Taking ‘a load off our minds’ through ‘airing our dirty laundry’: An installation for participation and dialogue

Author: Jo Bailey – Wellington School of Design, Massey University / Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University, New Zealand


  • Kate Hannah – Centre for Science in Society Victoria University of Wellington / Te PÅ«naha Matatini, New Zealand
  • Rebecca Priestley – Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
  • Rhian Salmon – Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

The 2019 NZ Association of Scientists conference had a theme of “Changing the Culture of Science”, with keynotes covering equity, diversity and inclusion. To recognise, counterbalance and give space to discuss the potentially “heavy” content, we developed a playful installation: a low-fi cardboard laundromat called “A load off your mind”. The idea was to provide a place to share thoughts about scientific culture: what it is, what it could/should be, and personal experiences that have shaped it. NZAS was our first iteration of this vehicle for collective engagement and reflexivity, which has subsequently been repurposed at the Australasian Association for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science and Science Communication Association NZ conferences.

The catalyst was a comment about “airing dirty laundry”, and pertinent puns followed: being “pressed” into action to “iron out” problems; “cleaning up” our acts; getting “all in a lather” over vexing issues; perhaps “agitating””¦ These metaphors” humorous simplicity belie the serious possibility of a laundromat as a transformative “third place” or “third space”.

The installation uses projective “probes”, fashioned as paper garments containing prompts that feel straightforward, but allow articulation of motivations, attitudes and biases or “thoughts, hopes, and fears” without specifically asking for them. Garments can be placed in a washing machine for cathartic “cleaning”, then pegged out on the line to share. This design-led approach seeks informal qualitative responses (drawings, statements, stories). In this context, the laundromat format is exploratory, not confirmatory and is not seeking specific data, rather it allows autonomy for participants to shape their own engagement.

Inspired by Maja Horst’s “make an intervention and see what happens” approach, and conducted as an iterative human-centred design practice, we will take you on a spin through “A load off your mind” laundromat, giving a wash-up of what we”ve learnt so far.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation