-species.’  Varvara Solovyeva 

ninthWavesound: Feminism Low-Frequency Sound and Empleasurement

More Vibration Than We Think We Need… 2018 (sub, sound, silk). Papakura Gallery. AllDayRave 17th October 2020 (ninthWavesound system, DJ, sound, fabric, light, partycipants). St Paul St, Gallery 3.

The ninthWavesound project, produced for Laura Marsh’s doctoral thesis, fuses feminist activism and a DJ practice to generate an installation and participatory art practice aimed at corporeal, low-frequency, sound-oriented experiences.

Drawing from sound system, rave and music festival cultures, feminist events are facilitated as environments for shared listening and activism. Central to the project is ninthWavesound, a sound system designed for powerfully amplifying low-end frequencies, is the first system of her kind in Aotearoa to be built, owned and operated by women∞. (In Marsh’s work, woman/women is extended to ‘woman/women’, utilising the infinity symbol to signal an indefinite expansion of the meaning of woman beyond the limits of heteropatriarchal experience).

The ninthWavesound system performs as an active collaborator alongside DJs, producers and lovers of sound and electronic music, hosting a variety of participatory events such as DJ club nights, Lazy Susan Listening Sessions and immersive, meditative sound experiences. 

The research events Marsh facilitates strategically foreground women (and often include all genders) with the intention of creating safer and less hierarchical spaces. The project affirms the potential of individual and collective feminist imaginaries through the pleasure of low-frequency sound vibrations, proposing emergent empleasured sonic bodie. 

This practice-orientated research draws on a feminist paradigm of embodiment (Rosi Braidotti; Elizabeth Grosz; Donna Haraway), the concept of ‘sonic logos’ (Julian Henriques) and low-end frequency sound theory (Paul Jasen). The vibrational space created around 

ninthWavesound intertwines human and non-human bodies, sound technologies, and feminist subjectivities. Feminist and low-frequency sound theories converge in bass-enhanced sound practices highlighting the knowledge of the body and enabling knowing through sound. This knowledge is realised as feelings, sensations and intuitive responses. 

The neologism ‘empleasurement’ expresses how the pleasurable sensations of powerful low-frequency sound foreground the matter of the bodie in collective experiences. The shortened plural ‘bodie’ signals the multiplicity of the collective body, building on the phrase sonic bodie (Henriques). 

The methodology of low-end empleasurement is driven by pleasure activism, where orientating towards pleasure is subversive, radical, life-affirming and liberating and is a  baseline for personal and collective well-being (Adrienne Brown; Audre Lorde). Pleasure,  oppressed and distorted for women∞ through patriarchal power structures, is re-imagined through the embodied experiences of low-frequency sound.

Immersed in the vibratorium  (Nicholas Ridout) of a ninthWavesound event, the vibe or affective collective energy facilitates joyous feelings of potential, through which new possibilities and ways of being otherwise can be imagined and felt in an expanded imaginary. As an act of experimental feminist empowerment, ninthWavesound offers opportunities for women to participate in sound events as DJs, dancers, MCs and sound meditators. The affective scope of these research events is extended through a feminist approach to event promotion and invitation, which subverts these activities’ normative structures and male-dominated practices within the music and sound art scenes.

ninthWavesound forms the foundation of a nomadic social platform (Braidotti) upon which a community of bass-music-loving women is formed. 

More Vibration Than We Think We Need… 2018 (sub, sound, silk). Papakura Gallery. AllDayRave 17th October 2020 (ninthWavesound system, DJ, sound, fabric, light, partycipants). St Paul St, Gallery 3.

‘Asi – The presence of the Unseen

In 1993, Wolfgramm referred to the climax in faiva as ‘asi (the presence of the unseen). This spirit of artistic expression is an agent sometimes identified when Oceanic people work together to bring artistic works to their apotheosis.

Faumuina’s research seeks to understand how, within this process, ‘asi might bring forward a powerful sense of expression rooted in a relationship between involvement and a sense of belonging.

Emanating from a critical consideration of faiva and ‘asi, the research considers the dynamics of collective development and performance. Video, sound, drawing, poetry, performance and talanoa (everyday conversations where the people involved share their personal experiences) were collected and analysed through a process of artistic and analytical reflection. The research considers two bodies of work. The first a co-created work called Lila which was developed by a team of research participants. The second was the development and performance of the researcher’s experience and synthesis of thinking in a faiva (performance) called FAIVA | FAI VĀ.

The significance of the research lay in its contribution to an understanding of ‘asi, so we might identify and consider its potential agency for resourcing creativity and belonging inside the development and performance of faiva.

Atmospheric Sound Design in Games: Pacing, Engagement, and Environmental Storytelling

Journey to the Lighthouse is a game prototype that, alongside Collins’s research thesis, seeks to demonstrate that game pacing is a key factor in determining player investment in high-agency narrative elements, such as environmental storytelling, and that pacing can be manipulated through both level design and atmospheric sound design.

Collins’s Master of Design thesis seeks to further game sound research by producing artefacts that can serve as case studies for other designers and researchers. These artefacts take the form of game prototypes which explore game sound design to discover what techniques and tools effectively realise the potential of sound as a narrative device and engage the player in the narrative of a game world.

The making processes of this research followed an iterative design methodology, using the methods of conceptualisation, prototyping and evaluation. The case studies Flower, Darkwood and Limbo formed the basis of ideation for the prototypes and served as a reference during iteration and development. These case studies were then used to analyse how sound can be incorporated into a game design process, to further understand its connection to level design and pacing. Journey to the Lighthouse is the final prototype produced using this iterative design process.

Will You Notice? Will You Change?

Discrimination towards Muslims is an ever-growing socio-political problem. Aakifa Chida’s practice based research highlights this global issue, with the aim to increase awareness of Islamophobia through communication design.

Recent global patterns of political hate speech, mass media brainwashing and harmful stereotypes are used to incite irrational fear and general insensitivity towards Islamophobia. Design activism is employed in this study to address these behaviours and attitudes, to create change by catalysing a sense of empathy with victims and heightening responsibility and accountability within viewers.

Undertaken as a Master’s thesis, Chida’s research asks if communication design can impact, encourage and influence social awareness around Islamophobia through printed and digital resources. 

The research covers the importance and relevance of design activism when set against manifestations of Islamophobia that are present in social, political and historical contexts. This project attempts to inform and educate viewers about Islamophobia, to create positive and lasting change. Chida produces a combination of self-authored and compiled resources across printed and digital mediums to address the issue, engendering solidarity and social empathy.

The Value of Waste Material: Creating Products From Recycled HDPE Plastic

In his research project, The Value of Waste Material, Terry Li explores the upcycling of the excessive amounts of high-density polyethylene produced by New Zealand’s coffee culture.

Coffee is one of the most common daily drinks in AUT, and it has become inseparable from milk as a prevalent combination. It has become common sense that people often go to cafes for leisure and work. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is most commonly used for milk packaging in New Zealand. Therefore, the amount of milk bottles that continues to be produced daily, weekly and yearly slowly becomes a significant issue.

The primary aim of this research project is to investigate design opportunities to upcycle HDPE plastic from discarded milk bottles. This research applies a product design approach to close the recycling loop and increase the plastic material’s lifespan.

Li explores the characteristics of HDPE plastics through research and experimentation to find new applications for discarded HDPE and positively impact the product industry. Discarded HDPE plastic bottles were shredded and reformed using heat and moulding production methods.

For the design project, it was also essential to create an appealing aesthetic with HDPE plastic. Both the pleasing aesthetic and easy remodelling characteristics of HDPE were advantageous and helped to turn the discarded HDPE into a low-cost but high-quality product. 


Tony Guo

Tony Guo’s paintings explore sentiments of a queer emotional landscape. More in depth, he questions how absurd narratives in painting informs a deconstructive methodology against the binary ways of thinking that fundamentally reject queerness.


Roots, 2022, oil on canvas, 600x900mm

From highly rendered details to expressive mark-making, Guo examines how the emotional gesture of oil painting integrates from its physicality into a sublime force. Continuing on from his Master’s project, his current body of work reflects on when he came out to his parents on his 23rd birthday. Coming-out does not necessarily assure relief. It simply shifts the form of burden.

The Pipe, 2022, oil on canvas, 1000x1200mm

Traversing through new horizons with painting, Guo entertains the trauma of coming-out from a Chinese queer context while exploring the boundary between safety and fear, humour and discomfort. These contradictions are at the core of his coming-out experience as well as the sentiments in his paintings, rendered in a child-like radiance and countered by a whimsical violence. Statuesque forms woven together with a muted cold colour palette in a series of absurd narratives, Guo questions, with the potential of painting, what it feels like to rejoice in a dilemma that leads to nowhere and to evoke empathy amongst people like him.

The Puddle, 2021-22, oil on canvas, 1800x2700mm

Tony Guo was born in 1999 in Aotearoa and grew up in China. He completed a Master of Visual Arts at AUT in 2022 and is working as a part time painting lecturer for the Bachelor of Visual Arts degree, AUT.

The Shape of Our Scar, 2021, oil on canvas, 1200x1450mm

Strange Oceans

Strange Oceans is a poem designed by Cassandra Loh for the digital age. Textually, it depicts how we socially interact in online spaces. As a designed artefact, it uses digital tools to extend and support the poem’s text.

In the digital space, multimedia opportunities offer new textual behaviours that affect a worker’s experience. By developing accessible and intuitive works for digitally native readers to operate, digital poetry can provide fruitful communication opportunities for powerful self-expression. 

The poem Strange Oceans investigates three main digital tools for their poetic effects through practice-led research: mouse events, animation, and typography. The most prominent use of these tools is as metaphors to persuade readers to feel or do something, as well as subtext to add layers of meaning to the text. Through these tools, the poem designs a space to encourage empathy and immersion.  


Strange Oceans is a short interactive and animated experience that can be viewed in-browser (Chrome recommended).  

Sticky Correspondence: An animist design encounter

In her project Sticky Correspondence, Taylor Downard asks how adopting a neo-animistic worldview might enrich our experience of interconnectedness and material agency.

Through conversations with materials, we can open the imaginary to an interconnected world where the boundary between object and subject becomes obscured, and the animated qualities of materials reveal themselves.

This research project explores the sticky cosmos of the Greek Orthodox Wedding Ceremony, where the wedding ring’s material animacy performs and subject/object relations manifest. Downard seeks to understand how the elemental narratives of materials materialise through ritualised making and the design of sensory spatial encounters (devised in ritualised installations and spatialised artefacts). She explores how attentive material understandings (immersive and sensory conversations with sugar, wax and metal) are conceived by listening to the whispers of materials;  and how attending to material vibrations unearths a sensory crescendo. This allows her to begin to understand the sticky interrelatedness of all things.


From the tide of the hands

From the tide of the hands by Yana Dombrowsky operates at a handheld and memorial scale, exploring the affection between hands, materials, and the imaginative space felt through gift-giving.


Through a poetic phenomenology, Dombrowsky queries rêverie as an oneiric, creative force that intimately negotiates the material entanglements of my practice. Dombrowsky considers ceramic artefacts and materials of practice as collaborators seek to open up ontological boundaries around what might constitute a hand *a point attached to a human/nonhuman body which holds, senses, directs, seizes, protects, and possesses.

In the process of sculpting, Dombrowsky listens to the materials, and in the tactile union between material and maker, they take form. Dombrowsky carries these artefacts, dispersing them as gifts when a moment of affection occurs. The result is a sprawling archaeology, not for the archive but for dispersal and erosion.

Affection propels the flow and fabrication of this research. Dombrowsky conceptualises affection as an emotive relation between things which summons a feeling leading to action: as in affect. It occurs in the softened spaces of daily encounters, conversations, and daydreams that ooze between textual and sculptural material research.*Cradled by the hand of a dear friend, held up to the sky by the Prunus Campanulata in my mother’s garden, slipped into the pocket of an unknown’s jacket, sealed by a skin of crystallised salt in my studio.

When held as prosaic charms indexing affection, memory and feeling, the artefacts take on an aura which sets in motion an entangled web of relations within the everyday. Dombrowsky defines aura as an energetic force whereby the artefacts possess a liveliness and are able to hold their own affectionate gaze. Through this understanding of aura, the artefacts assert a kind of autonomy, as in the power to affect the receiver.

By holding and being held by the artefacts, a feeling is felt; an oneiric image is summoned. By dispersing artefacts of practice as gifts, Dombrowsky nurtures relationships beyond linguistic rapports, generating a reciprocal cycle of feeling. Furthermore, these everyday dispersals seek an alternative system of value to one of commodification and monetary exchange.

Through a poetic phenomenology, Dombrowsky queries rêverie as an oneiric, creative force that intimately negotiates the material entanglements of practice. Dombrowsky considers ceramic artefacts and materials of practice as collaborators as they seek to open up ontological boundaries aroun what might constitute a hand *a point attached to a human/nonhuman body which holds, senses, directs, seizes, protects, and possesses.


In the process of sculpting, Dombrowsky listens to the materials, and in the tactile union between material and maker, they take form. Dombrowsky carries these artefacts through days, dispersing them as gifts when a moment of affection occurs. The result is a sprawling archaeology, not for the archive but for dispersal and erosion.


Centre for Design Research
Te Kura Toi a Hoahoa
School of Art and Design

Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau,
Auckland University of Technology


Susan Hedges
Mandy Smith

Authors are responsible for obtaining permission to publish images or illustrations with their papers in CDR; neither editors nor publishers of CDR accept responsibility for any author’s/authors’ failure to do so.

© Centre for Design Research, AUT University 2021