Profiles in Regeneration: Close Isn’t Home, US

In remembering the influences of our pasts, our traditions, our self-reflections, and our coming to terms with our present identities… It’s all efforts that will influence the future of our communities for the better.

Close isn’t Home wants to foster digital empathy. Created by two Maryland Institute College of Art alums, Grace Kwon (21) and Samantha Vassor (22), their website “provides space for sharing narratives, information, and resources for intersectional, black, indigenous, and people of color identities.”

With their first project, a first-person interactive gaming experience that “explores the materials, traditions, and personal items that influence cultural identities and memories,” and a newly released open-source 3D library, they’re working to make the tech world more accessible and safe to other creatives of color.

Close isn’t Home, even in its name, represents the sometimes distant feeling of home — whether that means hometown, heritage, or ancestry.

Through their expanding digital resource, they are “regenerating our connections to our cultural origins and navigating what our identities mean today.”

Regenerative Futures: How are you feeling right now?

Grace Kwon: I think I’m speaking on behalf of many when I say 2020 has been discouraging and hard to comprehend. Although I felt pretty discouraged, I think that I can now say that I’m on the path of re-discovery of self where I am learning to focus and prioritize what I want in my life.

Samantha Vassor: I am feeling pretty good considering all the downsides of 2020. I’m positive about my goals and grateful to prioritize myself healing more right now.

RF: What’s a secret your search history can tell us about you?

GK: My search history shows how unafraid I am to ask the Internet any question no matter how private or stupid it may sound. I think it’s funny how I can ask Google questions that I would normally be embarrassed to ask people in fear of looking dumb. Lately, my search engine exposes my extreme curiosity about finding out “where I’ve seen that actor before?” and of the language of flowers.

SV: My search history exposes me to how much I rely on Google to fulfill my hobbies! Recently, I’ve been learning how to garden and propagate plants, as well as figuring out which of the four elements I’d be able to bend based on my hand shape.

RF: What are you reading/learning about at the moment?

GK: My most recent read has been Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, an intimately honest book about “minor feelings” that occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality. In general, I’ve been learning skills that I have always wanted to learn and improve particularly related to 3D animation and 3D design. After watching hours of YouTube 3D tutorials taught by white men, I’ve been on a hunt to find 3D tutorials taught by BIPOC women!

SV: As I said before, I have been learning and reading up on how to garden and grow certain plants, specifically in tropical areas. I have been working with some friends in our local South Florida town to start a community garden. We’ve all been trying to research and learn about ways we can compost soil and program local community efforts towards maximizing the potential of land use around us. It’s been a continuous process of figuring out the next steps of gardening since it’s all new to us, but it’s inspiring to appreciate food and nourishment in a new way.

RF: Who is your favorite human, and why?

GK: My mom is my favorite human. Although we don’t necessarily get along all the time, I think she is the person I tend to think about the most. Like many second-generation kids, there is a barrier in which we don’t share everything about each other, but there is an unconditional bond that makes me think of her the most when I’m away from home.

SV: My favorite human is probably my little cousin. We grew up very close together and I get into ‘big sister mode’ for her a lot, so I feel she’s my favorite human.

RF: Which key moment inspired you to start your project?

GK and SV: The exact moment we got inspired for Close isn’t Home was in the college computer lab right after telling ourselves we would relax on the workload. We didn’t (lol). After the mental exhaustion from white institutional ideals of digital work, we realized making an accessible, empathetic space for BIPOC identities was worth the commitment. In the computer lab, we talked about the weekly Sunday dinner conversations with our friends and how the dinner conversations about race and identity in everyday life were something we wanted to translate online through our art. We dreamed to bring these types of discussions online and to invite others all over to participate in these conversations and art sharing! Since then, Close Isn’t Home has been a hub space for sharing 3D objects, interactive art, and resources for culturally specific identities.

RF: In two years’ time, what would success with your project look like?

GK and SV: In two years’ time, we want Close isn’t Home to be known for being an accessible, online community where people feel comfortable enough to add more vulnerable anecdotes about their experiences. We want to be a freelance studio and a network of BIPOC creatives working on 3D and interactive digital art projects we are knowledgeable of, while also bringing that passionate representation of our ‘niche’ experiences into mainstream American media.

RF: If you could focus a large percentage of government funding to one industry or project for the next five to ten years, which you choose and why?

GK and SV: 1000% STEAM education (emphasis on arts integration) for BIPOC, marginalized, and economically disadvantaged students! We believe the public, non-profit education industries in America are highly underfunded and should have even distribution of funding for extracurricular activities. Overall, we hope funding in STEAM education would promote the fluid integration of different disciplines and interdisciplinary learning.

RF: What are the best and the worst things about the education system in your country?

GK and SV: The public education system in America is inherently standardized, underfunded, Euro-centric, and deliberately biased towards hiding systemic truths of American history and politics. The best thing we could say about the American education system is that some form of free education is given to young people, and perhaps that can’t go unnoticed. The system, however, is very biased towards predominantly white and economically inclined people getting more advantages in higher education, in career advancements after school, and avoiding student debt. We recognize we have also benefited from this system by attending a private art school, but we’ve also been able to see how academic institutions have favored belittling student needs for institutional profit.

RF: Do you have a message for anyone your age living in the year 2060?

GK and SV: If the world doesn’t end in seven years — climate change — we’d tell the next generations of young people, “If you want to see something new and positive in the world you have the full capacity to bring that spark and change into your society. Your efforts are enough and the right people will recognize your efforts and support you along the way”. Lastly, we’d say, “Remember your roots; remember where you come from and where the generations before you came from because it has a bigger impact on your perspective than you think.”

RF: What inspires or frightens you most about the future?

GK and SV: We are both simultaneously inspired by and fearful of the uncertainty of the future. The future is something that can bring a lot of difficulties and unexpected mishaps. We get frightened by the future because we know life will inevitably bring more challenges, and we both fear that we won’t be ready for them. That’s not usually the case though, and we can always pull through by remembering the things and people we are grateful for. What’s inspiring about the future is that it doesn’t exist beyond the efforts we put in our present moment. With all the efforts we have in Close isn’t Home and in remembering the influences of our pasts, our traditions, our self-reflections, and our coming to terms with our present identities… It’s all efforts that will influence the future of our communities for the better.

RF: Regeneration is…

GK and SV: Our generation’s initiative to recontextualize marginalized voices to be visible. Through online communities like Close isn’t Home, we can regenerate our connections to our cultural origins and navigate what our identities mean today.

To learn more about Regenerative List finalist, Close Isn’t Home, click here.



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Regenerative Futures

Regenerative Futures is a Gen Z-designed model for a world built upon the principles of equity, fluidity, and sustainability. An Irregular Labs initiative.