Unpleasant Design by Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic. Publisher: G.L.O.R.I.A (Belgrade.)

Available on Amazon USA. Sorry, I couldn't find it on amazon UK.

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Book Description: The "Unpleasant Design" book is a collection of different research approaches to a phenomenon experienced by all of us. Unpleasant design is a global fashion with many examples to be found across cities worldwide, manifested in the form of "silent agents" that take care of behaviour in public space, without the explicit presence of authorities. Photographs, essays and case studies of unpleasant urban spaces, urban furniture and communication strategies reveal this pervasive phenomenon. With contributions by Adam Rothstein, Francesco Morace and Heather Stewart Feldman, Vladan Jeremic, Dan Lockton, Yasmine Abbas, Gilles Paté, Adam Harvey and many others, the book is in an attempt to recognise this nascent discipline within contemporary design taxonomies.

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Re-enactment of Fakir's Rest in Rotterdam on a so-called Leaning Bench, Rotterdam 2011

Unpleasant Design landed on my doorsteps a few days ago. I opened the envelope, grabbed the book and uttered a loud "Who's the idiot who designed this?!?" because the sleeve around the cover was made of sandpaper. Sandpaper!

I then read the title of the book and had to admit that it was a very clever idea.

Each of us has met examples of unpleasant design as we go through the city. The bench that is uncomfortable to sit on for more than 10 minutes, the trash can specially designed so that you can't sit on it nor stuff big bag of garbage inside, the anti-sticker coating on lamp posts, etc. I guess most of us don't really pay attention but they do coerce us to use the city in a prescribed, restricted way. And then there's unpleasant design for the unhappy few: benches with armrests in the middle so that the homeless can't lay down and sleep on it, blue lights in bathrooms and tunnels preventing drug users to spot their veins, an aluminium bar with spikes on it found in corners of buildings and alleys that is angled so that pee would end on your feet (a popular design in The Netherlands apparently), structures to remind pigeons that they are not welcome in town, or CCTV cameras that target specific race and age groups. And of course, there's that notorious mosquito device.

Unpleasant Design dresses the portraits of bullying urban furniture, looks at the specific strategies behind its design, comments on the use and control of public and semi-public spaces. After having had the book in your sandpapered hands, you won't look at your city with the same eyes, i'm sure.

The book documents and casts a critical eye on design motivated by policies of exclusion but, and that's what makes the book such an inspiring lecture, it also looks at how individuals, artists, activists are responding to urban unpleasantness.

Authors Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic have spent over a year researching forms of social unpleasantness, taking photos wherever they went, writing down ideas and talking with people who are also denouncing and resisting unpleasant design. The resulting essays and interviews are enclosed in the book. Among my favourite are: Survival Group's photos and comments about Anti-Sites (the spaces designed to prevent homeless people or simply weary passersby to sit down and have a rest), Vladan Jeremic's look at the hidden politics of garbage removal in Belgrade, an interview with the insightful and witty urban hacktivist Florian Rivière, a discussion with 'neo-nomad' Yasmine Abbas, another one with Dan Lockton of Design with Intent, the interview with Gilles Paté, the 'fakir' of urban spaces, etc. Add to that, plenty of case studies, examples of artistic devices and ideas that create and fight unpleasant design but also the outcome of a competition about unpleasant design.

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Blue lights in a public toilet at Bonn central station. Photo: Jurjen van Enter

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Florian Rivière, Don't pay, play!, 2011

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Florian Rivière, Juicer, 2012

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Sarah Ross, Archisuits, 2008

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Sarah Ross, Archisuits, 2008

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Fabian Brunsing, Pay & Sit - the Private Bench, 2008

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Survival Group, Anti-Sites, a collection of anti-homeless urban designs

Two of the winning projects of the Unpleasant Design competition:

A maze lock for public toilets, bars and restaurants to avoid drunkards entering the toilet and passing out or damaging the property.

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Ankita Thaker, Maze door lock

SI8DO is a social-integration urban furniture designed to improve the working conditions of immigrants who work at the traffic lights selling tissues.

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(bau)m_arquitectura, SI 8 DO - Social integration furniture Sevilla

Sponsored by:





The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired tonight.

My guest at Resonance today is Austin Houldsworth, a young designer with whom we are going to discuss money, its physical disappearance and the financial crimes that could be committed within a completely electronic marketplace.

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Austin Houldsworth, Crime Pays

As you might remember from a post i wrote a couple of weeks ago about his project Crime Pays, Austin's research explores the near future possibility of living in an entirely cashless society. Today, card transactions are on the rise and it is also forecast that at some point over the next few years, mobiles will have overtaken cards to pay for goods and services. But it's not just banks who want you to go cashless, governments also want to see the end of coins and bills because a cashless society is easier to trace and control and they see cash as the currency of the black economy. Now the value of the black economy varies from country to country. In Italy, for example, the black economy is thought to be 27pc of GDP and to fight its expansion, the previous government has decided that any transaction of over 1000 euros has to be handled by card exclusively. Similarly, Spain has recently banned the use of cash in transactions of 2,500 euros or more. And the movement is spreading... Although the black market might be less widespread in the UK, the government is still spending 20 to 40 billion per year combating organised crime.

So we're going to talk more in depth about Crime Pays but also spend some time on a competition Austin is curating at the moment. The Future of Money Design Award has a pretty appetizing theme this year: artists and designers were invited to design a crime for the age of electronic transactions.

The show will be aired today Thursday 14st March at 17:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM is aired tonight.

My guest is Lisa Ma, a speculative designer who explores the fringes of society. These fringe groups --which are otherwise ignored by the broad public-- range from the ladies who are mad about cats to conspirationists or to communities campaigning to stop the extension of Heathrow Airport. Lisa discusses with these people at length and then attempts create what she calls 'platforms of unusual engagement' with them.

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One of her latest projects drove her to a joystick factory in a suburb of Shenzhen. She spent several weeks with the factory workers, sleeping in dorms, sharing their meals in the canteen, watching tv with them, making friends. Because most of these young factory workers come from a farming background and because videogame controllers might become obsolete soon, she proposed to the factory owners that they'd allow the joystick makers to work part-time in a nearby farm growing strawberries. She called the experiment Farmification - using farming to keep the factory community together when work dwindles.

I've interviewed Lisa about this project for the blog last year but this time, we'll be hearing about the fate of the factory workers one year on (clue: it doesn't involve many joysticks), obsolete technologies and eating pigeons as a contraceptive measure.

The show will be aired today Thursday 24th December at 19:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at the scandalous 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

Bonus! Lisa and her banana nails talking about Farmification at DLD Women.

If i were a man i'd want to be either Idris Elba or Garnet Hertz. You know Elba, he was gangster Stringer Bell in The Wire and a detective in Luther. Now Garnet Hertz is neither of that (to my knowledge) but he's the guy everybody wants to talk to at media art, tech or design conferences because his works play with several levels of engagement: from instant entertainment to deep reflection on DIY culture, design processes and technological progress. Hertz makes robots controlled by cockroaches, video game systems that you can literally drive around, he gives talks about Zombie Media and has just crafted a magazine about critical technical practice and critically-engaged maker culture that puts us all (us being media people) to shame.

And now for a more rigorous bio of the artist:

Doctor Garnet Hertz is a Fulbright Scholar and contemporary artist whose work explores themes of technological progress, innovation, do-it-yourself culture and interdisciplinarity. His work often involves building real-world technologies that are designed to take his audience into a speculative future gone humorously astray. In the process, Hertz's work inverts the idea that technology needs to be faster, more efficient or higher resolution: innovation is born out of human emotion, historical tradition, and creative obsession.

Hertz is Co-Director of the Values in Design Lab at UC Irvine, is Artist in Residence / Research Scientist in Informatics at UC Irvine and is Faculty in the Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design.

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Garnet Hertz, Outrun, Denmark, 2011

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Garnet Hertz, Cockroach-controlled mobile robot. Photo by Sharmanka

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Garnet Hertz, Videodome

Hi Garnet! I'm very intrigued by Videodome. Can you explain us what the experience of using it will be like? Can the person whose head is inside the big helmet move around? What will he or she perceive and how? And is what they see broadcast in any way to a broader audience?

Videodome is a project that I'm developing that explores different types of virtual reality without the use of a computer. Instead of a computer, I'm using a large number of miniature "spy" videocameras connected to many televisions. At this point, the project has two main physical structures: a helmet-like globe containing the cameras and a two meter diameter geodesic dome covered in televisions. These two components will be configured in different ways -with inner-and-outer facing cameras and screens, for example- to creatively explore the process of mediated sensation, perception and reality.

The initial configuration simulates being inside of someone else's head. To do this, I've constructed a wearable panopticon-style helmet - a clear plastic globe with a diameter of 45cm that has 48 cameras that face inward toward the person's head. Each camera is connected with cables to a flat panel television, and the group of televisions are arranged in a dome with screens facing inward. The screens form a low-tech VR-style cave that show the person's face turned inside-out.

At this point, this project is local and live with no transmission or recording - it's goal is to be analog. If I was going to do recordings of the camera array, it might be fun to try to do it with a mountain of VHS VCRs.

A major theme in my work is the exploration of inefficiencies and intentionally doing things the wrong way, and I have a recurring interest in poking fun at virtual reality. I love graceful kludges, rural folk machinery, and chindogu, and building Videodome is like trying to build a realtime immersive imaging system with parts that don't cost more than $10.

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Project Sketch for Videodome

From a technical perspective, the project is a RAID - a redundant array of inexpensive devices - and is easy to reconfigure. It's just a $10 camera, a cable, and an old television multiplied many times. The cameras can be positioned to face outward on the helmet, or the camera cluster can be put on a dog or a tree - or the televisions can be arranged on a floor, in different shapes or on the side of a building. For me, it's a return to the spirit of video installation artists like Dan Graham or Nam June Paik when the format of video still had a sense of technological magic.

When my sons (aged 7 and 9) first played with a typewriter, their perception of it is that it was a very fast computer that instantly printed letters as fast as you typed them. And - if you think about it from the perspective of the time it takes between hitting a keystroke and when the letter is rendered on paper - the typewriter beats a supercomputer every time. In a similar way, an analog video camera is like a streaming video server with zero lag - typewriters, analog video cameras and other devices from media history are still very high performance and interactive devices in their own limited ways. The project is aimed at exploiting the high performance component of an old technology - it's a bit of a novelty at a time where digital cameras are thickly layered in technical infrastructure. You just plug an analog camera and it's instantly streaming video, although your network is only as long as your video cable.

The project is influenced by a few projects, especially Michael Maranda's Sphereorama (1991), Kenji Kawakami's 360' Panorama Camera (1995), and Hyungkoo Lee's Objectuals (2002) - and the idea to use a mountain of cheap cameras initially came from my friend Jason Torchinsky. It's scheduled to premiere in San Jose at an exhibition that Madeline Schwartzman is curating related to her book "See Yourself Sensing". The piece is not in the book, but I'm very happy the project is included in the show - in my opinion her book is the most brilliant contemporary art books I've seen in a long time.


Garnet Hertz, OutRun

Judging by the reaction the project OutRun received in gaming, gadget, vehicle blogs and magazines, have you ever thought of modifying the work and giving it a commercial existence, making it something that rich kids could buy?

The original car is actually for sale, but it's priced at $100,000 - so it would take a very rich kid to purchase it. I've floated the idea of purchasing the original car to a few obscenely rich people like Jay Leno but as of right now it's still for sale. There was a glimmer of hope when the billionaire owner of Lego, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, drove the original project in Denmark. He clearly had a lot of fun driving the project - and he had the money to pay to replace anything he crashed into - but I don't think he thought I was serious when I proposed to trade him for one of his Ferraris.

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Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen driving OutRun in Billund, Denmark

I generally don't pursue the monetization or commercialization of my projects - I tend to enjoy focusing on research and the exploratory prototyping phases of technological development. At this point I'm comfortably paid to do my artwork, so I'd rather spend my time focusing on building new projects.

That said, if anybody is interested in the original vehicle or working on porting the concept into a more commercially viable platform, I'm open to ideas.

And more generally, have you ever been tempted to work more closely with the gaming industry or any other industry? Surely they'd welcome creative people like you?

I used to work in the design industry through advertising agencies, film production houses, and by doing product prototyping, and at that time my slogan for much that work was "Making Your Shitty Idea a Reality". There were a few exceptions of situations where you have a blank slate and a blank check that I found enjoyable, but for the most part I've found it uninspiring.

There are significant exceptions to this - I think of Julian Bleecker at Nokia for example - I think there's a lot of room in research positions that might be rewarding. It also may be that most of my experience in industry was in the 1990s when I had a thinner portfolio and CV; maybe there are a lot of places that would be a good fit.

I generally like the quirks of the art world and academia; I usually find my colleagues in these environments to be interesting, intelligent and strange in a fun way. Both of my current appointments - full time at UC Irvine in Informatics and part time at Art Center in Media Design - are great because of the people and the projects they're working on. Paul Dourish, Gillian Hayes, Don Patterson, Geof Bowker, Anne Burdick, Tim Durfee, Ben Hooker, Chris Csikszentmihalyi and everybody else I work with - they're all brilliant and fun to be around. And for now I generally get to do whatever I want, so I can't complain.

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Pixel VGA (Version 1, Banff Floor Cluster)

You wrote in your statement page: "I believe that industry and academia often draw false distinctions between experts and amateurs, hardware and software, mind and body, and science and creativity, and my goal is to meld these polarities in the projects I develop. Many of our greatest social challenges and technological opportunities now lie in these connection points." How can experts / amateurs connection lead to technological opportunities? Also what can experts learn from amateurs?

I'm interested in leveraging DIY, hackerspace and amateur cultures for a number of reasons. I believe that innovation and breakthroughs happen when individuals go beyond their standard frames of reference and discipline to learn new skills on their own: breakthroughs often require us to become amateurs in a new field, in other words. During the process of learning new things, we often cobble together materials, figure things out informally, and explore things on our own. For this reason, DIY culture and doing things in nonstandard or non-expert ways are useful models for how innovation is done.

I've also seen a significant cultural surge toward DIY electronics, physical computing, and hands-on "making" over the last decade. The turn toward physical making is partly due to people being tired of mass produced consumer Walmart culture - they're tired of having disposable, spiritless and generic junk. DIY electronics is also partially in response against the trend of conceiving information and knowledge as virtual things. Platforms like the Arduino - which started out filling a niche within the physical computing community - has grown to be quite widely implemented in multiple fields of design.

I also think that higher education has become increasingly detached from physical objects. I think that this is a mistake: I believe that innovation and education needs to be engaged with the real world, get dirt under its fingernails, and learn the skill of working hard at problems that are often ambiguous. Universities needs to combine hands-on construction and skill with advanced knowledge and concepts in order to effectively innovate in research - and for workforce development.

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Critical Making

If i understood correctly, the hand-made zine on critically-engaged making were printed in only 300 copies and given out for free. i do suspect that far more than 300 people would love to get their hands on it. Most would even be happy to pay for it. The content is brilliant, so is the format. Are you planning to change the distribution model?

Yes - the project is called Critical Making and I the documentation for the project is at http://conceptlab.com/criticalmaking/. There's been an outpouring of interest in expanding this project and there are clearly a lot of people involved in DIY or maker communities that don't fit into the "family-friendly kit-based weekend-project" focus of Make Magazine. The initial idea was to do an actual photocopied zine with a bunch of people I admire and to give it away for free - although this has become a much bigger project with almost 350 pages of content from about 60 contributors. It's nicely grown into a pack of zines, a little like Ginko Press's "McLuhan Unbound" project.

I'm still going to give the 300 copies away for free - and I'm making a special edition for the contributors - but I haven't yet determined what to do after my initial run. I'm currently talking to some different people and presses, and I'm open to ideas.

At this point, I'm not inclined to just slap an open source license on the content and put a PDF of it online. I'd ideally like the project as only available as a photocopied object that somebody hand produced - but I realize that this may not be practical. I'd consider an academic or art press, distributing it through the contributors, or returning to a zine model of people sending cash in an envelope to an address.

There's an interesting push against electronic books happening - instead of the format of physical books dying, there's a fresh crop of bookmaking work that fetishizes the physical page. I wouldn't term it as a "zombification" of books, but a useful opportunity to rethink what physical components of a book are valuable.

For my Critical Making project, if people want copies or are interested in this as a publishing/distribution project, let me know. I'll send you a copy too, Régine - but the contents of this collection of zines is a whole other conversation... we should talk about it after I've shipped them off.

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Circuit Bending Workshop, 24 Jan 2010, Art Center

One of my favourite projects on your homepage must be the customized taco (food) truck that would go around communities and give D.I.Y. laboratory for circuit bending. Is it going to happen soon?

This project, with an official title of Repurposing Obsolescence: Teaching DIY Science, Technology and Engineering Practices to Adolescents in Underserved Communities, will design, develop and test Do-It-Yourself (DIY) hands-on workshops to introduce and teach middle school kids in underserved communities technology and design by customizing and repurposing e-waste technology, like old electronic toys. Right now the major outcome of the project will be the creation of a workshop kit that covers the processes of learning DIY electronics for distribution to after school programs and other informal educational venues.

My team has implemented a number of pilot projects over the last three years that demonstrate the ability of hands-on DIY electronics curricula to motivate and encourage students and to enable them to acquire a deeper understanding of core engineering, mathematics and science concepts by introducing creative and artistic use of circuit bending,ì the creative short circuiting of electronic devices that make sound.

I'm interested in extending maker culture into different environments, and I think the approach is useful in getting kids interested in learning about how things work. In this project, I'm particularly interested in reaching out to communities that normally wouldn't have the resources in their schools to explore art or electronics. Sadly, California has a growing list of schools that have slashed art or any items that aren't part of the standardized test structure. Hands-on education - with shop, woodworking and art classes - have been removed from most schools. This is doing an incredible disservice to kids, and it's especially bad in communities that don't have a lot of resources. It's not teaching people how to think, be creative or holistic problem solving - it's teaching people how to memorize things to get a high score on a test.

I think circuit bending is a great antithesis to a standardized test. It doesn't have one right answer. It uses your hands. It makes noise and can be dangerous. It can be very simple or incredibly complicated. It involves genuine exploration and discovery. In a nutshell, I think it's a better model for how life works than a test on paper, and I think the United States would be a better place and have a more skilled and creative workforce (and more interesting artwork) if more kids were taught things like circuit bending at an early age. The scientific hypothesis of the project is that this approach will lower barriers to experimenting with custom-built electronic instruments and lead to greater participation and success of people pursuing secondary education.

So, my challenge in this project is to develop hands-on workshops, kits and curriculum that work within the educational system of the United States, or at least Southern California. I also want it to work for people with English as a second language, and as a result have translated prototypes of the curriculum into Spanish, Chinese, Korean and French - but within Southern California, Spanish is my main focus.

My vision is to extend this work through the development of a mobile D.I.Y. laboratory to more easily bring our specialized infrastructure to underserved communities. In other words, have a vehicle that acts as a "bookmobile" to bring specialized resources to groups and communities that lack educational infrastructure. The initial idea for this "makermobile" would be to have it in the form of a customized taco (food) truck, a common component of Los Angeles and Orange County culture. This vehicle would transport workshop mentors and specialized tools and would serve as a public platform to disseminate the workshop materials. I've envisioned that the vehicle would need to be really cool - with lowrider hydraulic suspension, nice rims, and a cool paint job - as a form of propaganda to get kids excited.

I've recently got funding to develop the curriculum and hardware component of this project, but I don't yet have funding to buy a vehicle. As it turns out, purchasing a vehicle through a university or research funds is usually problematic - it doesn't fit into the standard categories of research equipment, especially a pimped out lowrider taco truck.

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Garnet Hertz, Experiments in Galvanism, 2003. Photo by Bill Eakin, as installed in Ace Art Inc, Winnipeg, Canada

Do you think schools, and education in general, isn't doing enough to make young people 'techno-literate'?

I think kids generally get quite a bit of informal education around technology using computers, mobile phones or iPads at home. What they're missing is the opportunities to open up and learn about the mechanics of what's inside of the black boxes of technology, to go beyond a consumer of the technology. I want kids to move beyond downloading a game off of the Apple App Store - that's not technical literacy, it's just another format of consumption.

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Toy Hacking: Verano After School Program, March 2011. Photo by Silvia Lindtner

You are Co-Director of the Values in Design Lab at UC Irvine with Geof Bowker, Cory Knobel and Judith Gregory. The objective of the lab is to blend "rich social theory with design practice in order to produce information systems and technology imbued with strong social and ethical values." Which kind of works are you developing in the Lab? Do you have some examples of projects that represent particularly well what the students are working on there?

Actually, within the last couple weeks this lab name has changed to "EVOKE" - Emerging Values, Ontologies, and Knowledge Expression - we're working on a number of different things, including a Values in Design workshop for doctoral students.

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At this point we're still getting the lab set up, but we're interested in infrastructure, ontologies, values, big data, making, and how knowledge is formed and communicated. It's an intentionally big mix of topics that doesn't neatly fit into the format of something like a TED talk. I see the lab like a research group or design initiative, perhaps like a smaller version of the MIT Media Lab, that work on investigating complex issues, building prototypes and solving problems built on a foundation of serious social theory.

We have a lot of projects going on, including researching new forms of scholarship that move beyond linear texts, design by youth, and work that encompasses biomedical informatics. The first project that we completed at UC Irvine during summer 2012 was a design workshop for doctoral students, titled "Values in Design". Our mission in this project was to train researchers in a broad range of disciplines - including Informatics, Computer Science, Design and Science and Technology Studies - to produce new forms of information systems and technologies which express strong social and ethical values. It ran over the course of a week, and the format was a little bit like Project Runway - with teams designing technology prototypes - and an academic conference with guest speakers lecturing on design-oriented topics. It was a lot of fun.

Within the different projects through EVOKE, I'm primarily interested in making physical prototypes of complex concepts: I'm focused on what art can do to actually extend and add to research and science.

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Garnet Hertz, Doom at Catalyst Arts (Belfast, UK), 2012

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Garnet Hertz, Doom at Catalyst Arts (Belfast, UK), 2012

I hope you won't mind if i say this but you're an established artist. You're also teaching and holding academic positions. Could you point us to young, emerging artists whose work we should be paying more attention to? Either students or yours or just people whose work you stumbled upon online or at a Dorkbot meeting?

I have some student work that I'm very proud of, especially my graduate students coming out of Media Design Practices at Art Center. My favorite projects over the last little while are:

- Chiao Wei Ho, Slow Letter (2012). "The design of Slow Letter is based on the concept of Process-based Interaction which focuses on the process instead of the task itself. It is my challenge to the instantaneous interaction of user-centered design. It questions the essentiality of instantaneity and convenience in current digital service. What would the interaction be like when time and space are being elongated? We all have experienced the satisfaction of these digital devices around us, it can take us from point A to point B within no time. However, Slow Letter tends to discover alternative values outside of task-orientated interactions. The project reevaluates the weight of our words in the digital communication by elongates the process between point A to point B. It transforms instantaneity into emotional values and inject unconventional perspectives into the numbed daily routine."


Chiao Wei Ho, Slow Letter

- Alex Braidwood: Noisolation Headphones (2011). You've written about these at http://we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2011/10/the-noisolation-headphones.php - since you wrote that article an updated video of the project is here:


Noisolation Headphones. Video by Mae Ryan

- Hyun Ju Yang: Measurement of Existence (2010). "This hypothetical device informs your quantum state within innumerable versions of our universe in the quantum state of the universe. The main idea is inspired by an equation, the measurement of existence from the relative quantum mechanics created by physicist, Everett who invented Many-World theory."

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Hyun Ju Yang, Measurement of Existence

Thanks Garnet!

Material Matters: New Materials in Design, by material scientist Philip Howes and Zoe Laughlin, the co-founder/director of the Institute of Making and the Materials Library project.

Available on Amazon UK and USA.

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Black Dog Publishing writes: Material Matters: New Materials in Design discusses the vast range of materials that are available to us today, and highlights the advances predicted to prove seminal in the future. The six chapters are divided by chemical composition--Metals, Glasses, Ceramics, Polymers, Composites and material Futures--and with every material featured, the book stresses the relevance of physical material properties.

Each material featured is presented with relevant manufacturer information, material properties and current and potential applications and includes the websites of manufacturers and research institutes, making this a handy reference book for the designer. Material examples include the newly developed metallic 'microlattice', now the lightest solid known on earth; Dow Corning's 'Deflexion', a fabric capable of instantly hardening and Graphene, a material which, at 200 times the strength of structural steel despite being only one atom thick, has the potential to revolutionise the field of electronics.

Philip Howes, Materials Scientist and Zoe Laughlin, Creative Director of The Institute of Making, provide explanations of the basic chemical structure of materials--what makes a glass a glass and why not all polymers are plastics. Their discussion of the potentialities of new materials embraces disciplines as disparate as aerospace engineering and medical research, in addition to offering explanations to everyday material conundrums.

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Markus Kayser, The Solar Sinter, 2011

Microscopic glass flakes, Blood Lab-On-A-Stick, piezoelectric ceramics, Catalytic Clothing (clothes that purify the air around), noise-absorbing ceramic, titanium foam, antimicrobial copper, instantly-hardening fabric, light-reflecting concrete, self-healing concrete, soft magnets, self-cleaning glass, etc. And i had no idea that bullet-proof vests contained ceramic.

There is nothing arid nor soporific about new materials.

The authors of the book handpicked some of the most surprising new materials. Their look sometimes belies their nature, their names often verge on the oxymoron and their applications have only just started to be explored. Most materials are allocated one page in the book but some of them are illustrated further with a spotlight on a 'case study' that describes designers, architects and engineers' most innovative uses of materials: from largest optical/near infrared telescope to shape-changing architecture.

The text is as techy as necessary to explain clearly the physical properties and latest applications of each innovation but you don't require a degree in engineering to follow along.

Material Matters: New Materials in Design doesn't pretend to be the bible of all materials, the ultimate encyclopedia but it does fulfill competently its ambition to be a source of inspiration for designers and artists.

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Soft Circuits or "epidermal electronic system" (EES) is an ultrathin, electronic circuit applied on the skin. It can stretch, flex, and twist and take input from the movements of your body.

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Doris Sung, Thermo-Bimetals at Applications&Materials Gallery

Jólan van der Wiel lets magnetic fields and the force of gravity shape its stools. A mix of iron and plastic is layered between strong magnets that pull the material into unique designs.

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Jolan van der Wiel, The Gravity Stool

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Jolan van der Wiel, The Gravity Stool

Doris Kim Sung's Bloom installation demonstrates the properties of thermobimetal, a thermally responsive metal surface, which reacts to both the change in temperature and direct solar radiation. When the temperature of the metal is cool, the surface appears as a solid object, but once the afternoon heat penetrates the metal, the panels of custom woven bimetal will adjust and fan out to allow airflow and increase shade potential.

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Microlattice, the world's lightest material is 99.99% air, 100 times lighter than styofoam and as strong as steel.

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Particles of Stardust are shot into Aerogel

Stardust are made from dust that pre-existed the Sun. The interstellar samples were collected by astronauts in 1999. Scientists stored the stardust in Aerogel because its extremely light structure and thermally-insulating properties ensure that the particles are not damaged after being embedded inside the spongy interior.

Bare is a temporary conductive ink that can be sprayed or brushed directly onto the skin to create custom electronic circuitry. This innovative material allows users to interact with electronics through gesture, movement and touch.

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Bare: Skin Safe Conductive Ink

Mushroom Packaging as a 100% biodegradable alternative to polystyrene (Styrofoam) packaging.

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Ecovative Design (image Chris Crisman)

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The Climate Dress uses conductive clad fibers and responds to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

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Jungeun Lee and Shota Aoyagi, Heat-Fusible Yarn

Ferrofluid, or magnetic liquid, is composed of ferrous nanoparticles suspended in a liquid.

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Sachiko Kodama and Minako Takeno, Protrude, Flow, 2001

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Matthew Szösz blows air between pieces of fused discarded window glass.

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P10 Concentrating Solar Power Tower

Under Black Carpets, Ilona Gaynor's new project, works with police reconstructions, cinematic culture and with 'Forensic Aesthetics' to design the perfect bank robbery. And i don't know how she did it but she managed to get the FBI New York Dept of Justice and the LAPD Archival Department on board as advisors to her study.

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Scale Model, One Wilshire

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Some legal, political and cultural fields have recently seen a shift from human testimony to material forensics. DNA samples, 3D scans, nano-technology, electro-magnetic microscopes, satellite surveillance and other scientific methods or instruments have started to play a key role in police investigations, political decisions and court room deliberations. Retinal scans, biological remains, landscape topographies and other forensic materials communicate to the judicial system. Just like human witnesses, they come with their own rhetoric of persuasion. Eyal Weizman called it Forensic Aesthetics.

Under Black Carpets is at this stage an early study that will be part of a larger project currently under development. Under Black Carpets presents a meticulous deconstruction of several bank heists simultaneously occurring in downtown Los Angeles, focusing specifically on 5 different banks that centre One Wilshire. The work presents itself as site-specific forensic study. A spatial tool accompanied by a kit of parts, presented as a dense numerical index. Each artifact is individually numbered, assuming the role of the protagonist within the collection and pin-points its own whereabouts on a grid of vertical and horizontal geographical coordinates. The viewer is invited to examine and cross-reference this collection, allowing ones own constructed interpretation of the event as it unfolds from muiltiple, distorted perspectives.

At this point, i needed to pause in my lecture of the description of the project and asked her to tell us more about Under Black Carpets:

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LAPD Police Academy. Image: Ilona Gaynor

Your project is developed in collaboration with the FBI New York Dept of Justice and the LAPD Archival Department. How easy is it to work with them? Who are you working with, i'm not asking for names necessarily, but i'd like to get an idea of the type of person these Department would delegate to work with an artist. Are they scientists working in forensics? Members of their press team? 

Firstly, I normally approach my research from a great distance to the subject, but I felt with this particular project, it wasn't going to be quite as effective without actually engaging with the scenarios I wanted to explore.

I wanted to get into the mind-set of what it takes to become a Police officer or 'Cop', so I spent a lot of time at the LAPD Police Academy, watching Police engage in intense training: learning how to drive cars in chase simulations, fire guns and partake in classes reciting American Law and its policies. But furthermore, I spent a lot of time in the Police canteen listening to everyday conversations, which led to me buying a copy of So you want to be a cop: what it takes to serve by Scott Butler and Police bible Pocket Partner by Evers, Miller, Glover and Glover - which is global emergency management manual, carried by United States police officers of all ranks and members of the US government. These books describe in detail precise procedures and policies, coupled with a philosophical mindset of what it takes to serve. I mention this, because it's the dialogue I had within the academy which led to working relationship with the justice department.

I spent sometime with detectives and ex Special Agents in the Bureau's Bank Robbery/Kidnapping/Extortion Dept in New York City, which was actually more of a connection made with my previous work. I attended various meetings and demonstrations with scientists, but not really with biochemists like you would expect in archetypal representations of forensic science, but more with spatial experts and computational homicide scientists. People who examine areas like post-impact ballistics, vessel trajectories and object reassembly.

To put their interest in the project into context If you read any book on heists or homicide published in last 10 years like Where the Money Is: True Tales from the Bank Robbery Capital of the World by Gordon Dillo and William J. Rehder, you will find that every book you come across will have been written by retired FBI agents or an ex-detectives who had worked on the cases cited in the book. The texts are framed (accidentally or not) as a form of nostalgia, not necessarily for documentation or research purposes, but for pleasure. Whilst reading you could even imagine them holding a cup of black filter coffee with a gun lying next to them on their bedside table, they are so personal.

Interestingly enough, they are mostly anecdotal. There are very little facts or figures cited, but more focused on memories and one-liners. As such they are delightful people and splendidly macabre.

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Scale Model of Banks Centering One Wilshire in Downtown Los Angeles

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Back Door Entrance, Bank of America

I'm curious about the title of the project: why "Under Black Carpets"? It makes me think of something sinister that has to be hidden...

The title is sinister. It refers to the act and image of stealing. In old cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, Tom the cat would enter the room and slip underneath the carpets, as to sneak upon the mouse (Jerry) in doing this, displaying a huge moving bulge (often cat shaped) that would continually hit furniture and objects in the room because he couldn't see where he was going - alerting Jerry the mouse as to his whereabouts, rendering the espionage futile, but hilarious. Law enforcement bodies are often portrayed in crime cinema as clumsy, often with plans turning sour, foiled by seemingly petty rules and orders given by superiors by act of protocol. The protagonist hero is often a rogue cop who dismisses the rules and catches the criminal. The black carpet; refers to the archetypal colours found in banks, federal buildings and financer's offices. It's also meant to indicate a spatial aspect to the project.

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Artifact No.274, Location Coordinates: 17,17, Presidential Limousine

Your project deals with the aesthetic dimension of forensics, a science said to have taken over 'the era of the witness' in legal systems. How much faith do you have in forensics now that you've studied it from up close (well, at least closer than most of us)? Is this science as indefectible as tv series would like us to believe?

Forensic science has blurred a previously held distinction: between evidence, when the law speaks of objects, and that of the witness, referring to subjects, forensics has become something in-between. TV dramas such as CSI in the US and Silent Witness in the UK, really are as accurately based on reality as entertainment would permit- they exist in a world of simulations, computer based conjecture and biologically stained rags in test tubes. Forensics however isn't strictly lab based nor does it always deal with bio-chemistry as I've mentioned previously, that's very much not the case, that plays a significantly small role. And it also very much depends on the nature of the crime and where the crime happened. US crime tends to be more exaggerated and extreme, due to the very nature or culture in which people live, especially in Los Angeles. The crime cases publicized, tend to be lot more spectacular then crimes committed in Britain, of course that's stating the obvious, however I honestly believe that it's related to the cinematic culture, of which we just simply don't have the ability, or want to record and transmit news cinematically. Of course why would we?

Michael Mann's film Heat (1995) was a film shot in downtown LA, with the most notably 'realistic' loud gunplay scene in cinematic history to date. It's cold, blunt and incredibly violent. But what's interesting about that scene is that it became the basis and inspiration for a very real event that happened in LA a few years later, an event dubbed The North Hollywood Shootout I watched repeatedly the news footage from the North Hollywood Shootout and Heat and found that in comparison after repeatedly viewing it intensely, I decided that actually Mann's Heat was far more realistic.

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North Hollywood Shoot out. A real robbery that was said to have been a mimicked real life version of the film Heat (as its crime inspiration)

I don't believe anything is infallible, people by nature are cunning and will always find a way to subvert and distort the truth. Even scientific evidence takes form, as rhetoric by the very nature in which is it presented, monopolized or industrialized. I'm not saying that forensic science is inaccurate but it's the way in which we construct or curate the evidence is what makes it key. There have been many miscarriages of justice, with many serious crimes going unsolved. A juridical verdict is a legal argument. The end is not normally the 'truth' of 'what happened', but one of convincing conjecture, which makes it's dimension beautifully fascinating and deadly.

With such a shift on the emphasis of forensics referring back to taking over the 'the era of the witness', I think has left the Police putting too much faith in forensic science, particularly in that of biology, so much so that they have begun to ignore human instinct and intuition, because the definition of truth and reality has never been so unclear.

But then again maybe I'm simply too much of a purist fan of film noir and crime literature.

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LAPD Police Station, located 6 blocks away from One Wilshire

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Criminal Activity, Artifact No: 83, 246, 11, 68, 69, 82

Could you also explain the part played by 'forensic aesthetics' in your project?

'Forensic Aesthetics' a term coined by Dr Eyal Weizman at the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths University. It was an idea that was originally used in an architectural context and was called Forensic Architecture. The idea of using objects to form an argument, as a narration in the absence of actuary evidence is now being openly discussed at various law schools in the US as a mode of future legal practice, which is very exciting! The term is very much at the heart of this project or at least in the research. My project comes into play whereby, I would like to use this theory and expand on the research as a platform to initiate 'it' as a mode of design, by giving it form and materiality. Weizman talks about it the broad context of human rights, of course those are important, but my angle is for pleasure, aesthetic speculation and fantasy. Imagine an architectural model - a designed space accompanied by designed artifacts being wheeled into a courtroom and brought up for questioning almost to fulfill the role of the 'witness' as evidence. Design can become something to examine, question and decipher through legal channels.

It's very interesting to me to relentlessly construct narratives from traces that were left over from a traumatic or chaotic event, even if you are stitching together empty spaces that seem impossible and too abstract. The documentation of everyday detail in the construction of archives of clues and cases creates a great pool for crafting hybrid fictions and competing perceptions - a world of secret lives, lies and stories.

Under Black Carpets presents a meticulous deconstruction of several bank heists simultaneously occurring in downtown Los Angeles, focusing specifically on 5 different banks that centre One Wilshire. What are these banks?

The banks are: Bank of America, Mellon Bank, City National Bank, US Bank and Wells Fargo. These were chosen because of their geographic proximity to One Wilshire and precise distance from the LAPD headquarters in downtown LA. The narrative proceeds, a false plane collision with the 30th floor of One Wilshire, as a ruse. One Wilshire is an infamous centralized carrier hotel. It provides half of the worlds connection to the internet; currently it connects: China, Korea, the USA, east Russia and parts of Europe, directing anything toward One Wilshire would attract much attention. The surrounding street block formation would centralize Police, harboring them in one place due to the precise vertical heights of the buildings and the dense geography of those particular blocks. The visual transparency from the ground is also extremely limited. The architecture is positioned in such a way, that staging particular events or moments could be hidden from view behind protruding floors, light refractions from the mirrored glass and thick palm tree heads. Some of the streets are also impossible for helicopters to circulate and enter, however every flat rooftop has its own helipad by state law in that area.

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What will be the purpose of the deconstruction? To design the perfect bank robbery?

Yes. Exactly that. My intention is design the perfect heist. A counter measure to anticipated police reactions based on this research. But not presented as projection like a pre-planned, straight-up plot, but one told through hindsight. Using aesthetics and material form to frame the narrative as an investigation, an archive of evidence for the purpose of constructing, a legal argument.

Finally, what shape does the project take: the project page has models but do you also plan to add 3D renderings? video? essays?

This project is simply a study - a deconstruction for the purpose of seeing something from a birds-eye view (not literally) but a plot device to experiment with. This first part was completed whilst I was the summer research resident at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The final project will take the form of artifacts, large scale engineered mechanical devices, architectural physical studies, speculative tools and materials. There will be films - my aim is to shoot Police reconstructions of what they assumed to have happened. There's a lot to do!

A book or research will also accompany the project, a series of essays and collated documents curated and co-written by Geoff Manaugh (BLDGBLOG) and myself.

The final work will go into an exhibition on display next year at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, it will be showing in an unused bank vault comprising of 6 rooms in September 2013.

Thank you Ilona!
Previous work by Ilona Gaynor: Everything Ends in Chaos.
Related story: 21 bank branches vs. 21 architecture students.

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