bridging art and design to reimagine the waiting room experience

If at any point you found yourself in the mix of Stanford's diverse student arts scene over the past four years, there's a good chance you crossed paths with Katie Han. A senior graduating this Spring from the d.School, Han arrived eager to find community while exploring converging interests in psychology, visual art, and design. With an active career that included turns as an undergraduate fellow with the Institute for Diversity in the Arts as well as this year's Honors in the Arts cohort in the Stanford Arts Institute, burning curiosity and human-centered inquiry guided her evolving interdisciplinary practice.


Even with a revolving door of projects, internships and course work, it was important to Han to reinforce academics with an active life amongst her peers of artists and creatives on campus. Serving as both an editor-in-chief and photographer for culture magazine MINT, as well as fielding regular photo assignments for Stanford Arts, she's become a fixture and key contributor to Stanford's vibrant student arts community. With hopes of DIY collaborations with her brothers and potentially breaking out with her own practice someday, Katie Han is forging an original path to impact lives with creativity and care.


To mark the culmination of her undergraduate career, Han caught up with friend and frequent collaborator Sky Walker to talk about her Honors in the Arts capstone project ("Mood Room"), shooting editorials together, and what's next.


Sky Walker: I guess our Honors in the Arts exhibition is Friday. How do you feel about that? That's so soon.

Katie Han: Yeah, I'm super excited. I feel like I need to finish up the installation. But I think I've realized my creative process is often kind of like has these spikes, where like there's a lot of building all at once. And there's like periods of where I'm kind of just thinking about it kind of just sketching doing that kind of thing. And then, so this week has been a lot of making.


Sky Walker: What was the last big creative project you did before the Honors in the Arts project?

Katie Han: So this quarter has been a lot of working on MINT stuff. As you know, obviously, we have that little session of collaboration. And that launch party, I think went really well. And it felt like a good culmination of my time with MINT just because I was lucky enough to be involved in a couple different projects. I think the one with you is one of my favorite all time, not only because of just, like, how spontaneous the shoot was, but also, working with you after and figuring out scanning, using the projector. Just trying to be really, trying to push ourselves creatively. I think that was super fun.

Mood Room
Mood Room

Sky Walker: I wanted you to talk a little bit more about the environment of artist communities or creative collaboration at Stanford, too.

Katie Han: I think that's something that MINT has definitely brought, that environment where everyone has the shared goal of creating something beautiful and then being able to tap into everyone's unique skill sets and passions and really display the power of the collective. So MINT is the first thing that comes to mind. There's been a couple different installation projects that I've done here. The most recent one was a video installation for the top of Salesforce Tower that I did with a couple of friends that I had made through the architecture department. I also did an installation for Frost.

I've realized how generative it can be working with a bunch of people. And definitely challenging too, but in a good way of everyone trying to come together and align on a certain idea and then figure out how to best carry it out as a team. It really enables you to be able to do something that you couldn't as an individual.


Sky Walker: Through my relationship with you working through MINT, even with the idea of wanting to embody light and use light on the most recent spread that we worked on, Dripping Gold, I know that light is something that you like to play with and are really good at capturing through photography. Understanding how light shows up on camera and kind of seeing how that folds into your Honors in the Arts project, as you think about lighting and the projection and the senses and emotions that can come from that. I think it's really cool seeing how all these artistic themes come full circle with the work that you're doing.


Katie Han: Oh, thank you so much. That's really sweet. I think that is part of why I loved doing this shoot with you. I think a lot of themes that I associate with your creative practice too and this really rich world-building. And I think that came through not only in the piece that you designed, but then the concept behind telling this story of like the interconnection between bodies and nature.


The challenge of working with what you have has been super exciting because it's made me realize that no art is really about the gear, like having fancy equipment or expensive materials and a lot of times it becomes much more raw and powerful and really pushes you artistically with just trying to use what you have.


I think that's part of the reason why the Honors in the Arts installation has been such a fun challenge and it also has taken me super long because I had all these kind of simple materials from the start.  I'm using PVC, some leftover fabric, and some mirrored acrylic. It's been a super fun challenge to be able to push the boundaries of what you can do with simple materials and just through manipulation of form and space and I think projections an interesting way to mess with light, too. I'm honored that you think that came through.

Sky Walker: Yes, yes. I feel like this is definitely a culmination of so many other projects that I've seen you even think about projection and using TouchDesigner. I feel like there's a bridging of all of these different disciplines that I've seen you kind of explore throughout your time at Stanford all coming together with this one piece.


Katie Han: It's the first project that I've done that weaved those together in a more explicit or more direct way of reshaping a space in order to support people's physical and mental health broadly. And tackling this broad conceptual idea of waiting and really unpacking what that means and what it can look like in an actual world.


Sky Walker: I'm thinking about how this might apply to our time after we graduate. So, not to bring up that question...


Katie Han: That's a loaded question. (laughs)


Sky Walker: What are some key things you're taking with you as you navigate post-graduation life?


Katie Han: That's a great question. It's something I've been trying to reflect on a lot lately, because I don't have a job or anything lined up. And I don't know physically where I'll be this summer. I want to leave the bay at least for a while. And I'm trying to strike a balance between obviously still being able to support myself, but also not rushing into a job where I'm compromising or that I'd be diluting myself because I think there's a lot of safe paths out there. The combination of my interests has led me to sort of chart a pretty nonlinear path, which can be an exciting thing. It's made me more mindful and more aware of not rushing towards an end goal or milestone and ignoring the things along the way or interactions with people. And so, whatever comes next, my goal is just to not compromise on my values and continue pursuing this overlap between creation and making and art and design, and then people's livelihoods and health.


Sky Walker: I really admire you sticking with your core values and having that kind of guide the way in the jobs and opportunities that you're looking for postgrad. There is a safe, easy path that can guarantee us money. But will we be fulfilled? Will society be fulfilled? Those are all important questions to consider as well.


Katie Han: Something I really firmly believe in is the power of play and how that shouldn't just be limited to childhood and early education and instead be expanded or be utilized by adults and be this lifelong way of living. I think play has such an expansive definition and also an expansive use. I think creativity and art practice and all of these different ways of making and expressing are forms of play. And ways to tackle complex global issues, too.


Sky Walker: Okay, so envisioning our futures in a perfect world, and this is obviously subject to change, where would you see yourself five years from now?


Katie Han: I see myself living in a city. Not sure where, but I think I'd love to spend some time outside of the US. I think cities are really interesting because obviously the world is urbanizing very quickly. Last year, I worked at an urban design and landscape architecture nonprofit in LA, and that was a super-illuminating experience, just working directly with community members and seeing how to adapt the city to kind of their needs and especially working with underserved communities. Obviously with urbanization comes the opportunity for increased inequity and increased kind of problems related to environment, to health, to social issues, but then that also means the opposite.


With so much change there's opportunity for increased equity and really reframing how spaces are used, how systems are used. It would be interesting to be living in a city and meeting a lot of people working directly with people to see how like art and design can be used as tools to reframe issues or reframe space or any of these things to create a more equitable and just caring world. Hopefully that and then also being surrounded by people I love being able to pursue different creative outlets.


Sky Walker: That's beautiful. Thank you so much.


Katie Han: Thank you so much. You're the best Sky.


Sky Walker: No, you are Katie.


Katie Han:You're the best, actual best creative collaborator, everything.


Sky Walker: Like we need each other... I'm coming to LA.


Katie Han: No, that's my five year thing, being you Sky Walker. I feel like we can start some sort of creative practice or something. You're my creative soulmate for real.


Sky Walker: No, honestly, I'm gonna miss it. I'm gonna miss it so much.


Katie Han: No, it's okay. It'll happen. I'll come visit you in Amsterdam.


Sky Walker: It won't be the last.

Katie Han: Yes, we can work on stuff in Amsterdam and LA. The world's our oyster.