Tag Archives: design

Since writing my post about the architecture of dementia and reading the wonderful Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon, I’ve been thinking a lot about how spatial scales change throughout our lives – from childhood to old age.

Caution Keep Clear of Riverbank #parentalfail

Having a toddler has heightened my awareness of the boundaries and thresholds of exploration – the limits of safety and adventure. Every blindspot within the urban landscape becomes a possible escape route – life becomes a real-time replay of The Great Escape, but with no tunnels or Nazis. Then, as your child gets older, you become aware that they should be exploring and pushing boundaries. That their spatial freedom in some way equals mental freedom – the unseen, unsupervised allows for growth and development.

As Chabon wonderfully describes, in adolesence it is the ‘wilderness’, those part of the landscape – either rural, suburban or urban – that are derelict, abandoned and free from adult management, that allow for a space of the imagination. A landscape of performance and play, where scenes of adventure and misbehavior are acted out, where new worlds are constructed and occupied, where rules are made by kids and the adults are the enemy. It is in these spaces where we grow and foster our creative imaginations.

As we enter young adulthood our spatial boundaries dramatically increase, we move away from home, travel on our own and explore the places of our future lives. In fact, I would go as far as saying you’re identity becomes defined by the scope of your spatial experiences – how many students have maps on their wall proudly displaying pins of their travelling conquests. During this period, the desire to travel is high, the atlas becomes a manual of possibility. In the UK it’s become a middle class, western walkabout.

Into our middle age, the cartography starts to shrink, we ‘settle’ and ‘put down roots’. As we move towards old age – our personal cartographies shrink, sometimes to an impossibly small scale. My dad is currently occupying two rooms and a corridor (although in his mind he travels frequently by boat, train and plane), it is this limited map that he traces with his feet, caught in an ever-changing, always constant, space of frustration.

As we start to develop new technologies that augment our spatial existence – how we move, navigate and experience space – we need to be cognisant of the physiological and political ramifications their effects. This reminds me of Tom Loois’ project Blank Ways (via Adam), here Tom looks for the unexplored in our environments as spaces of mental calm. Our desire to explore is supported by the systems of telecommunications and geospatial surveillance.

[image: Tom Loois, Blank Ways]

This poetic project opens up the undiscovered within our environments, it supports a move towards a fully-lived spatial practice. However, my continuing concern about locative media, is still present. How do we build systems of serendipity and openness on the structures of profit, capital and control? Will our spatial experience be neatly packaged and sold back to us, with adwords included, to commodify the space of our imaginations? How do we build technological systems to trace the networks of our personal cartographies without closing down the creative potency of the unknown?

Last November I gave a talk at the UMEA Fall Summit, organised by the wonderful Matt Cottam, (you can watch it here if you like) during the talk I discussed two of DWFE‘s projects: The Parasitic Spectacular and Green=Boom. Considering that UMEA is a relatively conservative design school, I was pretty worried about how the work was going to be received. So when the first questioner stood up and introduced himself as one of the Architecture Professors, I was sure I was in for a grilling. His question was: “Your work seems to have a theme running through it, the deconstruction of violence, as a group do you have an agenda?” – with this I gave a sigh of relief, followed by a mild sense of panic.

Although the media consumption of violence has been an inexplicit concern of ours, to hear it spelt out so clearly, shocked me slightly. My answer was rambled and probably banal, but the question has stuck with me. It’s the word ‘deconstruction’ that I continue to struggle with.

Deconstruction has a long and rich theoretical tradition in continental philosophy, but also in architecture through the collaborations of Derrida and Eisenman and the work of Bernard Tschumi. The Parc de la Villette was the subject of my undergraduate dissertation, and so i admit to having a long term interest in the semiotic qualities of architectural practice, but i’m deeply suspicious of the practical affect on spatial politics – does the approach overturn the dominant politic of the day? By looking at DWFE’s work as a form of deconstruction can I understand the role, meaning and direction of the work in a new way? Has DWFE become a bastard child of Deconstructivist Architecture?

First I have to consider whether or not our work aims to deconstruct violence. The answer is yes and no. The intention wasn’t prefigured in our collaboration, or even a hot topic in our discussions, but now looking at the projects, the obsession with contemporary representation of violence is a common thread. Our work aims to subvert and challenge preconceptions – through images and experiences we want people to consume violence in a different way – the work is auto-critical. We’d like the projects to reconfigure people’s mental model of how and why violence is used within our culture. To do this we speculate on new relationships to violence (or previously considered violent experience). We use the powerful aesthetic of violence to hijack cultural meaning. So in this way, there is a strong link (or more accurately, parallel) to deconstruction, through the examination of media representations beyond binary oppositions, we generate new meaning.

The other thing I hadn’t fully considered was our ‘agenda’. The work grew organically, driven by our interests, curiosity and conversations – if we had an agenda it was more to do with the role of design, not the function of it in relationship to violence. We’ve spoken about G=B in terms of a failed boundary test in taste, but what do we see it achieving?

The role of design as a form of critique has been fully documented, one of the ever-present discussions between Laura, Jimmy and myself is the level to which designers make their ideological position explicit. We normally disagree and the dialogue continues. It’s a fine line between making evocative work, that demands reflection, thought and an inner soul searching and work that comes across as preachy, superior and condescending. To some extent this is why I see the projects as ongoing research – they enter the world and uncover opinions, prejudices and positions… They discover their role as they grow and change.

I guess a thread that is shared between is that the role of design in the mediation of experience is messy and complex, through the production of new experiences we can start to uncover the hidden politics and meaning of violence within our culture.

The Kony 2012 campaign and video has been discussed a lot. This is inevitable after a video has received over a 100 million views. Thoughtful and intelligent analysis has highlighted some of its geo-political over-simplifications and Invisible Children has had its fair share of critics. The hospitalisation of Jason Russell highlighted the overwhelming nature, impact and popularity of the message.

What I’d like to focus on is how perfect a contemporary ‘media artefact’ the video is. I believe it’s an important point in our visual history and I’d argue that it typifies (or maybe expands) James Bridle‘s concept of the New Aesthetic.

What we see with Kony 2012 is the visual, organisational and philosophic language of the network being used in both form and message. The video is made for the internet and is constructed for the facebook generation. Every cut, faux click and zoom utilizes the visual and aesthetic language of our familar digital lives. We watch ‘the internet’ animate before our eyes, with a message that is produced to a point of sentimental perfection.

The facebook timeline becomes the structural device to move us through history, zipping through time we pause at different points in Russell’s life and enter his atemporal reality. We stop, gaze voyeuristically and move on to another vignette.

Google maps is another device used to move us through the space of the narrative. At one point we descend from heaven, into the heart of Africa in a move that reminds me of Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten.

In many ways this typifies James’ idea of digital ‘ways of seeing’, but it is the collision of both the aesthetic and the political that gives Kony2012 its power. It is using the aesthetic language of the network to mobilise its masses, it’s harnessing the structural formation of digital telecommunications to highlight and change the realities it supports. It is the product and producer of a digital age.

After many years, I’ve decided to blog again. Thinking about things has been left to digitally decompose and SB-129 is born. The title of the blog is from a brilliant episode of SpongBob SquarePants: SB-129 follows Squidward’s travels through time – he’s accidentally frozen and wakes 2000 years in the future. Here he’s presented with a reality he is incapable of comprehending, he falls into a momentary FUTURE SHOCK. 

It’s both Squidward’s utter shock at the state of the world and his desire to escape it that makes SB-129 an appropriate title. A time travelling, reluctant futurist. But more than that, the writers of SpongeBob create a keen critique of how the future is visualised and represented:

Squidward: “Why is everything chrome?”

SpongeTron: “Everything is chrome in the future”

Even the ocean floor is chrome. However, what we see is a future that needs constant maintenance; although the future is shiny and consistent, it’s only a thin veneer of the future. At any given moment, chaos can break through and ruin the pristine vision. It’s the idea of constant maintenance that I love, not only is foresight a process of projection, invention, ideology and imagination it is also one of logistics, support and backroom services.

Beyond the obvious critique of cinematic and technological futures being presented in a material form of perfection, SpongeBob engages in the tools of maintenance and adaptation.

There’s a wonderful moment when SpongeTron gets out a hammer to break some ice, however it’s a laser in hammer form. A tool that holds onto the form of the past, almost a skeuomorphism of future things.

I haven’t got a clear remit for the blog, but it’ll be about things that I’m fascinated and possibly annoyed with. Things that need more than 144 characters to explain, explore and discuss. Most likely all things design, technology, speculative production, photography, cinema etc… you know, the usual stuff.

But to reminisce, here was the reason I started my first blog, the reason still stands:

“An Anti-rigour machine; working in an academic environment, i spend an inordinate amount of time critiquing ideas – sometimes, i believe, this restricts them – killing the ridiculous before it gets started.”

Bring on the ridiculous.