Thin Ice: Exploring the Human Dimension of Mental Health and the City by Melissa Alexander (MICA)

Building on ever-expanding bodies of research connecting the creation of art with therapeutic benefits, this project questions how data – like music, dance, and poetry – might be a creative medium for activating health and wellbeing.

The project begins with author’s novel mental health challenges during COVID-19, which inspired personal research and experimentation into how the environment influences human mood and cognitive states. The author took three 60-minute walks through Seattle wearing an EEG headset, a GoPro camera, and other devices to gather cognitive, physical, and environmental data. The walk locations were selected based on theories of Restorative Urbanism: a green location in an urban park, a blue location near a body of water, and an “away” location through historic sections of downtown.

Using data gathered from the sensors, the author created one art representation - a map of sorts - for each walk. Each piece is composed of data layers that have been heavily interpreted through the lens of the author’s struggles with depression during the pandemic - specifically the physical coldness, darkness, and strange fragility of that experience. The data has been choreographed to look like what the author felt like during that time.

The goals for this project are to:
• Raise awareness and normalize conversations about mental health
• Increase the understanding of environmental influences as they relate to mental health
• Provide stakeholders ammunition to advocate for critical restorative environments in cities
• Encourage research, collection, and visualization of data as a therapy unto itself

The final goal in the list was added after the last walk was taken. The author realized the act of researching, gathering and manipulating the data, reflecting on personal experiences, and finally creating the visualizations was an incredibly therapeutic process that is repeatable for a variety of human experiences in the pursuit of health and wellbeing.

The project is documented as an interactive website here:, and as a gallery book here:

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