Using the Drone Survival Guide to blind the viewer, 2014.

Drone Survival Guide

Ruben Pater is, imho, one of the 10 most interesting designers to follow at the moment. You might have encountered his name already. He's behind the Drone Survival Guide that enables anyone to spot and recognize the most commonly used drones. More interestingly, the guide also provides information on how to hack, hides from and dazzle the machines. The guide has been translated in dozens of languages and can be downloaded over here.

Pater has a mission to create visual narratives about complex political issues. He is not only interested in flying machines of death but also in disaster floods caused by global warming, Dutch sweets that evoke everyday racism, fishermen vs oil tankers, citizen journalism in countries with censorship, digital surveillance, etc. Any complex issue that grabs his attention is turned into an impeccably well-researched, elegantly designed and intelligently communicated work. His calls his projects 'untold stories' because of the way they weave new connections between journalism and design.

Pater studied graphic design in Breda, and later at the graphic design master programme of the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. He is exhibiting his work, lecturing internationally and is teaching at the communication department of the Design Academy in Eindhoven, at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam and also at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in the Hague. I'm glad he has accepted to answer my questions:

Life after the Flood, First Dutch Flood manual. Design: Ruben Pater, 2011

Hi Ruben! You create visual narratives about complex political issues. Why do you think it is important that design approaches political topics? And why do you feel that design is an adequate medium for public discussion?
Do you think that design has a different role, audience or strength compared to art in that respect?

Discussing topics of political or public interest happens everywhere. Whether we categorize it as art, journalism, or film is not really relevant. The label of design works for me because designing visual communication means creating a dialogue beyond your immediate reach, and therefore a work can only achieve its goal when it reaches an wide audience. When addressing issues which are of public interest, this is for me an important aspect of a work. The nature of (graphic) design expects designers to be empathetic towards a diverse audience, because their clients are different all the time, and so is the receiver of the message. That skill gives designers the potency of have a more meaningful role in communicating the important issues of our time to a larger audience.

Behind the Blue Screen (English trailer), 2014

Teheran streets, December 2014. Photo: Ruben Pater

I was particularly fascinated by the project Behind the Blue Screen, an experiment in 'sneaker journalism' that you developed with the help of director Jaap van Heusden and the complicity of people living in Iran. What can we, as European, learn from the stories and tactics of the people who shared their stories for the project?

My ideas about Iran have definitely changed, not in the least because news coverage on Iran is so one-dimensional and hyperbolic. Through watching more than 100 video stories, my image of Iran has become much more nuanced.

It's funny that the more you learn about another culture, the more you learn about your own. For instance with media censorship, we tend to rate Western Europe as much more 'free' than a country like Iran. This is true in the sense of journalists being jailed and the internet being restricted. But in Western Europe we have a different kind of self-censorship which is equally invasive. Our dominant ideology of multinational capitalism with Christian values is hardly questioned. Although it is criticized in the margins, the media reaffirms this ideology and promotes it actively through its advertisements and reporting. We do not even regard it as propaganda anymore, but as a simple fact.

The question is if it is really that much different than the way the media is controlled in a country like Iran, where there are blogs and underground media that pose opposite and alternative views.

And more generally, do you feel that we might also want to watch our back and worry about surveillance?

Always watch your back, or in this case, your browser.

Ruben Pater, Double standards (Photo installation at the graduation show of the Design Department of the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam, 2012)

Ruben Pater, Double standards

Double Standards publication. Printed on newspaper stock and hand-bound with flag rings

Your page about Double Standards of Somali Piracy is a fascinating and very informative read. Could you give us more details about the work you did with the flags? Explaining the choices you made when you transformed them?

If we send warships and soldiers to protect a national maritime fleet far away, that is an act of war by a sovereign state. When this merchant fleet has sold its nationality in favor of 'cheap' nationalities like Panama or the Bahamas to dodge taxes and underpay its workers, this stands in stark contrast to the military sent to protect them. This paradoxical reality of global capitalism is something that I felt was best visualized by buying all these flags and cutting them up by hand. By violating these national symbols, I felt like this was more appropriate representation then when I would create new flags, or new realities.

Double Standards of Somali Piracy was developed in 2012. Do you still follow the issue? Has the situation much evolved since you last worked on it?

Recently I worked with a filmmaker on a documentary about Double Standards. That was challenging because piracy around Somalia has basically disappeared almost completely since then, and when something is not in the news, people simply lose interest. Even though Somalia still has many problems, and the illegality and problems in the shipping industry remain. I think a follow-up on the project would focus more on life of crews that work in the maritime industry, who are basically doing slave labor for super-rich shipping tycoons.

And similarly, i was wondering whether you were 'haunted' by the projects once you've finished them? Do you keep on following closely the news or do you rather dive head down into the next project and try not to be too distracted? 

A consequence of the way I work is that I have to keep track of the news happening on different topics. There are dozens of 'sleeping topics' that are not projects yet but are waiting for an opportunity. They could turn into a project, or not, so I need to keep collecting information on them.

You trained as a graphic designer but i noticed that you also write a lot. Each of your project is detailed in a long essay. So how do you keep the balance between text and graphic design? Do you feel that a project like Twenty-first Century Birdwatching, for example, can be fully understood without the text? Just by looking at the Guide with the bird silhouette?

18 months ago someone asked me to write an essay about the Drone Survival Guide, and I decided to do that with all my larger projects. It complements my work because it pushes me to reflect on the context beyond its immediate effect. I think during a design process many interesting things happen that are as interesting as the result, even if they are invisible in the end. I try to avoid using the essay to inflate my work, just to as an invitation to the reader in the way I work. That gives me parameters. When projects are too small for an essay format, they do not go on my website. Outside of the website, all of my works are meant to function without any additional text, especially in the case of the Drone Survival Guide. All my projects should work without explanation, although sometimes that turns out to be more difficult than others, for instance my Double Standards project which needs a bit more time from the viewer.

Negro Kiss. 'Dutch Sweets', Leon Dijkstra and Ruben Pater, 2011. From A Taste of Dutch Colonialism

Jew Cookie. 'Dutch Sweets', Leon Dijkstra and Ruben Pater, 2011. From A Taste of Dutch Colonialism

I'm from Belgium so i immediately connected with your work A Taste of Dutch Colonialism. Both our countries are quite fond of Zwarte Piet. I grew up with that figure and never thought much about it until i found myself in Eindhoven in early December and saw how shocked artists from other countries were when they met blond people dressed as Zwarte Piet in the streets. How did people reacted to your work about Dutch Sweets? Do you feel that our cultures are ready to leave behind all these traditions based on old (and embarrassing) racial stereotypes?

Currently the colonial heritage of 'Zwart Piet' is heavily debated in Holland. It is shameful to see that so many people, including the Dutch prime minister, do not understand even the most rudimentary concept of racism. In general, what we need is a better understanding of our colonial past in Western European countries, and we are still far away from that. Dutch Sweets, and the book I am writing now about design in different cultures, hopefully help this discussion forward. I am hopeful for the future because there are some very brave artists, activists, and writers out there who are at the forefront of this civil rights protest and their numbers are growing. Now they are threatened, arrested, and ridiculed, but I am certain they will eventually be recognized as heroes.

You are teaching at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam and will also be lecturing at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in the Hague. What are you teaching there? Does it relate to your attempts to narrate geopolitical issues? What are you teaching there? Does it relate to your attempts to narrate geopolitical issues?

As a teacher I try to ask students to think about how their work relates to the political and social realities. It is not that they have to make work about political subjects, or become politically active, I want them to realize all the choices they make are political, whether they intended it or not. With the research of my new book that is coming out next year, I am getting more into postcolonialism and designing across cultures. This element of graphic design is often overlooked. I would like students to think about hidden cultural contexts of their work and how they can communicate to different audiences, not just their peers.

I think design has the tendency to become entertainment for the elite; expensive, exclusive, and abstract. Designers will be taken more seriously if they reach a wider audience, and become more inclusive.

What are the 'untold stories' that you think deserve to be told at the moment?

There are so many interesting and important topics, but unfortunately my time is limited. I soon hope to start working on a project about a more humanistic representation of cyberwar, which is still not available. Even though it is talked about a lot, it is always visualized in the same visual vocabulary security nerddom and military propaganda. Another topic is the role of raw materials in our economy as an literal and metaphoric underground foundation of our capitalist system. Thirdly Data discrimination. It is already being discussed quite widely, but nonetheless a very important topic, perhaps one of the most important topics of the coming years.

Thanks Ruben!

Sponsored by:

Tim Clark, The Boomjet, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

X-1SB and Boomjet painting.jpg
X-1SB and Boomjet models receiving initial coats of paint

High-Speed Horizons is another of my favourite works exhibited at the graduation show of the Royal College of Art earlier this month.

One of the models in the exhibition space

In this project, Design Interactions graduate Tim Clark plays with the language and history of aviation, offering us a trip into critical and speculative visions of alternative energies.

Aviation, says the designer, has always been viewed as a test bed for radical new ideas and visions to reshape culture, politics and economics on Earth and far beyond it. Some of these dreams of alternative futures became reality and even transformed other areas of life (especially in military or space exploration contexts), while others were aborted because of political, economic or environmental pressures.

Tim Clark tapped into this fascination for unrestricted innovation to design a series of airplanes that investigate the possibility to ditch environmentally damaging fossil fuels in favour of sonic booms and nuclear power.

Bell X-1. Image Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Chuck Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier, X-1, 1947. Newsreel from 1948

The most experimental and speculative aircraft research is often classified. An example of this is the American X-Plane. Started after WW2 and still in operation today, the program conceived a series of experimental planes and helicopters and used them to test new technologies and aerodynamic concepts.

The first of American X-Plane model, the Bell X-1, was the first aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight in 1947. This breakthrough opened up a new field of supersonic research and led to experimentation in aerodynamics and new propulsive systems.

Supersonic speed travel is accompanied by an explosive 'bang' sound called sonic boom. These sonic booms also generate enormous amounts of energy. In theory they could thus power planes with an efficient, green and sustainable energy source.

But sonic booms are one of the main reasons why supersonic airplanes never became more commonplace. In several countries, the law prevents aircrafts from flying above Mach 1 due to the shock wave's auditory and vibrational disturbance.

Limiting the impact of sonic booms is a current concern of the aviation industry as many are dreaming of a new supersonic age. But if it is to be more successful than the last one (the Concorde required high quantities of fuel), a supersonic plane would need an energy source free from the influence of global affairs, politics and planet scarring infrastructure. Something that we can quickly produce and have complete control over -- like sonic booms.

Tim Clark, The X-1SB, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

Tim Clark, The X-1SB, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

Tim Clark, High-Speed Horizons (X-1SB being airdropped by B-29 Duo mothership. Oil on canvas by Michael Lightfoot), 2015

The X-1SB, aka the "Sonic Sundae", is Clark's counterhistorical research aircraft designed to test the feasibility of this sonic boom propulsion. Its cone shape design is the combination of a .50 caliber bullet (an object know to be stable while breaching the sound barrier) just like the design of its predecessor the X-1 aircraft, and the shape of the shock wave created by an object traveling faster than sound.

The front of the aircraft features a housing for an interchangeable triangular spike used to test how different shapes could create potentially optimized shock waves to use for propulsion.

And because Clark's work is counter historical, Sonic Sundae and Boomjet (more about that one below) were to have existed before any of the anti-noise laws were to have been instituted.

He told me: I am suggesting that in a sonic boom powered world those laws would not exist because the ability to travel with that type of greener propulsion would probably be more beneficially economically than instituting the flight restrictions. In this case the benefit of the disturbance would outweigh the desire to limit the noise.

Conceptual drawing of a supersonic biplane. Image: Christine Daniloff/MIT News based on an original drawing courtesy of Obayashi laboratory, Tohoku University

Anyway if we were to live in true supersonic age these restrictions would need to be changed/relaxed anyway sonic booms or not. The big research in limiting the sonic boom now is finding a way to make a wing design that will create little to no noise when it breaks the sound barrier so it does not disturb people below the plane. Amazingly this question was answered over a decade (1935) before we even broke the sound barrier (1947) by Adolf Busemann who suggested a supersonic biplane design where the two wings would be used to cancel the other wave out.

It's crazy to think a supersonic jet would resemble a biplane from the 1920s but it would probably be the best solution and it was theorized way before it ever would be seen as a problem which is amazing. MIT just did some research into it in the last year or so and it would totally work and might be quite viable.

Tim Clark, B-29 Duo, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

Because of its large rear circumference, the X-1SB cannot fit under the fuselage or wing of a larger aircraft for taxiing and takeoff. The B-29 Duo "Double Mama" has thus been designed to be its carrier aircraft of choice.

An F/A-18 Hornet breaks the sound barrier in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, 1999. Image Ensign John Gay, U.S. Navy (via wikipedia)

Tim Clark, The Boomjet, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

Tim Clark, The Boomjet, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

Boomjet on mobile aircraft crawler. Computer rendering by Tim Clark

Tim Clark, High-Speed Horizons (Boomjet taxiing at water-based airport. Watercolor on paper by Hector Trunnec), 2015

Another of Clark's designs, the Boomjet is a sonic boom-powered commercial transport that sustains its flight by driving 47 propellers from the pressure energy released by the aircraft as it travels faster than the speed of sound. The sonic boom transport vehicle stores excess energy for use during takeoff which can be vertically or from water depending on location.

Clarks then looked at another source of energy that could disentangle aviation from its dangerous relationship with fossil fuels: nuclear energy.

The Convair NB-36 in flight, with a B-50. Photo: USAF - U.S. Defenseimagery.mil photo no. DF-SC-83-09332 via wikipedia

Nov 1951 Air Trails magazine for joinging technical college.jpg
Advert from November 1951 AIR TRAILS magazine promoting the promise of nuclear power as an unlimited energy source for flight. Image from Secret U.S. Proposals of the Cold War: Radical Concepts in Factory Models and Engineering Drawings by Jim Keeshen

During the cold war both the USSR and the USA had an experimental nuclear aircraft program. While the risk was high, nuclear power promised an aircraft with theoretically unlimited range capable of constant flight.

Only two known nuclear aircraft that have been fully built and tested. The NB-36H was America's nuclear-powered aircraft. Refitted for this new propulsion system after it was damaged in a storm and deemed unfit for combat, the aircraft featured a direct phone line to the President of the United States that was to only be used in the event of an incident. The NB-36H completed 47 test flights between 1955 and 1957 over New Mexico and Texas. It was scrapped in 1958 when the Nuclear Aircraft Program was abandoned.

The Soviet Union's aircraft, the Tu-95L, was based on the Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the plane is still in operation today and Russia sometimes flies it in close proximity of the airspace of other European countries in order to affirm its military presence.

The nuclear variant of the TU-95 flew from 1961 to 1965.

Both the USA and the Soviet Union had ambitious plans for their second nuclear-powered aircraft but due to environmental concerns, political pressures, and rumors that the other side called off their research both projects were shelved.

While the risk of a nuclear accident is deemed too high in aviation, we have nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, submarines and 11% of all the world's electricity being based on nuclear power.

Tim Clark, Air Laissez-Faire, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

Tim Clark, Air Laissez-Faire, High-Speed Horizons, 2015. Photo by Juuke Schoorl

Designer applying the 500+ dry transfer window decals and nuclear logo decals to the Air Laissez-faire model aircraft

Clark proposes to update to our times a technology that looked promising at the height of the Cold War. And the ones willing to bankroll the experiment might not be countries but technology companies which are already at the forefront of some ambitious innovative projects (Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic for example.) Because these tech companies are increasingly under governmental scrutiny so that they don't get out of control, they might also take to the sky to further innovation free from the restriction of regulation, utilizing the energy source historically clouded by politics to sustain continuous flight and prove that anything is indeed possible through innovation. An inspiration for the idea is Blueseed. This "start-up community on a ship" proposes to gather hundreds of immigrant entrepreneurs on a floating startup city in international waters off the coast of San Francisco and have them live and work undisturbed by the burden of national boundaries and government regulations.

Clark's mini Silicon Valley on air is called Air Laissez-Faire. A nuclear power plant on board of this self-piloting aircraft would provide virtually limitless amounts of continuous propulsion, while a crew made of nuclear physicist, chemical engineer, radiation consultant, and other figures would ensure safety on board. The mega plane presents satellite and radar communication equipment for remote business meetings, all necessary business facilities as well as a landing space on its rear wings that allow small 'commuter aircrafts' to whisk entrepreneurs from and back to major business centers.

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Robots are transforming surgery. The Da Vinci Surgical System, for example, allows long and complicated procedures to be performed with super human precision and dexterity. All while decreasing patient trauma and providing a more comfortable experience for the surgeon.

Costing up to $2.000.000 however, a surgical robot represents large capital investments and only becomes cost effective after intensive use and thus fits into a more "market driven" concept of healthcare that indirectly contributes to the overall rising medical expenditures.

da_Vinci_action_024003 5x7_150dpi.jpg
A surgeon sitting in an ergonomic control console, a few meters removed from the operating table, uses specialized joysticks to control a variety of tiny surgical instruments attached to robotic arms

One of the corollaries of expensive professional healthcare is the rise of communities of uninsured Americans who share videos on Youtube to demonstrate how they performed medical hacks on themselves.

Henry Knoll, How to make your own dental fillings to performing minor amateur surgery, $5 DIY Cosmetic Dentistry, 2009

Designer Frank Kolkman, a new graduate of the Design Interactions course at the Royal College of Art in London, wondered if a compromise could be found. His OpenSurgery project investigates whether building DIY surgical robots, outside the scope of healthcare regulations, could provide an accessible alternative to the costly professional healthcare services worldwide.

There have been several attempts within the robotics community to come up with cheaper and more portable surgical robots. The RAVEN II Surgical robot, for example, was initially developed with funding from the US military to create a portable telesurgery device for battlefield operations. The machine is valued at $200.000 and all of the software used to control the RAVEN II has been made open source. However, The Raven doesn't have the (often costly) safety and quality control systems in place, required by regulation to allow it to be used on humans meaning that it might take a while before the RAVEN II will be fully embraced by regulatory and commercial worlds. In any case, most medical hacker communities would still be unable to afford its $200.000 price tag.

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

For the past five months, Kolkman has thus been trying to build a DIY surgical robot for around $5000, by using accessible prototyping techniques like laser cutting and 3d printing and by sourcing as many ready-made parts as he could find.

Designing a surgical robot that could perform laparoscopic surgery (a surgery so minimally invasive that it is also called keyhole surgery) presents a number of challenges. The designer found an answer to each of them:

- the many laporoscopic tools that the robot would have to handle can be ordered directly from their Chinese manufacturers using Alibaba.
- these tools are usually sterilized in an autoclave, a machine that uses high pressure and hot steam that is not very likely to be accessible to many people. The bulky machine could be replaced by a domestic oven (for stainless steel instruments) or a microwave (for plastic parts.)
- Kolkman also replaced the trocar, a medical device that functions as a portal for the subsequent placement of other instruments, with a design that uses 3d printed parts controlled by DC servo motors that rotate around a central pivotal point.

Opensurgery_Domestic sterilization.jpg
Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery (domestic sterilization), 2015

The electronics to control the robots were copied from designs used in 3d printer communities, while the software was build with Processing.

The main challenge the designer encountered however was intellectual property. In a bid to make the project open source, Kolkman tried to develop his own mechanisms. Unfortunately, it appeared that most of the fundamental concepts that allow robotic surgery have already been patented. Fortunately, he also found out that as long as you make parts protected by intellectual property in private and for non commercial purposes they are theoretically exempted from patent infringement.

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

After five months of iteration, the robot does move. The designer concludes:

And based on my experiences the concept of a DIY surgical robot is surprisingly plausible. If you would be able to build a community of makers who bring the same amount of attention and dedication to building surgical tools as they do to designing 3d printers and cnc machines these days, I believe accessible DIY surgery equipment would be within reach.

And of course you still need a trained surgeon to operate the machine.

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Frank Kolkman, OpenSurgery, 2015

Wealth Beyond Big Brother (payment device)

Austin Houldsworth's PhD research at the Royal College of Art in London focuses on the development of a new design method called Counterfictional Design which embeds alternative socially dependent technologies into social science fiction novels. The 'technology', Austin is interested to explore in this context is Money.

Money, he says, 'is inherently conservative.' As currency expert Bernard Lietaer points out in his 2001 book The Future of Money, money functions through belief. You believe that everyone else believes that the money is valuable. What we are talking about here is belief about a belief. This collective belief contributes to economic stability, but it also fosters scepticism towards alternative monetary ideas. In his paper on the stone money of Yap (the inhabitants of this small island in Micronesia used huge stone wheels as a medium of exchange and as a store of wealth.) Milton Friedman suggests: 'Our own money, the money we have grown up with, the system under which it is controlled, these appear 'real' and 'rational' to us. The money of other countries often seen to us like paper or worthless metal.'

Rai, stone money indicating great wealth in Yap. Image

According to Houldsworth, the conservative nature of money explains why most market driven payments devices are focused on increasing efficiency of the current monetary system, rather than designing alternatives. His counterfictional design method acts thus as a tool to help shift the cultural design constraints surrounding money and imagine alternative systems, which would otherwise be impossible to envision.

Over a year ago, the designer illustrated the counterficitional design method with Walden Note money which explored the way money might function within a behaviorist society.

His latest project, Wealth Beyond Big Brother looks at what happens to trans-border exchanges when they take place inside highly unregulated states. The literary context this time is Orwell's book 1984. But instead of looking at the paternalistic control of Big Brother, the scenario takes place in the disputed territories that lie between the super states of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia.

George Orwell, 1984 book cover of a Turkish edition

1984 fictitious world map (the disputed territories are coloured in pale yellow), via wikipedia

In practice no on power ever controls the whole of the disputed area. Portions of it are constantly changing hands, and it is the chance of seizing this or that fragment by sudden stroke of treachery that dictates the endless changes of alignment.
George Orwell, 1984

Because each new invasion of these areas brings a new ruler, no trusted financial institution ever has the chance to establish itself. People living within these areas have thus developed a completely decentralised payment system which serves as both personal protection and a medium of exchange.

How the payments work (and i'm going to mostly copy/paste below a text that Austin sent me when i asked him for more details about the project):

All of the disputed territories contain valuable minerals, and some of them yield important vegetable products such as rubber.
George Orwell, 1984

Through continual war and invasion, the disputed territory regions have been depleted of most natural resources. Scarcity of even semi precious metals like copper has led to a high demand for such materials. Therefore, gold, silver and copper act as a standard 'store of value' and 'medium of exchange.'

Wealth Beyond Big Brother (transaction)

People living within the disputed territories mostly trade with people they know and therefore these small groups operate through a type of gift economy. However, when a resource is needed from another area, trade with strangers is inevitable. Historically these trades have often ended in blood shed. Given the impossibility of establishing a state-controlled culture of trans-border commerce, the factions have decided to take matter into their own hand and cast their currency into the form of bullets, creating a payment system which acts as security and therefore helps contextualize the meaning of value. Both sides are forced to be civil to one another, with the potential for loss of life or livelihood playing a key role in maintaining harmony between people who have little reason to trust each other.

Individuals craft their own payment devices from reappropiated weapons left behind during the ongoing conflicts between the super states. As most of the components of these weapons were made under the guidance of big brother Ministry of Plenty, the gun parts are made from very cheap plastics, electroplated to look like gunmetal. They have little metal content and are in fact worthless compared with the small metal bullets used as a medium of exchange. The payment device has a groove cut out of the revolver section, without the need for the buyer to remove it from the breach.

Wealth Beyond Big Brother (payment device)

Wealth Beyond Big Brother (payment device)

During transactions, the buyer holds the device towards the seller, with all the bullets required during the transaction, loaded into the breach. When the buyer and seller have agreed on the price of the item being traded, the buyer takes the required amount of gold, silver or copper bullets from the guns breach and hands the unfired bullets to the seller in exchange for the goods.

Very rarely is the payment device used as a weapon. But occasionally transactions have been known to turn hostile and pressing the release catch to fire the gun becomes necessary. The bullets themselves have an electronic ignition, and are activated when the electrical contacts from the bolt touch the contacts at the back of the bullet.

I did have one last question for Austin:
Today's life constantly and worryingly echoes 1984 so I was also wondering about what we, ordinary citizens, could take from your project?

That institutional control isn't always a bad thing. And a completely decentralised payment system can also produce nightmarish scenarios.

In light of the banking sector scandals. Decentralised systems like Bitcoin suddenly appear rather alluring. Yet financial institutions, I believe, can both represent individual interests and collective interests for the benefit of society. A financial institution like a bank or building society can set precedents on idealised behaviour both for the institution and individuals within a given context. Money by itself, doesn't often offer any ideological framework.

Therefore, perhaps remembering both nightmare visions within 'Nighteen Eighty Four,' the extreme control of 'big brother' and the dog eat dog environment of the 'disputed territories'.

Previously: Walden Note money - How would money function within a behaviorist society?

Liam Young collecting radioactive tailings material from the world's Largest Rare Earth minerals refinery in Mongolia. Film Still © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

Last year, the Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic design studio that explores peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness, travelled to Asia to follow the path of the symbol of globalization: the massive container ship. The group came back with amazing stories, images, videos and with a set of radioactive Ming vases made from the toxic waste of our electronic gadgets.

Along their journey, Unknown Fields investigated Rare earth element, a set of seventeen chemical elements which are all metals that are often found together in geologic deposits. What makes REE important to our times is that they are used for computer memory, rechargeable batteries, night-vision goggles, precision-guided weapons, phones, energy-efficient lighting, solar panels, and many other electronics and green technologies.

China is the number one consumer of rare earths, they use it mainly in the manufacture of electronics products for domestic use as well as export. Since the 1990s, China is also one of the world's main producer of rare earths. A large proportion of the country's rare earth production is located in the west of Inner Mongolia where the Bayan Obo Mining District oversees the largest deposits of rare earth metals yet found.

Aerial view of Bayan Obo, on June 30, 2006. Image Earth Observatory

A toxic lake of mine and refinery tailings stretches for over 6km from Baogang Iron and Steel Corporation

The highly restricted Bayan Obo Rare Earth mine © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

The giant industrial complex is one of the most polluted regions on the planet. It processes 100 thousand tons of rare earth concentrate per year using the sulphuric acid-roasting method and for every ton of rare earth concentrate produced 10,000 cubic metres of waste gas, 75 cubic metres of acid-washing waste water, and one ton of radioactive residues are generated.

The amount of toxic clay produced in the manufacture of a single smart phone is moulded into a Ming vase form. Film Still © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

The vases are made from the exact amount of toxic waste produced in the manufacture of a smartphone, a laptop and an electric car battery cell. Film Still © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

To accompany the film that documents their adventures, Unknown Fields Division crafted a set of three ceramic Ming vases, using mud extracted from one of Bayan Obo's gigantic radioactive tailing ponds. The toxic sludge, which contains acids, heavy metals, carcinogens and radioactive material, was transported it to London where it was tested for radioactivity. After that, the mud was given to sculptor Kevin Callaghan who turned it into elegant vases which silhouette evokes the Ming dynasty porcelain Tongping Vases. Once a family global superpower, the Ming dynasty presided over an international network of connections, trade and diplomacy that stretched across Asia to Africa, the Middle East and Europe, built on the trade of commodities such as imperial porcelain.

Each object is made from the amount of toxic waste created in the production of three items of technology - a smartphone, a featherweight laptop and the cell of a smart car battery. Besides, the vases are sized in relation to the amount of waste created in the production of each item.

The three Rare Earthernware vases embody the contemporary global supply network but also the long-lasting impact that our thirst for technological goods has on the environment. They will soon be shown at the What is Luxury exhibition in London:

These three vessels are artifacts of a contemporary global supply network that weaves matter and displaces earth across the planet. They are presented as objects of desire, but their elevated radiation levels and toxicity make them objects we would not want to possess and in this case the museum vitrine serves to protect us from the exhibit on display rather than the other way round. They are the undesirable consequences of our material desires.

Rare Earthenware, video by Toby Smith

A worker steams cyrstals from a precipitator in a stage 1 rare earth refinery. The cyrstals contain an elevated concentration of rare earth oxides. © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

A rare-earth refinery with centrifuges concentrates Rare Earth ore into industrial application before it is force dried into powder form. 76% of the world's rare-earth magnets are produced in China. © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

Radiation scientists test the toxic clay collected from the tailings lake and find it to be 3 times background radiation. Film Still © Toby Smith/Unknown Fields

Rare Earthenware is a work by Kate Davies and Liam Young of The Unknown Fields Division in partnership with the Architectural Association. Photography by Toby Smith. Ceramics by Kevin Callaghan and the London Sculpture workshop.

Rare Earthernware will premiere this April 22nd at the Victoria and Albert Museum as part of the What is Luxury exhibition. The show will be open until the 27th of September 2015.

The 3D Additivist Manifesto

A few days ago, i was at Parsons Paris for reFrag: glitch, a series of workshops, talks and performances that address the multifold ways in which glitches manifest and/or are mobilized artistically in our lives. Participants talked about flash crashes in the financial market (more about that one soon), wacky operating system from the early nineties, Spinoza glitches, archaeology of bugs, etc. It was good, brain-stimulating and intense. We even watched the documentary of a fist fucking performance. Here's the project page if you're into that kind of entertainment.

Rourke presenting at reFrag: glitch.Photo by Benjamin Gaulon

Audience at reFrag: glitch.Photo by Benjamin Gaulon

I'll probably write an incomplete but enthusiastic post about the event in the coming days but for now, i'm going to kick out the reports with Morehshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke's presentation of the 3D Additivist Manifesto + Cookbook. Rourke was in Paris. Allahyari spoke to us via skype.


Morehshin Allahyari, Dark Matter

Allahyari and Rourke's 3D Additivist Manifesto is an invitation to artists, researchers, activists and critical engineers to submit ideas, thoughts, and designs for the future of 3D printing. The submissions should reflect on the current state of additive manufacturing, identify the potential encoded into the most challenging 3D printed objects and push the technology to its most speculative, revolutionary and radical limits. Once collected, these submissions will form The 3D Additivist Cokbook.

Morehshin Allahyari, Daniel Rourke, The 3D Additivist Manifesto. Sound design by Andrea Young

The project started germinating in the artists' minds when Rourke interviewed Allahyari for her project Dark Matter, a series of 3D printed sculptures that combined objects, beings and concepts forbidden by the Iranian government. Most of these objects look pretty harmless to us. However, in her native country, a dildo, a dog, a satellite dish, a Barbie, or a neck tie (??) are frown-upon and in some case strictly forbidden. The work is both an archive of vetoed objects and an encouragement to those who live under oppressions and dictatorship to use the printer as a tool for resistance.

Allahyari and Rourke have recently teamed up for the 3D Additivist Manifesto + Cookbook, a works that brings together art, engineering, scifi and digital aesthetics under a mind-blowing and slightly weird umbrella.

Photo: Adrian Gaut for Wired

Julien Maire, Man at Work, 2014

The cookbook is inspired by William Powell's Anarchist Cookbook. Written in 1971, the manual brought together various readily available sources of knowledge and offered instructions on how to build bombs, make drugs, hack arcade machines, etc.

Other sources of inspiration for the 3D Additivist Manifesto include recent 3D printing projects such as the 3D printed gun, Julien Maire's (amazing) 3D animation that uses 3D printed objects instead of film and F.A.T.'s Free Universal Construction Kit.

One last major source of inspiration is Donna Haraway. Because the scholar is the author of the Cyborg Manifesto of course. But also because she believes that the Anthropocene is not a radical enough way to describe our era. Human beings are putting themselves in a situation similar to the one that the cyanobacteria experienced at the beginning the Earth history. They made life breathable for other other organisms by converting CO2 into oxygen, and they almost killed themselves in the process. Haraway suggests that we call our era the Cthulhucene.

reFrag:glitch, a collaboration between Parsons Paris and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Film, Video, New Media & Animation Department, is an international Glitch Art event that ran from the 19th to the 23rd of March 2015.

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