To measure the exhibition on display at a/d/o last week against Hugh Dubberly, Paul Pangaro & Usman Haque’s definitions of interaction (as posited in their co-authored research paper What is interaction? Are there different types?) would be to measure the magnitudes of failure on behalf of theLondon School of Architechture students responsible for its existence.
What seemed as though it could have been a thought-provoking exploration of a shifting neighborhood demographic instead became a static fabrication that left little to the imagination and at least this attendee hoping for a larger emotional connection. Their documentation was also terrible.
The machine -effectively a glorified bicycle (which as a process from blueprint to working prototype within the span of ten days was the lone accolade anyone could offer the project) -collected (as opposed to collects because it is no longer in use nor was it built for longevity) samples of neighborhood “artifacts”, and then displayed them in a fabricated museum setting.
What the machine didn’t do was interact with anyone or thing in the environment from which it was collecting said artifacts. What appeared to be a valiant attempt to decipher gentrification and its myriad effects (some positive, mostly negative) was instead a myopic execution without mission or vision beyond its literal purpose.
Rather than focusing on the minutia of machinery -in this case their literal wheelhouse- I would have liked to see the students question the presence of their collected artifacts within the context of the neighborhood. Why are these artifacts so important? Why do we care to see them displayed? What do they represent and how could the answer to that question spark a conversation? The mission should have been more anthropology and less machinery. More connective and less observational. We should have got a conversation piece. Instead we got a non-starter.
ExerciseMake your own material – explore the “materiality” of substances.
I took two approaches to this assignment. One was to create a material from many other materials, that was more structural and geometric, and that might stay in place if executed successfully. The other was to focus on the material itself, and think about materials that are around us every day, that might not be considered materials or that might be used differently than the application I’m interested in.
I’ve recently acquired some triangular paperclips that, for whatever reason, I find to be so much more satisfying to use than regular paperclips.
Though I was really interested in making some sort of mesh out of them and then gluing them together with either hot glue or crazy glue, it quickly became clear to me that the triangles themselves were not cut precisely enough to allow for a smooth line beyond several clips in a row. For this reason, I abandoned the project early on.
Smoke & Mirrors
I have always been interested in the remnants left behind by materials -oils, smoke, fingerprints. I find them beautiful if not ephemeral, and tend to document them as well. For me, this was an obvious point of exploration for this week’s prompt.
The first law of Thermodynamics states that the energy in an isolated system can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy can only be transferred from one form to another.
Bearing in mind the first law of Thermodynamics (which, for existential/atheist reasons I find to be comforting) and thinking about what happens to elements when we burn them, I wanted to focus on using the “smudge” generated from burning different materials:
I attempted to capture the different smokes of different materials in a glass jar.
I then used whatever coating was left as a material to “erase” in order to make patterns/shapes.
Conclusion Though not an entirely satisfying end, I think further experimentation (different vessels/different materials) will yield different results. I look forward to working with more effective materials to burn and surfaces on which to glaze/coat them.
Further Exploration I also thought about how we can use different oils and the ways they bleed as a new material. Though a not entirely developed idea, it’s worth posting some photos here if not for anything else than their aesthetics:
What is a social problem that you find particularly vexing? What can of interventions can you think about to address it? What are the root causes of the problem and who are the key stakeholders that can make a difference in addressing this problem?The ProblemI am currently conducting research on Body Burden, the whose mildly editorialized definition on Wikipedia is noted as such: Body burden is a term that refers to the total accumulation of toxins in your body. This can include anything from dangerous metals like lead or mercury, to pesticides, unsafe food additives, or fluoride — just to name a scant few. (Bold emphasis mine).The definition may sound sinister but the effects are more so; toxic accumulation of such chemicals in human fat tissue (where these dangerous chemicals latch on like microscopic parasites) can lead to wellness issues ranging from stunted frontal lobe development in children to breast or kidney cancer in middle-aged adults.More alarming still is the chemicals seeming ubiquity. We are not exposed to these toxins by scuba diving off the shores of Fukushima Daiichi or haphazardly ingesting paint chips that we’ve idly peeled from dusty boiler room walls, but rather in our everyday interactions: drinking from a water bottle; holding our smart phones to our skulls; eating canned foods. In fact -and this seems so ridiculous that it took my citing several studies from renowned environmental groups before my husband would believe me- babies are exposed to toxic chemicals that are found in both the bottles used to feed them AND the linings of formula containers.
This is, by large and in part, a systems problem. For example, there is failure at every stage of the rather crucial FDA, at the industrial level, and in the petrochemical complex. It is a problem driven by western consumerism as well as by neo-liberal ideology, and is tainted by sexism and felt often by those most at risk -minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Toxic chemicals can be found in any area of any economically developed society. There is toxic runoff from harmful pesticides that ends up in our drinking water. There are manufacturing chemicals that, while praised for their safety in the short-term (flame retardants come to mind) are harmful in the long term (they cause cancer).
Moreover, the known risks of these chemicals are met with indifference at a policy level. The FDA does nothing (or close to nothing) to prevent the presence of toxic chemicals in our food packaging and sometimes even our food. Legislators are wary to fight the powerful oil lobbies that challenge the regulation of petrochemical runoff and pollution in general. And demand for cheap consumable electronics and other goods ensures a constant stream of harmful plastic manufacture.
The Solution (?)
My response to this issue so far has been one that has relied on increasing social awareness and has often taken a darkly (too dark?) ironic tone. As a result much of my work ends up preaching to the choir. Moreover, by indulging my many ideas surrounding how to bring these issues to light, I risk simultaneously alienating my audience while offering neither a solution to eradicating burdinous chemicals from our everyday lives nor any scalable practice for preventing exposure.
This is why I’ve chosen to reexamine this particularly wicked problem in the context of design and systems thinking. As I see it, there are three targeted audiences that should be addressed:
Consumers -I find this problematic as, though often the lowest hanging fruit, it places the burden of solution on the citizen, and can be seen as an acceptance of and response or reaction to the current problem rather than a way to attack its existence. Consumer-targeted solutions could include awareness campaigns, boycotts, and the generation of and reliance on small-scale alternative shops for delivering safer consumer goods.
Legislators -This could be the most effective plan of attack. Legislators have the power to overhaul the systems -industrial or otherwise- that expose us to these harmful chemicals in the first place. But typical bureaucratic restraints and timelines coupled with a healthy beholden-ness to lobbies and campaign financing means that any movement that might be seen in this arena could take years and would require a drastic overhaul of our political system in general.
Industry -I am hesitant to return to industry as our last best hope, but market-driven results in our current western economic climate allow for the most agile approach. That, and the now on-trend appetite for sustainable design makes the kickstarters of the world our most likely allies in coming to a scalable solution for the masses. Rolling out guerilla campaigns -alternative labeling, say- while pledging to create more socially responsible manufacturing environments, better working conditions in less industrialized nations, socially-driven adaptably product design to prevent exposure and enhance knowledge, seems like the lowest barrier of entry and will take results furthest.
ExerciseMake your own network. Show it in action. Keep in mind:What makes a “good” network? Reliability? Common goals? How do protocols work? What is the relationship of flow to network? Work with a group to execute.
Exercise Modularity exists in all levels of the biological hierarchy. Look into various instances of modularity, and experiment with developing your own module for re-use throughout the semester. In the process examine camouflage, strategies of reinterpretation and reformulation, adaptation, reconfigurabilty, inheritance and conservation.
I am dissatisfied with my solution, because it is not scalable, and is extremely rigid. However, I believe this excercise was necessary for me as a way of first understanding the properties of a module itself, and material affordances.
I was interested in utilizing tessellation as a means of material conservation. However, my pattern necessitated not two but three shapes in order for my module to effectively clasp.
tes·sel·la·tion ˌtesəˈlāSH(ə)n/ noun
the process or art of tessellating a surface, or the state of being tessellated.
an arrangement of shapes closely fitted together, especially of polygons in a repeated pattern without gaps or overlapping.
Designing A System & Differences In Materiality
I wanted to make sure that this process was scalable, which is why I started with the most obvious and basic format of a module; literal puzzle pieces in three simple forms, allowing for scalability and iteration in the most traditional sense. Now that I’ve (barely) mastered this structural format, I’m interested in exploring non-traditional forms: pods, magnets, vines and spinning metals, to see how I might build a design system in a less expected format.
What strikes you as interesting when you begin thinking about stylistic decisions (or moral or political decisions) as being locatable in a multi-axial space of this kind is the recognition that some axes don’t yet exist.
-Brian Eno, Axis Thinking
The things that nobody ever thought of not doing
In his essay Axis Thinking, Brian Eno makes the argument that “Axial thinking…triggers an imaginative process, an attempt to locate and conceptualize the newly acknowledged greyscale positions.” It is our duty as artists, designers, citizens, he seems to argue, to see beyond the axis into three dimensional space, and to create at the novel intersection of these ideas that may or may not have typically been juxtaposed.
One portion of the reading struck me as particularly prescient given the current state of our country and global economic forces at play. The excerpt, for me at least, gives shape and clarity to the jumble of emotions I have been feeling leading up to and since November 8th:
“The period of transition is marked by excitement, experimentation — and resistance. Whenever a duality starts to dissolve, those who felt trapped at one end of it suddenly feel enormous freedom — they can now redescribe themselves. But, by the same token, those who defined their identity by their allegiance to one pole of the duality (and rejection of the other) feel exposed. The walls have been taken away, and the separation between inside and outside is suddenly gone. This can create wide-scale social panic: vigorous affirmations of the essential rightness of the“old ways,”moral condemnation of the experimentalists,“back to basics” campaigns, all the familiar signs of fundamentalism.”
Exercise:Create a “thing” that represents what you are interested in exploring in this class.
Based on the instruction-based conceptual art of Sol LeWitt, and inspired by some of the drawing prompts we were asked to complete during class, I thought it would be interesting to create a group artifact based on a certain amount of deliberately vague instructions. In doing so, I am demonstrating several things that I am interested in exploring during this class:
Art by instruction
Design within a given set of confines
Design as collaboration
It’s my hope to demonstrate the differences in design perspective through the different “artifact” drawings we create during this class. Here are the set of instructions I developed for our artifact creation:
There is no right or wrong way to do this…
Draw a triangle with a three inch base
Shade one half of the triangle
Underneath the shaded half, draw four parallel lines
Using one line, connect all four of them
At the end of the connecting line you drew, add an ‘!’ exclamation point