Annabelle Schneider is an award-winning, Swiss-born, New York-based artist and designer whose interdisciplinary work sparks contemplation on the interplay between physical and virtual spaces. With a background in strategic branding, meshed with interior design and spatial installations, Annabelle has a keen eye for user journeys. Her eponymous studio explores innovative spatial concepts where technology and tactile elements converge to question and enhance one’s sense of comfort, belonging, and well-being in everyday life.
Her visionary work and approach have been recognized with a Future100 Interior Design award from Metropolis Magazine and recognition in international publications such as Dezeen, FRAME, Stylepark, Domus or design boom. We caught up with Annabelle to chat about her recent immersive experience in the phygital for well-being show, ‘BEING In Bed.’
Welcome Annabelle! This is such an incredibly exciting project. Tell us about ‘BEING In Bed.’
Hello – thank you for having me. Yes indeed, it’s a very timely installation transcending the boundaries of physical and digital realms. ‘BEING in Bed’ speculates on how immersive technology such as Virtual Reality (VR) can improve the disconnect between our mind and body. I use immersive storytelling to guide our awareness back to the physical presence experienced within a tactile safe space of a bed.
In an age where technology permeates every corner of our lives, ‘BEING In Bed’ underscores the importance of mindfulness and reconnecting with our natural bodies for balance and well-being. The project made its debut date in Manhattan, New York, as part of the design festival NYCxDesign in May last year, and then by popular demand, we created the show in December at the famed Alcova Miami for Art Basel Miami.
Visitors encountered tactile touchpoints of soft draped fabrics on mattress and walls, designed to capture a sense of grounding in the physical world—one that we are rapidly losing as our attention spans diminish and we get lost in the spectacle of technology. Hand-died, temperature-reactive sheets temporarily change colors when touched. Hand-woven survival foil blankets provide a comforting temperature, adjusted to body and space.
Technology is woven throughout the exhibition, emphasizing its ability to engage the senses and create visual and auditory dreamscapes. Projections in the physical space combine with low-frequency beats and the Virtual Reality component that presents a three-minute journey through a parallel virtual space. Choreographed from an ant’s perspective, the video takes viewers on an otherworldly tour through the folds and depts of a bed, back into the consciousness of being in our physical body. The meditative experience is guided by vocal affirmations and a soundtrack exclusively composed for the piece by the Grammy-winning producer collective Basscharity.
What was the inspiration behind the project?
Initially, my research was driven by reports on the spiking mental health crisis amongst GenZ. Reasons are manifold but one stood out for me: With life increasingly lived online, the intimate connections in physical life decrease. According to reports, GenZ prefers online connections over encounters in real life. Online allows people to control presentation of identity through filters, communication through emojis and escapes into an overload of reels or imaginary worlds of games (…). Resulting in statistics that mark a decline in venues like clubs that were once designed for people to meet, dance, and mingle. GenZ is officially declared as the generation that has the least sex, because meeting in physical and eventually presenting the ‘real’, vulnerable self, is more difficult than accessing the world from a comfortable home, through the edited digital.
Learning this, made me believe that the lack of physical touch and the digitally tweaked idea of identity, combined with a visual over-stimulation and a constant tease ‘to escape’ from the present, have an impact on people’s ability to process emotion in mind and body equally – resulting in a disconnect between the two.
We lack time to process and reflect on the experienced, which affects our well-being. Designing spaces for stillness may be one approach to improve presence and contemplation. But for digital natives, technology is the familiar. Most likely more, than stillness experienced in a traditional, crafted physical space. I aim to meet the target where they feel comfortable. In this case, I use new technology for immersive storytelling and as a guidance to an improved state of being.
I am not a psychologist but a trained design strategist who decided to design spaces for people. My spatial designs build the stages for stories made by people when engaging with the space. To build the subconsciously guiding narrative for a comfortable and safe built environment, is my main motivation. It is my responsibility to build a connection between the person and the space. From concept to spatial programming, finishes, lighting, and acoustics, I am always thinking of how elements choreographed in space can evoke a desired feeling. I consider experience design as a form of spatial therapy where body and mind are influenced by the interiors.
With new technology at hand, I believe a trained interior designer must explore ways of how to ethically mesh the virtual dimension into the physical experience to bring our attention back to the holistic present. Neuro- aesthetic design proves that the physical space has the most power to support health and happiness. But we must find new ways to promote it.
If you’re in doubt, I am circling back to what I’ve stated first; How can we build communal, physical spaces that resonate with digital natives who prefer to life live through the digital lens from home. Can we use new technology such as VR, to expand the spatial experience and intensifying the sensorial stimuli? I believe yes, and ‘BEING In Bed’ is my speculative answer to it. Virtual Reality establishes a sense of presence and insertion that allows deep entry into narratives increasing a sense of perspective and empathy. It has the exciting potential to create transformative emotional experiences, engaging participants in spiritual and moral growth in a compelling way. VR, to me, is the media for the soul. My physically built space of soft, reactive fabrics is the media for the body and the communal. By blending the duality of the slow, crafted physical bed with the immersive virtual bed, I hope to achieve a space that sparks balance and presence. An interior that’s communal and somewhat familiar for GenZ.
It sounds so well thought out. Tell us about the process you went through?
As a spatial designer I aimed to design an experience that pushes the boundary of what is considered an ‘experience’. I am interested in the duality of slower, tactile physical space, blended with the faster, visually, and acoustically stimulating technology. To me, that threshold where mindfulness converges, and attention can be caught.
To realize the project and build the envisioned temporary space, I pitched the concept to the mattress brand Casper, who then became my official partner.
In order to offer an inclusive playground for rest and reconnection, I stacked mattresses throughout the full space of the galleries. I experimented with dies to find a solution of thermo-chromatic pigments; Leaving a temporary mark of your body, by fabrics that are changing colors when touched. I died all sheets by hand.
As another performative act of being physically present with body, mind, and soul; I wove 300sqf. of recycled survival foil blankets in gold and silver, by hand. Weavings served as reflective wall draping and protective blankets or capes for the body. Today, I sell them exclusively as custom pieces through my online store.
I use VR for the holistic reconnection to the self, staged in bed – our most intimate and vulnerable place of home and ritual. In VR I am playing with visuals, scale and sound, frequencies, and light – healing sensations that have an effect like “touch at a distance”. For the 3-minute journey into the virtual bed, I worked with storyboards, architectural renderings that later got converted into Unity files in order to animate the 360° built space and make it headset compatible.
The five chapters in VR spark from my fascination with forms of cosmic craft and human body. Each of the five spaces is built from bodily symbols. Symbols like hair, sweat, blood, or skin (…) – Visual reminders that we are not data yet! Our natural body leaves a mark of physical existence in the folds of our bed sheets.
How did you get involved?
Working with curious and progressive clients allows me to re-invent process and build unexpected outcomes that align with the client’s vision and resonate with the target group. Being a part-time faculty at Parsons New York, allows me to have access to expert panels, design critiques and thrives relations and encounters with other inspiring speculative designers, artists or architecture historians like Fiona Raby, Lucy McRae, Beatriz Colomina, Pilpilotti Rist or Laurie Anderson. Each of them continuously inspires my work, helps me to critically review design, art and technology in context to Zeitgeist.
My initial involvement grew from observations made in everyday life, paired with my intuitive burning question of critically reviewing the role of an interior- and experience designer in the now and close future.
How can we design to allow for the multi-sensorial and multi-dimensional immersion with a purpose beyond the visually pleasant? ‘BEING in Bed’ is my first response, offering a layered approach that blends tradition and new technology to achieve a restorative space. – An absolute need, in the era of instability and crisis we’re living in. Industry partners and gallerists like Casper, NYCxDesign and Alcova for Art Basel Miami supported the realization and presentation to the public.
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