Turning sadness into power with the Tear Gun

Taiwanese designer transforms emotional frustration into an expression of design.

Growing up in strict social hierarchy can lead to real frustration. The bottling of thoughts, biting one’s tongue regularly and having to uphold unquestionable respect for one’s elders is what inspired young designer Yi-Fei Chen to create the Tear Gun.

It is a physical metaphor that represents Chen’s stifled frustration after an altercation with one of her tutors left her in tears. After years of suppressing emotions to avoid rudeness, Chen’s design is the literal expression of her internal struggle to speak her mind.

The Tear Gun works by catching tears under the wearer’s eye with a silicon pocket. They are then funnelled into a steampunk-like brass system. A small bottle filled with dry ice fixed to the back of the pistol freezes the teardrops into solid bullets, ready to be fired into the face of authority.

We spoke to Chen about the start of the project and asked her about the emotional trigger that led to the idea for the Tear Gun.

“I would say that incident [with the tutor] made me meet the extreme. The social restrictions I faced growing up became a burden of pressure and these tears represent the explosion of frustration and anger. I tried to suppress myself for so long - not talking back, not being rude, not crying, not breaking down - but the emotions ultimately won,” she said.

On the most challenging aspect of the design process, Chen said, “To realise the concept and to make the design work. When I made the first drawings, the size of the design was much bigger and it became a challenge to turn it into a handy, compact gun.

Thanks to the guidance of my mentors and friends, I found the right direction to take the design in. Without their help, I would have built a more chunky and unwieldy weapon.”

Now a graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, Chen plans to continue working on projects that have personal value to her.

“Due to the personal nature of the project, its inspiration came from a deep feeling inside myself. As a Taiwanese woman, my character and social position are intrinsic to me and that informs my work.”

On the importance of emotion guiding design thinking, Chen described one of her earlier projects and how she wants to approach design projects moving forward.

“I made sex toys as an exploration of the suppression and misunderstanding of female sexual desire in Taiwan. It seems to be an old topic for other designers, but I am interested in investigating contradictions.

I see myself as a mix of contradictions. I have many struggles within myself. I feel that I am always in a mode of transition. I am eager to change but afraid to do so at the same time. I want freedom but hate instability. I am rational but also emotional. I am vulnerable but also strong – like the Tear Gun,” she said.