Nancy Kim on Wellness and Change


Meet Nancy Kim, a whimsical NY-based fairy who is reinventing hospitality design experiences through her role as a Senior Designer at Ace Hotel Group. Being a fairy, Kim is charged with magical energies, creating her own design-art pieces, leading wellness party initiatives and luckily for Sand readers, she is sharing with us some of her thoughts on today’s wellness & design state of things. 

Hey Nancy, how do you see the time we are living in right now?
I see this time as an opportunity for critical transformation–to shift out of the stagnancy of what did not work. How can we move towards living slower, with less, but higher quality. How can we disrupt broken systems cleverly, and with grace, so that we don't go back to them? I am also daydreaming a lot about what this world would be like if we could adopt a circular way of thinking, instead of a linear one, where “waste” is a valuable resource within a regenerative system. This way of thinking could lead to more responsible decision-making, because one is asked to act with intention and a multi-layered awareness.

What's your take on the covid-19 effect on humanity?
There’s an intense oscillation of emotions being felt collectively right now, but I think the net effect on society can be positive. There’s questioning of fast consumption and culture, efficient sharing of resources and mutual aid through technology, increased participation in local and ethical farm shares, wisdom and empowerment gained through home-cooking, and sharpening of skills to be more nimble. I am also experiencing a resurgence in groups coming together, where the virtual nature of communing is increasing participation and enabling cross-pollination between disparate communities. The hope is that we will come out of this better.

photo by Erin Keeffe

Your website opens with a quote by W.B Yeats “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” What are the recent 'things' you discover through your senses?
Recently, I’ve been getting to know herbs more intimately, specifically through my sense of taste. I’d been making tea elixirs for myself, but had not served it to more than a small group of friends. Last summer, I had the opportunity to serve tea soda at a magical multi-day music event in a forest in Pennsylvania. (Shout out to Honcho Campout.) The delightful thought of satiating the taste buds of so many people allowed me to use my palette with a more refined sensitivity. Spending months sourcing, tasting, and developing flavors helped me understand a new dimension of our connection to plants. I realized that the precision required in arriving at what tasted right to me was directly tied to the potency of its medicinal benefits in my body. The difference of thirty seconds or a few degrees in temperature could alter the experience. It was also special to watch the dried herbs and flowers expand in steeping water. It was like witnessing a second bloom.

What is your approach to wellness ?
In order to be well, I need to first know how I am doing. I’ve been setting an intention when spending time with myself. Right now, my wellness approach is a combination of reading, meditating, writing then applying change through practice. I’ve been meditating twice a day, specifically transcendental meditation. It’s reduced overall stress, which has made space for an energy reserve that I can tap into for things that bring joy. I also recently bought a daily planner (Hobonichi Techo) and created a typology of moods. I record my moods and thoughts to identify any patterns or relationships, in hopes of transforming anything that doesn’t feel healthy.

How do you define yourself?
I’m human—an organism of the earth who is ever-evolving and impermanent. I try to approach life with openness and playfulness. The latter is a bit harder, but when I do remember, it makes things more enjoyable. I think it’s important to address matters that are not so light, in light ways. I try not to get bogged down by what is out of my control and instead focus on small, more easily attainable change, which if repeated by enough people could have great impact. I am spending time looking inwards to find and hold onto the light so that I can spread this light outwards. All this, by no means, is easy for me. It takes daily practice and I make mistakes.

Phallacies - Arousal Study 1-Nerve Ending (photo by NK)

As a designer, you create new objects, spiritual and concrete ones, what kind of objects are you making?
The objects I create span a wide spectrum. These days, I’m making experiential objects that help me work through curiosities of my own identity and gender. The process of making is visceral for me and therefore cathartic and even therapeutic at times. I’m also continuing to develop multi-functional accessories for the body, thinking deeply about the aura of each person I make these for.

Can you describe a few recent works of yours?
House of Arousals was part of Middle Land, organized by the lovely Crit group. It was a series of nine objects that investigated the intangible qualities of sexual arousal. The abstracted works simultaneously created and dissolved gender binaries in order to emphasize the possible shifting nature within the sexual spectrum.

Middle Land - House of Arousals, photo by Erin Keeffe

I further developed this study through Arousal Study 1, 2 and 3 as part of a group show called Phallacies, which took place at A Guide to the Field, in upstate NY. These works investigated the role that the automatic nervous system plays in the arousal process, shedding light on the idea that gender may have less to do with pure arousal than one might expect.

Unidentified, Undocumented, Untitled Gender Pods explores a landscape of human development in the womb that is free to be, without any labels. At the time, I was questioning normative roles in relation to contraception, pregnancies, abortion, and procreation. (Collaboration w/Kelly Armendariz)

Encapsulation of an Aura, photo by Erin Keeffe

I am interested to ask about GLU events, can you tell us a bit about this initiative?
GLU is a gathering of friends, that brings elements of health to the dance floor. It recognizes the dance floor as an original healing space and evolves it to be a space to do more together. I was having similar conversations about mental health with friends who didn’t necessarily know each other and I thought the connection could be beneficial and special. The first one took place at Stanley’s Pharmacy, a local pharmacy and wellness bar. The second one took place at Magick City, a friend’s venue that I was involved in designing, years back. We began with plant-centered food, then moved onto a group discussion around calling in vs. calling out, then danced in our socks on tatami mats while drinking medicinal teas.

How do you see queer culture connected to wellness ?
To me, queerness can be expansive and also exist in the in-between space, like magic. It’s not an easy term to define and maybe we cannot define it. I think it’s healthy to question and challenge normative societal structures of how we live. I sense a confidence and boldness in expression these days and it feels like some of us are making noise and occupying space in all the best ways. The act of expressing in itself can be healing. Hopefully, this leads to breaking down barriers so that difference can be embraced as a necessary quality of coexistence.

Definitions of masculinity and femininity are going through big changes now - how do you approach those changes?
Lately, I try not to use words that are binary, because it helps me focus on the soul and aura of myself and others. Sometimes, labels and categories are a distraction to knowing who we really are. For instance, even the words masculine and feminine can be an oversimplification of a person.

You are a Project Architect/Senior Designer at Ace Hotel Group. How is your cosmic approach affecting this work?
I try to remember that we’re all connected and equal, even though the ego tries to trick us sometimes. So, overall I focus on maintaining a light-hearted relationship with the people I work with. When I sense a conversation or process feeling off, I try to intentionally have an effect on redirecting energy in the room or even in an email thread.

In my design role, I encourage a playfulness or quirk in the design details. There’s an awe and wonder that can be found when noticing an unexpected detail in a space. Especially a hotel guest room, which can be considered someone’s home away from home. It’s our chance to communicate with them, maybe even expose a sense of humor.

The need of humans today is to seek beyond their eyes, to inquire more into the unknown. What do you think about this tendency?
A lot of us have become reliant on our visual senses, but so much of being exists in the in between spaces, the spaces that aren’t necessarily visible to the eye, like love, gravity, the ego, and magic to name a few. When we become aware of ourselves and our surroundings as vibrations and ultimately, energy, we can experience a deeper charm and this can lead to better health.

The future of wellness and magic for me is being in the present as much as possible; putting energy into truly experiencing the awe in what we do in the present and then being thankful for it!