Speculative Everything. Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby.
Publisher MIT Press writes: Today designers often focus on making technology easy to use, sexy, and consumable. In Speculative Everything, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby propose a kind of design that is used as a tool to create not only things but ideas. For them, design is a means of speculating about how things could be--to imagine possible futures. This is not the usual sort of predicting or forecasting, spotting trends and extrapolating; these kinds of predictions have been proven wrong, again and again. Instead, Dunne and Raby pose "what if" questions that are intended to open debate and discussion about the kind of future people want (and do not want).
Speculative Everything offers a tour through an emerging cultural landscape of design ideas, ideals, and approaches. Dunne and Raby cite examples from their own design and teaching and from other projects from fine art, design, architecture, cinema, and photography. They also draw on futurology, political theory, the philosophy of technology, and literary fiction. They show us, for example, ideas for a solar kitchen restaurant; a flypaper robotic clock; a menstruation machine; a cloud-seeding truck; a phantom-limb sensation recorder; and devices for food foraging that use the tools of synthetic biology. Dunne and Raby contend that if we speculate more--about everything--reality will become more malleable. The ideas freed by speculative design increase the odds of achieving desirable futures.
A book that champions the power of ideas is always a great addition to anyone's library. And because my lack of enthusiasm for design is fairly well documented, i'm going to be cynical and add that a book that calls for more ideology and values in design is a rare find indeed.
In Speculative Everything, Dunne and Raby ask whether it is possible for design to operate outside of the market place while at the same time acknowledging that we live in a consumer society. Once the focus of design is not on selling a product, can it act as a catalyst to connect, debate and speculate? And more importantly, can it turn us into more discernible consumers?
You probably already know how the formula works: the two designers create objects, photos, texts and insert them into scenarios that are neither too realistic nor too outrageously disconnected from the world as we know it already. They don't package the work in a complete narrative either. Instead, they sketch a skeletal structure that leaves enough space for the public to be puzzled, fill in the gaps and attempt to answer the many questions that lie at the core of the work that Raby and Dunne submit to their attention.
Most of us aren't used to a design that doesn't do all the imaginative work and requires us to think. Yet, we live in a time when consumers moonlight as producers, rediscovering craft, 3Dprinting at home or self-publishing porn fiction. So why shouldn't we also be stimulated (by design or other creative disciplines) to produce our own dreams, our own ideas about a future that should or shouldn't be?
If you've ever asked yourself perfectly sensible questions such as "What is speculative design?" "Is it the same as critical design?" "Is this another name for fiction design?" "Why don't they call that art?" or just "What's the point?", then you'll probably find satisfying answers in this book. And because by now Dunne and Raby are used to communicating with scientists, artists, fellow designers, as well as the broad public, they answer these questions in a clear, efficient and very enjoyable way.
Speculative Everything neatly and quietly dispels the myths, misunderstandings and simplifications surrounding speculative design. Of course, there will always be people who dismiss Dunne and Raby's work for being too arty, and, well, too speculative to be strictly design but if some of them ever read the book, i'm quite convinced that they will at least agree on the fact that its authors ask some valid questions and more importantly perhaps articulate them in an intelligent, compelling way.
I often find design to be too insular but in their book, Raby and Dunne look beyond design and survey the works that operate in the same speculative area. These works belong to all creative disciplines under the sun: art, architecture, film, manga, cinema, literature, science, art, ethics, politics, etc. And it's quite a joy to read about works as different as Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror tv series and Luigi Colani's shark-shaped plane. I couldn't resist listing some of these works below:
P.s. Favourite quote from the book is "Designers today are expert fictioneers in denial" (p.88)
Publisher Black Dog Publishing writes: Art and the Internet is a much-needed visual survey of art influenced by, situated on and taking the subject of the internet over the last two and a half decades. From the early 1990s the internet has had multiple roles in art, not least in defining several new genres of practitioners, from early networked art to new forms of interactive and participatory works, but also because it is the great aggregator of all art, past and present. Art and the Internet examines the legacy of the internet on art, and, importantly, illuminates how artists and institutions are using it and why.
To be honest, my first reaction when faced with a book dealing with 'internet art' was akin to the cries uttered by a heretic about to find himself into the hands of Tomás de Torquemada (the only thing i can say in my defense is that my job exposes me to an awful amount of really bad online art.) In theory, i'm not a fan. However, a quick look in the book made me realize that i shouldn't be so hasty in my judgement. You see, internet art or net.or or web-based art or however you wish to call it is not monodimensional. It comes with depths and with as many opportunities for interpretations and distortions as its purely 'physical' equivalents. So yes, i was definitely not jumping for joy when i read the words 'art and the internet' but then i opened the pages and they were all there! JODI, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Vuk Cosic (please bribe this man out of his art-retirement), Alexei Shulgin, etc. All of whom i believe are all quite genius. And then there's the new generation of artists, pranksters and activists who like you and i, probably spend far too much time on the internet but have the excuse of turning it into spectacular, thought-provoking or simply amusing works.
Art and the Internet opens with 3 essays. Nicholas Lambert explores how web-based art has been embraced (or rather not really embraced) by art galleries and institutions. Joanne McNeill looks at how moments of intimacy are shared via web cams. Domenico Quaranta takes a more historical approach to net.art and to its relationship with physical space. Each of these essays communicate splendidly the gaiety, wit, diversity and charm of art on the internet.
The book closes on interviews with Attila Fattori Franchini, LuckyPDF, Eva and Franco Mattes and Marisa Olson and on seminal texts about art and/in the internet by some of its most recognised rock stars: Alexei Shulgin, Miltos Manetas, Olia Lialina, John Perry Barlow, etc.
It often seems that internet has been created for the sole purpose of having people droll over cute cats and then stick their head into home appliances to recover from the emotion. Art and the Internet demonstrates not only that there's nothing wrong with that but also that internet art deserves a greater offline exposure.
Now for a couple of remarkable works i discovered or rediscovered in the book:
The very garish, very dazzling 60X1.com throws into a tumble dryer photos of political figures, pop culture icons and images found in cyberspace. The result is as user-unfriendly as possible: the domain name is not catchy, the file size are slow to appear on the screen (at least they were at the time) and it's a struggle to locate the word 'enter' that will lead you to the next page where another word 'enter' will be carefully hidden. After going through a series of splash pages, the visitor realizes that there is no destination to explore, that it's journey ends there as there is in fact no core content.
Directions to Last Visitor demonstrates how easy it is to geographically locate users through their IP address. Log on to the website and it will use the Google Maps API to show you the driving directions to the (physical) address of the last person who visited the website. The project makes you realize how simply typing an url can lead to further dissolution of your privacy.
I'm Unable to Fulfill Your Wish are 'dystopian visualizations' that use a computer program to streamline data from social networking websites and turn them into delicate, basic but also anonymous graph drawings.
Ultimately, the works highlight the inability of interfaces and other digital spaces to represent the complexity of everyday life and question whether technology and open data will ever achieve its utopian promise.
Glyphiti is composed by multiple, anonymous participants who edit a "drawing wall" collaboratively by working on one 32 x 32 pixel section at a time.
Clement Valla fortuitously discovered what he first thought were glitches on Google Earth images. However, these broken images are the result of a constantly of the constant and automated data collection handled by computer algorithms. In these "competing visual inputs", the 3D modellings of Earth's surfaces fail to align with the corresponding aerial photography.
Google Earth is a database disguised as a photographic representation. These uncanny images focus our attention on that process itself, and the network of algorithms, computers, storage systems, automated cameras, maps, pilots, engineers, photographers, surveyors and map-makers that generate them.
Aram Bartholl's iconic Map drags Google Maps red map marker into the street.
David Horvitz's Heads in Freezers is as simple as its title. People are invited to take a picture of their head in freezers. The twist is that they must tag it with "241543903" and uploaded it to social media sites.
Now a quick image search of the number 241543903 shows pages after pages of people shoving their heads into freezers.
Publisher Gestalten writes: The Age of Collage is a striking documentation of today's continued appetite for destructive construction. Showcasing outstanding current artwork and artists, the book also takes an insightful behind-the-scenes look at those working with this interdisciplinary and cross-media approach.
The collages featured in this book are influenced by illustration, painting, and photography and play with elements of abstraction, constructivism, surrealism, and dada. Referencing scientific images, pop culture, and erotica, they reflect humanity's collective visual memory and context.
Through confident cuts, brushstrokes, mouse clicks, or pasting, the work in The Age of Collage gives the impossible a tangible form. It expands the possibilities of the genre while turning our worldview on its head along the way.
A book with Yul Brynner on the cover was always going to get my attention.
The Age of Collage adopts the model that made the success of Gestalten books. Plenty of efficient images and a few comments about each of the 80 artists whose work is presented. The intro is more informative than usual (or maybe that's just because i know so little about collages), it says a few words about the strategies of collage, its history and even more interestingly about its presence in contemporary culture from the Beastie Boys' video Sabotage to sampling or mood boards of ads agencies (or even Pinterest i would add.)
And because this book is a visual joy from cover to page 285, i'm going to leave you here with a few discoveries i made while flipping through it:
From the back-cover: Every second year the Finnish Society of Bioart invites a significant group of artists and scientists to the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in Lapland/Finland to work for one week on topics related to art, biology and the environment. "Field_Notes - From Landscape to Laboratory" is the first in a series of publications originating from this field laboratory. It emphasizes the process of interaction between fieldwork, locality and the laboratory. Oron Catts, Antero Kare, Laura Beloff, Tarja Knuuttila amongst others explore the field and laboratory as sites for art&science practices.
I was about to add this book to the list of books i liked in 2013 but i decided at the last minute that i might as well give it its own space.
In 2011, the Finnish Society of Bioart organised the Field_Notes - Cultivating Grounds laboratory. Five working groups led by Oron Catts, Marta de Menezes, Anu Osva, Tapio Makela and Terike Haapoja developed various art and science projects while in contact with nature and ecology in Kilpisjärvi, a rural area in Lapland, Finland.
The book contains seventeen articles (in both English and Finnish) that report and meditate on the research, reflections and activities that took place during the scientists and artists' stay in Lapland. Field_Notes offers one of the very few residences that allows people who engage with art&science to work and experiment directly in a natural environment and not exclusively in laboratories or galleries.
I wouldn't say that this is a book for anyone who's interested in bioart. It's not the kind of crazy sexy pop bioart you read about in Wired magazine (or in my own blog.) It is sober and at time theoretical, but not less surprising and thought-provoking than any razzle-dazzle bioart works you've read about in the past.
Field_Notes offers is a great mix of essays by scientists and lively stories of experiments by artists. I particularly enjoyed reading Laura Beloff's essay on how experience is a key aspect (and sometime even the main objective) of art practices that use organic materials or has some affinity with science. Professor Antero Järvinen wrote about the icon of global warming that is the Arctic charr and more generally about the difficulty of drawing simple conclusion of complex material systems and phenomena. Oron Catts came with the most unexpected essay about a piece of plexiglass from a German aircraft that had crashed in Kilpisjärvi in 1942 and how the discovery led him to explore 'new materialism in action'. Andrew Gryf Paterson has a great piece about berries foraging and a proposal to set up Berry Commons which sounds trivial until he makes you realize the politics of berries. Maria Huhmarniemi looked at the dilemma of preserving the endangered Capricornia Boisduvaliana butterfly or building an hydroelectric power plant.
I'll close with two of the many projects i discovered in this book:
A Unit is a miniature green area an individual would wear on their shoulder. A Unit speculates on the concept of green environment and its beneficial impact. It experiments with an idea of wearable miniature green space that becomes part of ones everyday existence and asks if this can be considered as natural environment with potential health benefits?
A Unit contains a GM-plant or other primarily human-constructed plant and as such acts as a training device for our changing relation with organic nature for the future when both humans and nature are artificially modified or constructed.
Niki Passath took his touristic robots for walks around Kilpisjärvi and soon found out that fungi and bacteria had adopted them as a habitat. Traces of moss and lichen started to grow on the structures.
So there you are: a serious, solid book for anyone who'd like to go beyond the easy reductions, the fast conclusions and simplification that sometimes characterizes articles and books about bioart.
I could have titled the post "Gift ideas for Christmas" but to be honest, these books are not christmassy in the traditional sense of the word. Neither is my blog, for that matter. The truth is that this is a list of books i've enjoyed but never found the time to review as they deserved. I always meant to but here we are in mid-December and the "to review ASAP" pile of books is reaching skyscraping dimensions on my table. So here's a few publications that shouldn't be off your radar:
Bulletproof Skin. Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Borders, by Jalila Essaïdi, was the very good surprise of the year. Its starting point is the famous project 2.6g 329m/s, aka the 'bulletproof skin' developed with the help of the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award. The publication is described as A stunning hardcover book with a special cover and paper that feels soft like skin/silk, counting 160 pages that visually explore the process of creating bulletproof skin. Which is true but doesn't do the book justice. What Bulletproof Skin. Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Borders does what very few books about biotech art do: it brings the project but also the whole field into a broader context. Scientists, philosophers and renowned people involved in the 'biotech art' world contributed to the volume with essays that ponder on the ethical, cultural, artistic and scientific meaning of the project and of biotech artworks in general. Among them are Symbiotica Director Oron Catts, Director of the Center for PostNatural History Richard Pell, artist Clifford Charles, scientific director of the Center for Society and the Life Sciences Dr Hub Zwart, expert in spider silk (and its many high tech potential uses) Randy Lewis, science writer Simon Ings, forensic firearms expert Benno Jacobs. A space is also given to random people who commented on the project.
Bulletproof Skin. Exploring Boundaries by Piercing Borders is a smart, entertaining and thought-provoking book. It's also splendidly designed, i can't recommend it enough.
Yes, i've mentioned that one already. It's a 'best of' F.A.T., a guide to copy/replicate/customize their most astute or ludicrous projects. I still can't believe they've allowed me to plaster a text inside the book.
Outerviews. Conversations with Artists, published by MoTA. 17 interviews with artists, selected from the pretty spectacular archive of the ArtistTalk.eu project. The conversations included illuminate the processes behind the making of art works, which in have in our view proposed the most interesting challenges to the common conceptions of art.
You need to email the address at the bottom of this page for a copy. Well worth the trouble.
The definitive history of the drug cartels, Narcoland takes readers to the front lines of the "war on drugs," which has so far cost more than 60,000 lives in just six years. Hernández explains in riveting detail how Mexico became a base for the mega-cartels of Latin America and one of the most violent places on the planet. At every turn, Hernández names names--not just the narcos, but also the politicians, functionaries, judges and entrepreneurs who have collaborated with them. In doing so, she reveals the mind-boggling depth of corruption in Mexico's government and business elite.
This one's on my kindle and i've only just started reading it but so far, so very good. Gripping, informative in the 'i can't believe i'm reading this' sense.
Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions, edited by Geoff Manaugh. Published by Actar.
From autonomous tools for remote archaeology to radio telescopes scanning electromagnetic events in space, by way of colorful mechanisms allowing children to experience the animal superpowers of other species, Landscape Futures looks at the world of extraordinary scientific machines and their hypothetical alternatives that filter, augment, clarify, and transformatively reproduce the world they survey.
Another book from the one and only Manaugh, the guy who makes good old planet earth look like a distant, slightly bonkers and ever fascinating planet.
The publication comprises of 38 illustrated articles on built projects received through a Call for Work. Punctuating these articles, a series of conversations between world leading experts from design to engineering, incl. Mark Burry, Philip Beesley, Gramazio & Kohler and Hanif Kara, discussing themes on drawing to production, behavioural composites, robotic assembly, and digital craft. This densely illustrated publication is intended to impart unequivocal evidence to the reader on how these projects were made, to encompass the breath, complexity and skill required in making digital architecture (i.e. its not as easy as some make out), and to impart the vitality of making as a collaborative and exciting practice.
The book accompanied a conference that took place in 2011. I only got my hands on it a few weeks ago. And because it is still as relevant as ever, it's now available in paperback.
Art Since 1980 charts the story of art in contemporary global culture while holding up a mirror to our society. With over 300 pictures of painting, photography and sculpture, as well as installation, performance and video art, we are led on an illuminating journey via the individuals and communities who have shaped art internationally.
Kalb approaches art from multiple angles, addressing issues of artistic production, display, critical reception and social content. Alongside his analysis of specific works of art, he also builds a framework for readers to increase their knowledge and enhance critical and theoretical thinking.
I wouldn't advise this book to anyone who has only a flimsy interest in contemporary art, they'd be put off by the amount of information to ingest. However, this is a solid reference book for people who are passionate about art and think they lack some of the basic knowledge necessary to better understand and appreciate its meaning and context.
Deller explores how the trauma of the Industrial Revolution and chaotic urbanisation affected British society, focusing on emblematic figures including: Adrian Street, born into a Welsh mining family, Street rejected a life in the mines to become a flamboyant androgynous international wrestler; James Sharples, a 19th centrury blacksmith and self-taught painter from Blackburn, famous for his much-reproduced image, The Forge; and rock stars from industrial towns whose roots can be traced back through generations of workers in factories and mills. The radical transformation of the landscape in the early industrial era is powerfully evoked in Victorian images of factories ablaze at night, shown alongside an apocalyptic painting by John Martin. Industrial folk music, the incessant rhythms and racket of the factory floor, and heavy metal will also permeate the exhibition in sound installation and film.
I read this one in a couple of hours. I'm obviously biased. I love Jeremy Deller's work and i've always been fascinated by the Industrial Revolution. The artist clearly isn't the best writer in the world but some of the parallel he draws between now and then (in particular the working conditions in factories in Northern England at the time of the IR and today's culture of zero hour contracts) are worthy of consideration.
This is the publication that accompanies an exhibition of the same name. It's now up at the Manchester Art Gallery and i'll review in the coming days.
Obviously, i enjoyed these books too in 2013.
Image on the homepage: Bio-artist Jalila Essaidi, who used Professor Randy Lewis's special spider-goat silk to create "bulletproof skin". Picture: AP Source: AP.
Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital, by Ron Labaco, curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York.
Publisher Black Dog Publishing writes: Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital examines the increasingly important role of digital fabrication in contemporary art, design, and architecture practice from 2005 to the present. New levels of expression will demonstrate the reciprocal relationship between art and innovation as seen through the lens of emerging twenty first century aesthetics.
Out of Hand, the first publication to examine this interdisciplinary trend, accompanies a major exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, bringing together for the first time an array of seminal works by more than 80 international artists, architects, and designers, including Ron Arad, Barry X Ball, Wim Delvoye, Zaha Hadid, Stephen Jones, Anish Kapoor, Marc Newson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Frank Stella.
Out of Hand looks in detail at the rise of digital tools in the production of sculptures.
It is a lovely book in itself (nice images, texts explaining with clear terms each of the works, photos of the working process, etc.) It is also a useful publication for people like me whose interests do not focus solely on digital creation. Through its pages, I caught up with many projects, ideas and processes i was crassly ignorant of.
We might all be familiar with digital technologies but the introductory essays of the book made it clear that art created with the help of these same technologies still needs to be defended, that its existence and meaning still needs to be justified and that its relationship to materiality has to be carefully defined. At least to some audiences.
The focus of the book is sculpture but there are as many designers (of the chair and sofa genre) and architects as artists in this book. In fact, the authors write that digital technologies have enabled sculpture to infiltrate the boundaries of other disciplines: design, architecture, science, fashion.
I think the biggest quality of this book is that it brings side by side Anish Kapoor and Markus Kayser, Hiroshi Sugimoto and The T/Shirt Issue. Designers who have reached a superstar status online but don't have any gallery audience and artists who rely on museum exhibitions and press releases from galleries to give them some form of online presence.
Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital is organised around six themes. Modeling Nature looks at works inspired by biomorphic structures. New Geometries openly refers to the use of advance mathematical theories in the creation of new works that range from sport shoes to delicate plywood pavilion. Rebooting Revivals shows how artists and designers use 3D laser scanning to reinfuse life into forms associated with artistic movements from the past. Patterns as Structure is about the translation of sound, light, electrical activity and other data into shapes and decorative motifs. Remixing the Figure reinvents the human figure through innovative representations of the body and 3D-printed fashion garments. Processuality brings emphasis to the process of making, either by a fully autonomous machine that does all the work or by an intervention of the audience.
Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital is an exhibition, curated by Ron Labaco and running at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City until July 6th, 2014.