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Enni-Kukka Tuomala creates inflatable chrome “echo chamber” for London Design Biennale

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Empathy echo chamber

Finnish artist Enni-Kukka Tuomala has created an inflatable installation at the London Design Biennale that encourages visitors to step inside and reflect on their experiences together.

Titled Empathy Echo Chamber, the installation is a physically and emotionally reflective chamber created as a response to the growing global “empathy deficit”.

The installation has two entrances at its side
Top: the chamber was made using a reflective TPU material. Above: it is inflated using an air exchange system

“The project started in late 2019, as a response to the growing global empathy deficit in order to challenge the individual echo chambers we increasingly live in,” Enni-Kukka Tuomala told Dezeen.

“For the first time in human history, it is possible for us to live in a world wholly curated by ourselves, where everything we already know, think, feel and like is constantly reinforced and reflected back to us.”

The interior of the empathy echo chamber is relfective
Visitors are invited to sit inside

The installation invites two strangers to enter for a 15 minute period where they will be sat, two metres apart on glowing chairs to take part in a guided “empathy experience”.

During the first two minutes of the experience, visitors look at each other in silence. After this, lights within the chamber will change and gesturing a conversation prompted by a series of questions that allow the visitors to exchange experiences, feelings and perspectives.

Light reflects off the chrome tpu material at the empathy echo chamber
Two glowing stools were placed two-metres apart

Enni-Kukka Tuomala aims to transform empathy from an individual feeling to a collective one that can benefit social change with the installation.

The Finnish contribution to the London Design Biennale is one of 29 exhibitions by different countries and regions at the biennale.

“Unlike our individual echo chambers, which exemplify polarisation, isolation and mistrust in the information age,” Tuomala explained. “The Empathy Echo Chamber creates a communal moment of exchange, where visitors are prompted to step outside themselves to really see and be seen by each other.”

“Visitors are encouraged to reflect on their experiences and perspectives together, responding to each other with empathy.”

The interior of the empathy echo chamber glows pink
Lights change colour to signal a change in conversation. Photo is by Ed Reeve

The Pavilion is made from a semi-transparent silver chrome Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) sheet that is inflated by an air-exchange system that circulates fresh air throughout the interior of the chamber every three minutes.

Tuomala explained that the installation has a lifespan of over ten years and will repurpose the material after the conclusion of the biennale.

“I dare to say, the [installation] is probably the most covid-safe space in the whole exhibition,” she said.

empathy echo chamber is printed on the side of the installation
The material will be repurposed after the exhibition

The Empathy Echo Chamber can be experienced online allowing visitors to virtually enter the interior of the reflective chamber and answer questions left by previous visitors globally.

Alongside the installation at the London Design Biennale, a solo exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery titled Is there space for empathy? sees Tuomala explore the role of empathy in everyday life as well as life post-Covid.

The artist is pictured watching a projection on a wall
A video on the walls poses questions

“I wanted to challenge these personal bubbles, that primarily exist in our minds and online, by making a physical echo chamber, a space with walls and a ceiling and a floor that you can step into and thus change the way we relate to it,” said Tuomala.

“The Empathy Echo Chamber is both a space and a non-space since it’s literally made of air… The aim is that by the end of the experience, visitors don’t only find themselves reflected back, but may start to reflect each other.”

Elsewhere at the Biennale, Kai Linke and Peter Eckart presented single-use cutlery as archaeological artefacts for Germany’s contribution, while Alter-Projects and Servaire & Co created an oscillating installation that aims to trigger memories through smells and sounds.

The top image is by Ed Reeve. Photography is by Laura Vuoma unless stated otherwise.

Empathy Echo Chamber will be on display at Somerset House as part of the London Design Biennale, which takes place from 1 to 27 June 2021. See Dezeen Events Guide for all the latest information you need to know to attend the event, as well as a list of other architecture and design events taking place around the world.

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