Whale Fall

Internship Summer 2019

During my time at Jason Design Group in Shanghai, I had the opportunity to lead the design of an installation as part of an exhibition at the TANK Shanghai hosted by Alibaba.

At the time, Shanghai had just implemented a new mandatory recycling program which became the talk of the city due to its strict nature.


Alibaba wanted a central installation on the topic of recycling at the exhibit where they showcase their suite of apps, both to relate to the ongoing recycling inititive in Shanghai and to show their dedication to environmental friendliness. I first decided on a theme of the installation-- Whale Fall.

Whale fall refers to the phenomenon where after a whale dies, its body sinks to the bottom of the ocean where sunlight can’t even penetrate, becoming neutrients and creating a wole ecosystem on which counless deep-sea organisms rely.

I find whale fall a facinating concept and a fitting theme for this installation because it makes us rethink our relationship with waste. A whale’s life doesn’t simply end when it dies, but rather goes on and becomes the incubator for new life, a cyclical system from which we humans can learn a thing or two.


One of the challenges I faced while designing this installation was how cliche the topic of recycling might be preceived. There are plenty of great works dedicated to this topic, and the concept of recycling and eco-friendliness is not one that’s foreign to most people. How do I make this installation more than yet another piece on this topic, something that people might walk past and only glance at?

When it comes to recycling, in order to succeed, everyone needs to take part in it. Through this installation, I wanted to convey the idea of participation being essential to recycling. Rather than simply making a symbolic sculpture, what if we can involve the public in the creation?

This is when I decided to utilize Alibaba’s new gargabe identifation function they released on their mobile product Taobao around the time of the recycling inititive. As part of this new function, Alibaba also rolled out with a small-scale recycling program they were testing in various neighborhoods in Shanghai where people can request for a pick-up of recyclables from their homes.

After some discussion, Alibaba agreed to let us access the trash they collected from households around Shanghai, out of which I planned to create the installation.


After filtering through the materials and getting a feel for what I had to work with, I went on to designing the installation. I had to work within both physical and time constraints. Through balancing cost, feasibility and visual effect, the final installation is a whale weighing over 300kg and around 8m tall made up of daily trash of thousands of families living in Shanghai.