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<<Written on the 21st Sept 2018>>

Lots of things change when you move to a new city, the rhythms of your routine are disrupted to allow for new activities and interactions, one of the things that I’m enjoying is starting to listen to podcasts. This is mainly due to me walking and running a lot more that I would do in London. The podcasts are a perfect way to allow your mind to drift amongst the architecture as you walk.

I’ve mainly been listening to the Adam Buxton podcast, which I love! It’s made me reflect on the podcast as a format – I know that I’m really late here and millions of people have probably written deep, thoughtful and clever pieces about the podcast form, but here’s my dumb reflections; the podcast produces a different type of intimacy, I think this due to the reduction in scale of the production team. It feels like an intimate chat with an interesting person. It allows for type of content that I wouldn’t normally listen to. I guess the barriers to entry are just high enough to make sure the most of them are ‘ok’, but it gives really creative people, access to voice based broadcast to produce amazing things, that you would normally hear on national radio.

Adam Buxton really surprised me, after years of people suggesting the show, I hadn’t got around to listening to it.  I think it was because I had a different idea of what it would be; in my head it was more sketch comedy less chit chat. He is obviously from a really privileged background and this comes through in many of the shows… he’s the typification of middle-aged, white, privileged, liberal, smart man, but completely aware of it and is lovely, brilliant and very funny with it.

One of the things I enjoy, is seeing the mechanics under creative work – the conversations about the struggles for creative people to produce work. It’s pretty inspiring.

Today is a day of lunches and dinners with interesting people, first was a lunch (nice Israeli Falafel place in Greenwich Village) with Michel Morgensen. Michael studied at Goldsmiths on the MAID programme during its last year. It was lovely to see him and reflect on how crazy 2016-17 was. Our conversation focussed mainly on how there was still a mis-match between industry’s expectation of design and how more critically informed programmes positioned the practice. We talked about tactics to overcome and survive in these times.

We also spoke about the Gulf states, the strange cultural and economic paradoxes they face (all the resources to achieve interesting things, but so much of their ambition ends up feeling like shopping; culture bought, transplanted Western ideas and cultural practices, that ultimately don’t self sustain).

After lunch I learnt that Pat Loughrey, the Warden, was stepping down. I was surprised at how much the news affected me. I really like Pat and think he’s been a positive force in Goldsmiths. Any change of leadership at that level brings with a level of risk. In our current political and economic times in HE, it’s particularly risky to find someone with the same understanding and ethos.

This sparked an interesting conversation later with Tony about the politics of US Universities; how finding the people at the top was a very difficult thing to do… a process fraught with risk. I think it’s really sad that many of the people in top leadership positions in education lack a sense of intellectual vision about education. I hope to God we find a good one.

In the evening I had dinner with Tony, Fiona and Tim Marshall (the provost of the New School). We had some great conversations about the ambitions and intricacies of design education. How many academic and professionals end up hold lines (on what should be taught, how elements of design learning are important) even though they never learnt that way themselves.

The end conversation was an amazing story, told brilliantly by Tim, about the trials and tribulations of the New School – it’s political history and the traumas of a President that didn’t fit with the schools philosophy. Many of the stories, the political action of staff and students, felt very familiar, more evidence that Goldsmiths and New School are connected in a deep way.

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Written on 19th September 2018

Although I’ve been in New York for 19 days, I’ve decided to start a diary. This is partly due to having floating thoughts and observations whizz by me, without any real reason to record them. Some of these things seem a little inconsequential, but I want to keep them to enable me to remember what being here in NYC was/is like and some of them may develop into other ideas.  I may share them at some point, or make a blog or a newsletter of something.

I’ve never written a diary before, so I’m not sure what voice or tone to use. It seems very strange to me to be writing to myself, but I guess this is part of a practice to make me understand myself and the experiences I’m going through. I hope that writing it will help me with the practice of writing itself. To write without a big pressure that it’s something smart or interesting or important to academic life and future of design and design education.

Today Laura mentioned that Corinne had used WhatsApp to record little videos for her family whilst she was abroad, I thought I’d give it a go. I was a little surprised by its effect on me, I instantly enjoyed the process and loved getting little comedy moment from Herbie. It’s been difficult to keep in touch with Herbie since I’ve been here. This is because of a range of different issues, the first is time zone and habit – this is easy to overcome with a routine and all of us getting used to how to deal with me being away. The second is technology. Everyone, when I expressed concern about not seeing Herbie, said “it the 21st century, we have Skype and facetime.”, what they didn’t mention was; you need all your devices up to date, network providers are a bit shit and the technology, although amazing in the global sense of things, is still not fully worked out.

Anyway, I made a little video today and sent it to Herb. I like the process of doing it, I felt I could be a little silly and it was low pressure. It means that as I see something, that I think he’d like, I can make a little video. They instantly make me think of Alice Bartlett and her instagram stories, which I enjoy immensely. It also means that he can understand that I’m thinking of him during my day; not just a small moment, every fews days when we arrange for a big video chat.

The surpising thing about the videos, both making and receiving them, is that they evoke a different, more casual conversation between us. As an 8 year old, it’s quite hard for Herbie to enter the ‘serious chat’ of speaking to me and giving me an accurate, interesting or consistent account of what he has been doing. But making videos, seems to come far more easily… the youtube generation hey!

Today I decided not to go into Parsons. This is partly because I seemed to have replaced my ‘guilt’ of not being productive and working hard at Goldsmiths, with the (incorrect) assumption that I need to be in the office 9-6, 5 days a week. Which is not true. I think a big part of what I’m struggling with is with my expectation to ‘be productive’.

So today, I woke up, went for a run… which I’m loving… but am continuously surprised at how hard I’m finding the first 1km. I soon forget that after it’s over and what to be running again. I guess this is why people say it’s addictive.

I then had a wonder about the neighbourhood that I’ll be staying when Herbie is here. It’s a bit closer to Bedford Av, and therefore lovely. Then for coffee.

I went for lunch to Sweetgreen, a healthy and hip food chain that exists across the city. I ate a good salad, sat outside and people watched. I sat next to a table, three people, two men and a woman. The scene felt distinctly New York. A gruff New Yorker, born in the Bronx, probably in his late forties, tattooed lightening bolts on his forearms. He held himself with the confidence of a man that was very handsome in his younger days. A man who’d been through a lot, a life lived through drink, drugs and sex.

He monologued through the lunch, over a kale salad. He had a range of philosophies about life. About the end of Western culture and how it was important to focus on equipping oneself with the knowledge to thrive in the enevitable event of the apocalypse. I wonder if characters like this are particular to our time, their ‘deep thoughts’ fueled by late night googling and mining the deep dark parts of wikipedia. Or have men like this always held court. Middle-aged men with strong opinions… not sure that that’s a new thing… but the internet has fuelled their conviction in their own ‘reckonings’.

I’m reading a short story by Johnathan Letham called Procedure in Plain Air. Like many moments, when I’m on my own, with space to think, the world’s experiences collide and connect. The story tells of municipal workmen, digging a hole and burying a bound person. As I read, I see similar group of workmen, digging the road. I’m also writing a short story about a municipal worker who is trapped in an algorithmic employment hell… A Singaporean intensely socially engineered nightmare.

After lunch I discovered The West, a cafe / restaurant /bar on Union. It’s possible dangerous, it’s built to be like a ‘hotel lobby bar’ where people can work whilst drinking coffee or beer. It’s super relaxed and lovely. So I had a pint at 4pm, continued to write.

There 10 people in here, all tapping away, working remotely, the digital nomads, working without offices in different ways. There should be a phrase for the coalescence of digital activity that is produced in a specific environment. It would be great to see if certain places (cafes, hotel lobbies, public parks, bars) have different levels of productivity. A digital output to judge the environmental conviviality.

I often get a strange sense of overwhelming intregue seeing other peoples lives that pass me buy. This is focused a bit more in a place like this. What are these people working on; are there great works of fiction in the making, podcasts, code being written that’ll change the world, HR decisions that make peoples lives worse.

For those who don’t know, I’m currently on sabbatical. To kick off my year, I’ve come to NYC for three months as a visiting scholar at Parsons New School with the wonderful Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby in the Designed Realities Lab . D+R have kindly given me a desk as well as the space and time to reflect on my practice as a designer and educator. During this time, I’ll be doing some research for an upcoming book, whilst meeting and talking to interesting people in one of the greatest cities in the world.

Three weeks into my visit, I tentatively started writing a diary. I set up a separate blog, and began to capture my activities and thoughts as I embark on this new experience. However, I’ve just had a change in mind. I’m going to write here on SB129. I don’t want to get too precious about a blog that isn’t read by many people and is massively neglected by me. So be aware, the forming posts will be more diary like; scrappy, autobiographic and not fully thought threw.

Here we go….

“The spreadsheet’s unreality is dangerously doubled because, while their ordered data and formulae always comfort you that you have authored a controllable certainty, most spreadsheets are mere conjectures, provisional plans, ideas or hopes. Spreadsheets are dreams.” Rod McLaren, Spreadsheets are dreams

When Beeker published the brilliant essay, by Rod McLaren in 2015, I was blown away by the poetry of Rod’s writing. At that point in my career, I had a growing reliance on Excel as a mode of planning and organising of education. Since becoming Head of Department, the creation and interpretation of spreadsheets has become an important part of my daily life. I often joke to colleagues and students about being lost down the spreadsheet mines.

It’s a bit of a cliche to highlight that the ivory towers of academe have been felled by over burdensome educratic bullshit. The common cry of privileged academics protesting that time spent ‘doing admin’, taking them away from ‘important scholarly work’, is not the point of this post. It’s also not a post from a designer, with a dramatic level of autonomy, moaning about the realities of daily work, where management, accounting and funding proposals (bureaucreativity as Silvio Lorusso calls it) takes them away from real creative labor.

What I’d like to explore is the aesthetic, political and educational possibility and problematics of Excel; the narratives we tell through it; the realities we bring into being through the rows and columns of quantified possibility; a place where dreams become educational reality; a tool to distance educators from education…

Continue reading on Medium

I was asked to run a drawing workshop at Röda Sten Konsthall in Gothenburg by the lovely people at ADA. The workshop was in conjunction with the current exhibition of Ylva Ogland‘s work. In the workshop I aimed to collectively explore the ideas found in Foucault‘s Of Other Spaces. In his essay, a piece of work that sits slightly outside of his opus, Foucault identifies a type of space that is diverse in nature, but strange in character. A space that operates under different rules to normal space, a space of social, cultural and political otherness.

The concept of heterotopia can be mobilised to examine many different spatial dynamics found within historic, present and future spaces. The work of Ogland’s in the exhibition takes the heterotopia of the mirror to unearth spaces of identity. For my workshop I focussed on a geo-political space, something I hadn’t done before.

I chose a contemporary heterotopia of crisis, where space, boundaries and borders are created, policies written and futures are condemned. For an hour and a half we be investigated the heterotopic space of global health epidemics (and other geopolitical issues); we used drawing as a tool to map the issues concerning the Ebola crisis, calling into question the objects, politics and articles of controversy. In someway, this was a hybrid workshop, bringing together ideational drawing with a Latourian approach to issue mapping. I’m not sure how successful it was, but I think it’s something I’m going to develop further.

MATTER

This was the introduction text from this year’s BA Design degree show catalogue at Goldsmiths. The basis of this text was a conversation between myself and Laura Potter. The intro is authored by both of us. 

VIBRANT MATTER
PEOPLE MATTER
SOCIAL MATTER
MATERIAL MATTER
ELEGANT MATTER
POLITICAL MATTER
DETAILS MATTER
MICROSCOPIC MATTER
DARK MATTER
DESIGN MATTERS

MATTER – the title of this year’s degree show – may be read in different ways. Depending on what you put with it, the word can be moulded and manipulated towards different meanings. It spans the ideological and material, the conceptual and the practical, the idea and the thing. It acts to join these often (falsely) disjointed entities; highlighting how materials act in the world. Within the humanities there has recently been a ‘material turn’: an acknowledgement that MATTER is not inert, not waiting for humans to activate and act upon it: it has agency. As Jane Bennett describes in her book of the same title, it is Vibrant Matter. This year’s show is full of vibrant MATTER, ready to move out into the world and change it.

What these students have experienced, and what we do here at Goldsmiths, MATTERS. This interpretation, which places importance on the process and ultimate aim of education, is especially significant. As a teaching team we are aware that there has been a gradual ‘dematerialisation’ of design across the programme. For years we have been trying to understand how to dematerialise, how to de-emphasise the ‘shiny product’ at the end of the process, in order to grant the designer a different kind of power. Initially, we prioritised the abstract. We did a lot of thinking, a lot of talking and the making came at the end as a synthesis of what we were trying to understand. It was an attempt to make the ‘shiny things’ more thoughtful. However, what staff and students have come to understand is that the value of design happens in the stuff – in the MATTER – and that it must be part of the process. We believe that ‘design thinking’ should not exist without ‘design making’.

In the early years of the course we had students who suffered moral crises. We encouraged a ruthless questioning of what design should be, and some came to the conclusion that designers are responsible for perpetuating levels and patterns of consumption. These students decided they did not want to be designers, because they did not want to make MORE MATTER. What we now know is that the material investigation does not need to come at the end: it is not necessary to move towards a ‘product’. The making of stuff, the realising of ideas in three dimensions, can be part of a process that helps us understand, change and eventually take action. A design outcome might be immaterial, but you can still be a designer in the way you approach the world. Of central importance here is the idea of ‘thinking through doing’ or ‘thinking through making’.

These students have attempted to investigate and articulate the complex significance of contemporary MATTER. What they hope to demonstrate is that when design ventures deep into abstract territories, when designers move beyond the goal of the ‘shiny object’, they can generate valuable insights by engaging with all manner of MATTER(S). We are not limited to post-it notes.

This post was first published on Medium.

Dad's room

In March 2011 my Dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia, in the following October he discovered he also had inoperable lung cancer. With a prognosis of 12 months and two terminal conditions, he still manages to struggle on. Those that know me, have seen that the protracted and gradual loss of my father has had a profound affect on me. Unable to mourn him, I instead have to watch him slowly loose his dignity and identity. This form of loss is something that many people experience and with an ageing population it will become one of societies greatest challenges.

Beyond the emotional, medical, economic and social problems dementia presents, I think it’s important to reflect on what we can learn from those that are loosing purchase on reality. To understand, when our mental lives are slipping away, what do we grasp onto. To reflect on how our actions in the world today may shape the way we react to this terribly cruel disease, if we’re unfortunate enough to succumb to it.

On loosing reality

It’s a common myth that dementia is purely about memory loss. The most common response from someone finding out about my Dad is; ‘Does he still recognise you?’. The answer is yes, identifying his family has never been a problem. However, he’s also completely insane. I mean in a proper ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ way. Dad lives in an alternative reality — his perception of the world, his role and agency within it are fully fictional. He spends most of time living in a different time, but his new reality is saturated with the media of today. Most recently, he’s been obsessed with my Mother having an affair and being pregnant by Simon Cowell. My Mum is 68 and has never met the renowned R&R executive. His anxieties are re-lived in a perpetual loop, he’s stuck, replaying fragments of a fictional life.

Insanity, is something that people are very uncomfortable with, ‘forgetfulness’ is far easier to understand and ignore. Seeing dementia suffers as old people that forget names, faces, where they live, gives us a way to empathise with them without feeling threatened or terrified. Sadly, the reality is far more disconcerting. Believing you are in a different place, time and space, doing tasks that are never complete, battling demons that never show themselves is a far darker place to be.

Last week I attended Improving Reality. I throughly enjoyed listening to smart people discuss the possibilities of change within our socio-technical complex. However, as with many provocations, the word REALITY, once said over and over started to loose meaning and impact. I left the day with only a scant understanding of my own reality, never mind the opportunities to improve it. In talking about design, I often use language about ‘reality’, ‘change’ and ‘alternatives’ with little scrutiny about what we actually understand as the representation and manipulation of our reality (or realities). When confronted with a group of people who live and perceive the world differently, you can start to understand the role of media, narratives, conversations and relationships in a different light. My Dad’s reality is his reality, through gentle conversations you can start to uncover the boundaries of his world, you can give texture to the everyday frustrations of living apart from the rest of us.

Souvenirs, aide memoires and the materially sentimental

The reason I started writing this post was an overall sense of sadness about my Dad’s room in his care home. In their original states, the rooms are scantly decorated, institutionally bleak, to allow residents and their families to ‘make it home’. Most rooms have trinkets and ornaments, photographs and keepsakes, scatter cushions and familiar furniture. Everywhere around the care home you see evidence of residents’ families making efforts to remind their loved ones of who they once were, hoping that the objects they once loved would somehow create an anchor to this reality. My Dad’s room is empty. Even the draws are empty. It looks like a hotel room on the morning that you leave; signs of life, but one of transience and departure.

The lack of stuff in my Dad’s room is due to his capacity to distribute his material possessions to the furthest (and strangest) parts of the home. Within 24 hrs any object that enters his room (including his false teeth!) will disappear. I sometimes wonder if his rejection of his possessions are in someway a protest to the reality he finds himself in. By repelling his belongings he can keep a distance from the place he finds himself, seeing it as a temporary stop-over before he returns home.

Dad has always been a very un-sentimental man, he has little time for reflection and reminisce. Whether through friends, photographs or objects, he has lived his life in the perpetual present, loving new experiences and carrying little with him. This approach to life has in someway become amplified through his dementia. Sadly, he isn’t left with the positive affects of his life philosophy, only the negative.

He has become obsessed with the idea of someone stealing his things. He’s also turned his hand to occasional larceny. Many residents in the care home also appear to be obsessed with the loss and theft of their possessions. Obviously, as a family member your first reaction is to worry about members of staff abusing their positions of power. Recent media coverage has done little to build the trust you feel for care homes. I’m sure that theft and abuses of power occur, but in this instance, I don’t believe it’s the case. I think this phenomena is linked to the relationships we build with commodities.

Contemporary living seems to be largely based around the collection and consumption of material things, much has been written on the psychological effect of our modern obsession. But it is when sanity is stripped away, we see the unsettling remainder of conspicuous consumption. Material possessions give little solace to my Dad, instead he’s left with anxiety and paranoia. When all the glitz and glamour gone, we’re left feeling hollow.

It’s all detritus

I’ve been approached countless times by the residents clutching small collections of objects muttering about someone stealing something or things being lost. On Wednesday, an elderly man approached my holding a nail file, an elastic band, some scissors and an Ikea pencil. These things hand been stolen from him, he’d being trying to find them all day. No matter what objects enter the care home, they’re consumed on the same level. Semiotic chains of meaning are disrupted and broken. Objects are washed up on the shores of memory as fragmented links to a reality long lost.

All of this has made me try to rethink how the meanings of things are created and maintained. How do I select the things that I hold dear to me? What will these things mean if I suffer the same loss of reality as my father? And most importantly, if I loose my grip on reality, will I be left with a continual and unsettling feeling of material loss? If so, how do I live my life to strengthen and nurture relationships with people and not things.