Over the last year I’ve started to feel like an Octopus. This feeling began when I got an eerie sense that part of my brain had been damaged through the isolation of a forced lockdown. Octopuses distribute their neurological activity across nine centres; one central cortex and eight ‘mini-brains’ that are located in their tentacles. Their thinking is spread across their body. If a tentacle is damaged, so is their ability to think. This is how I felt when we lost the Studios.
When I returned to teaching after my sabbatical and tenure as Head of Department, you all welcomed me with a sense of openness and generosity. I felt at home, fully absorbed in the discourses of design as we progressed through your second year. As covid-19 forced us to close the studios, we all suffered from a sense of loss. I’ve spent nearly 20 years encouraging students to fully embrace the studio as a place to think, work, make and play. I’ve always known that it’s been important to our learning culture, but as with most forms of infrastructure, it’s only when it’s taken away do we realise its importance.
Studio culture on the BA Design has always been more than a part of our Estates infrastructure, more akin to an infrastructure of our imaginations: the social framing enabling us to think collectively about the future of design. So why am I saying this now, when you’ve finished your studies and are off into the professional world? It’s because I hope we can learn from it. As with many things throughout the last year, I think there are clues to a different way of living and working.
The loss we’ve all suffered can teach us; creating safe spaces, where people feel comfortable and confident to explore ideas whilst developing their creative identities, are difficult to make and maintain – enter your professional life with the enthusiasm and determination to create the conditions of creativity for others; physical spaces can be inaccessible due to a wide range of structural inequalities – seek to break down the barriers, open up your spaces to others who have been excluded; digital inequities are harder to spot and more difficult to change – be aware of the politics of digital extraction; frivolous, silly activities fuel creative practice – make places that are fun, open and generous.
So throughout the last year I’ve realised that I’m a socio-spatial version of an octopus. My brain is distributed, instead of across my body, but through my surroundings; in the studios, workshops and labs of Goldsmiths Design. At least now I know how important those around me are. My thinking, creativity and happiness relies on those who contribute to our cultural conditions. One of my tentacles may have been damaged, but the neural pathways will grow back. The nine brains will be restored in new ways, opening up new possibilities, alternative futures. Thank you for being part of my brain.