Postgraduate Design Research – Tori Mok, AUT

2 years ago by

Welcome to Postgraduate Design Research – an opportunity to profile a selection of current design postgraduate students and their projects across our tertiary institutions.

This week, to coincide with the launch of AUT’s MATARIKI POSTGRADUATE EXHIBITION we speak with Tori Mok from AUT.

What is your background and how did you get into design?

I’m a photographer, graphic designer, and artist. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with creating, whether art, craft, stories, or music (or lame jokes!). Growing up as a homeschooler, I would watch my mother as she dabbled in graphic design, illustration and photography. I think that’s really where my first design classes began! When I was 14 I received my first camera and fell in love with photography, which became my gateway to the world of design. A couple years ago I completed a Bachelor of Design at AUT South, majoring in Communication Design, and am currently wrapping up a Master of Design, also at AUT.

Tell us about your research. 

Using experimental photographic methods, my research aims to playfully disrupt perceptions of the quotidian, turning the familiar into the unfamiliar, in order to provoke a sense of wonder and unknowing toward the act of seeing. It is also a philosophical reflection on the nature of visual perception as a duality between seeing and failing to see. I explored shadows as a metaphor for the unseen, using them as a visual tool for creating alternate ways of perceiving. I was inspired by Victorian optical devices and the curiosity cabinet — as a photographer I see myself as a collector of shadows, and my practice offers me a way of toying with vision. Drawing from ten years of personal photographs, I dissected these images to form an archive of fragments that embody the cycle of discovery and loss defining perception.

What drove you to this research area? 

In a time when capturing images of things and circulating them is easier than ever, I wanted to inverse that — to see more meaningfully by seeing less. As someone with visual-based practices this was especially relevant on a personal level. I also just love asking questions, imagining possibilities, and finding wonder in simple things. Those things underpin much of the projects I do, and were the drivers of this research.

Based on your research at present are there any discoveries that you can share with us? 

The Information Age creates a paradox, where there are more things than ever to be curious about and yet, in a way, less mystery and wonder overall. It’s that balance between the known and unknown that stimulates curiosity and I think the shadow is a good example of this – it’s a clue that points us toward something we can’t see, and prompts us to imagine what it might be. In this sense I’ve found the shadow to be a really useful tool for thinking about the visual. By embracing the fragmentary nature of perception, we recognise what we don’t know and open up new possibilities for thinking about the world. So it’s about empathy as well.

How has all of this impacted upon your own design practice? 

It has given me an awareness of the self-reflexivity of my own visual narratives. As a result I’ve become really intrigued by the notion of the incomplete image and the negative. Moving forward I’d really like to explore how I might create work that is defined by, and points to, what is missing just as much as what is there. I think of it as fragmented design.

Have there been any break through moments – when it all clicked – or you found something unexpected along the way?

Well my entire research was about finding the unexpected! But it was a real breakthrough moment when I realised how much my research was directly linked to myself as a photographer. It’s my job to notice and capture as much as I can, yet through reflecting on the inevitability of loss I’ve discovered in my photographs a parallel narrative of what I failed to capture in the process of trying. That said, it’s the unseen that makes everything so full of wonder. Someone recently gave me a brilliant analogy for this: reality is like the ocean; while it isn’t possible to swallow or contain the whole ocean inside yourself, you can plunge yourself into the ocean! At that moment you’re in that wonderful state, aware of the tininess of your own reality and yet fully connected with something much greater.

In your opinion what 3 factors will have the greatest impact on New Zealand’s design scene in the next 5 years?

I think New Zealand’s design scene is really rich and unique, and it’s great that digital platforms enable increasing worldwide exposure of what we have to offer. I also believe in supporting young designers because they are and will be leading the way — on that note it’s so important for schools and companies to encourage curiosity, innovation, and diversity in this industry.

Why did you choose AUT’s post graduate program?

Having done my undergraduate degree there and experienced student life at AUT, there really wasn’t any decision to be made! I had such a supportive, close-knit environment with my peers and tutors, and I really appreciate and enjoy the hands-on approach of all the design programmes. Being able to do practice-based research at postgraduate level was very valuable to me.

What can visitors expect from the Matariki post graduate exhibition running June 7-15 at AUT?

There are so many amazing art and design projects from a diverse range of practices and backgrounds. I’m very humbled and excited to be surrounded by incredibly talented peers, and I think the show really reflects all the passion and creativity that went into putting it together.


Saturday 8 June, 12pm to 4pm
Monday 10 to Friday 14 June, 10am to 5pm
Saturday 15 June, 12pm to 4pm
• St Paul St Galleries 1 and 2 (WM building)
• Test Space in WM201 (WM building)
• St Paul St Gallery 3 (WB building)
Artwork by student Tori Mok • Black Box live performance space in WG210 (WG building)


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