Hannah Wedlock, Shannon Fortune 1000 Years

  • Tauira / Students
    Hannah Wedlock, Shannon Fortune
  • Kaiako / Lecturer
    Jason O’Hara

Gen Z and Boomer, young and old, “us” and “them”; there exists an ever-increasing polarisation between the ages. It’s a narrative of warfare that pervades the media. It’s a reality experienced through age segmentation – from the bars you frequent to the products you consume. Limited contact across generations feeds a cycle of prejudice that inhibits the voices of young and old to be heard by their counterparts and diminishes opportunities for positive exchange. With the population of older people in Wellington predicted to double over the next 20 years, such exchanges are more important than ever.

It was in this climate we recognised an opportunity for a design-led approach to establish neutral ground, ripe for constructive encounters. Here we could use softer rhetorics over hard figures, and employ engaging visuals effective in reaching younger people while also subverting representations of older people. Our resulting project uses storytelling to encourage empathy, shift understandings of age and celebrate common ground. Staged on Wellington’s waterfront – a site of cross-age significance – the installation would run in conjunction with Seniors Week. ‘1000 Years’ presents a millennium’s worth of collective lived experience carried through the voices of both younger and older people.

20 interviews; 10 older, 10 younger; 1,008 years. Behind this project is a plethora of taonga in story form, supported by a rigorous process: crafting questions, conducting lockdown interviews, transcribing, collating data, categorising and shaping conversations.

The kaupapa of this project necessitated that it must be people-driven at all stages of design. During our initial investigation, one subject asked plainly, “Why would I even want or need to connect with people who aren’t my own age?” Such commentary offered an opportunity: how could we highlight the value of intergenerational conversations? In a series of pilot interviews, the phrases “our paths never cross” and “if we could just find common ground” emerged and influenced both the subject and location of our design. Similarly, only once the interviews had been conducted did we develop a style and output to reflect the vitality of the stories shared.

The installation consists of two main elements: visual/typographic designs of thematically grouped comments, and an oral soundscape. The latter presents as 1000 leaves on 100 speaking poles, a millennium manifested in a quantifiable and immersive experience. Scale offers metaphoric significance to the voices of ordinary people. The installation is designed to both challenge internal prejudices, and facilitate interpersonal conversation within and beyond the space.

Entering this project, we anticipated polarising attitudes between young and old, but unpacking the common ground we all share has instead provided a refreshing reminder of how inescapably human we all are. Each person, regardless of age, is incredibly layered, nuanced and rich in perspective. And that’s the whole point: rehumanising the ‘other’ in age and demonstrating that age is not an antithetical war ground. The beginning of engaging in conversation is valuing conversation, and the beginning of that is learning to listen.