If ice skating's not your thing, check out Somerset House's ongoing exhibition about London's Forgotten Spaces and the way to reclaim them. The projects can be found in some of Somerset House's own forgotten spaces: damp lightwells, coalholes as well as hidden passages known as the Deadhouse. The whole itinerary is so labyrinthic and dusky, it sometimes feels like a treasure hunt.
Forgotten Spaces shows 28 projects shortlisted for a competition launched in Spring by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA.) The call invited architects, engineers, students and designers to submit proposals that reclaim overlooked spaces across Greater London. Inspired by success stories such as New York's High Line or Rotterdam's De Hofbogen, the competition aims to demonstrate how alternative way of thinking about urban space can inject new life and energy into some of London's most neglected corners.
The selected entries range from underground climbing tunnels to Atlantic salmons in the Thames, firepits in Crystal Palace, bee keeping, rooftops of tower blocks turned into social hubs and artist studios nested inside church spires.
During the Summer, Wayward Plants put the Urban Physic Garden into practice, transforming a derelict site on Union Street SE1.
Half way between street art intervention and community service, Denizen Works's proposal would give members of the public a set of simple instructions that they could follow to install accommodation for the declining bee population. The little bee houses would nest in unused gaps of land between buildings and boundary walls in central London.
Studiodare's Bee Project is more ambitious. The architects propose to combine urban park, 'agroforest' and bee-keeping aviary to highlight our dependency on bees and the delicate nature of our ecosystem.
Bee Project can be enjoyed as a park for recreational purposes, an educational facility for school children and the unemployed, an activity for pensioners or a business for community organisations. Furthermore, the project offers the potential to create an economic market for the exchange of fruits, jams or honey on a 'farmers' market.
The winning entry, (IN)SPires by Alex Scott-Whitby from Studio AR, proposes to strike a deal with the Diocese of London to turn 38 of the 51 of the disused belfry's of the City of London's church spires into low-cost studios for creative people. The architect is apparently already residing at the top of the Church of St Mary Woolnoth above Bank station.
Second Prize went to Steve McCoy's Urban Climbing Wall that would turn the tunnels and vertical shafts of a disused air raid shelter situated under Clapham High Street into climbing, abseiling and potholing centre for children and thrill seekers.
Area Landscape Architects's proposal suggests to reintroduce the Atlantic Salmon in the Wandle. At the mouth of this river sits a largely unknown wasteland. A sweeping fish ladder spanning the mouth of the Wandle will provide the Salmon access from the Thames to the breeding grounds in the upper reaches. A salmon hatchery will be set in a mosaic of riparian habitats, including marsh and wet woodland - a parkland reclaimed from adjacent post-industrial wasteground.
Aurelie Pot had a simple and charming idea: hosting a Brunel's Café on the platforms underneath the South pillar of the Hungerford and Golden Jubilee Bridges.
More images from the exhibition:
After the Bit Rush - Design in a Post Digital Age embraces the 'post-digital', the moment when digital isn't confined to screens anymore and has permeated almost every single aspect of our daily existence. The moment when we are constantly connected in one way or another and the analogue has blended with the digital so seamlessly we forget there even were two different words to describe the world we live in.
The exhibition, currently open at MU in Eindhoven, invites visitors to reflect on questions such as: How do you integrate the digital, the screen, the computer and the internet with the physical world? What role could designers play in this field?
After the Bit Rush is a joy to visit. The show is obviously very entertaining and at times even poetical but it also manages to bring into one exhibition space some stunning examples of what the 'post digital' means for design tools, for the fabrication and distribution, for the way we embrace and participate in design, and the impact it will have on fashion, entertainment, even medical training.
Kiosk is probably the best introduction to the post-digital idea. Inspired by Bruce Sterling's sci-fi story of the same name, KIOSK sends you in a not so distant future when digital fabricators are so ubiquitous that even the owner of the mobile stall up your street can custom make on the spot whatever you order: new frames for eyeglasses, the missing bit of a broken high heel, etc. They can even download (illegally), customize if so you wish and 3D print for you a Juicy Salif squeezer.
For the designers at Unfold, the project also offers the opportunity to reflect on the impact that new technologies have on design: How does this scenario challenge our perception of authorship, originality, design and what is the role of the designer when goods are moved around in the form of digital blueprints and appropriated in ways beyond our control?
Troika placed LED bulbs on metal arms above polished crystal lenses; as each bulb slides away from the lens, a light beam is split into a circular pattern that resembles rain drops falling from the ceiling onto a wet surface. The whole installation is even more mesmerizing in reality than in the video above.
EDHV's Digital Fungus evokes organic behaviours too. As soon as the Digital Fungus finds light, it starts producing a colony. Anything moving around will make it jump to another area where it will start growing again. Once the light is gone however, energy is drains out and the organism slowly dies.
Thomas Lommée designed Open Structures as a kind of collaborative Meccano. The shared modular construction system allows people to build anything from a chair to a whole house, using the parts already available and adding their own when necessary.
In August 2010 Markus Kayser packed his solar-powered, semi-automated low-tech laser cutter in a suitcase and brought it to the Egyptian desert. The Sun Cutter harnessed sun rays through a glass ball lens to 'laser' cut 2D components using a cam-guided system. The pair of sunglasses made with the Sun Cutter look half machine-made, half hand-made due to the crudeness of its mechanism and cutting beam optics, alongside variations in solar intensity due to weather fluctuations.
The designer's following work used another element found in deserts: sand. When heated to melting point and allowed to cool silicia sand solidifies as glass. The process, called sintering, is central in 3D printing or SLS (selective laser sintering). The Solar-Sinter uses thus the sun's rays instead of a laser and sand instead of resins to make glass objects.
Tim Knapen's Godmode is a hacked photocopier that animates any creature visitors draw on a sheet of paper. As simple as that. You grab a pen, sketch a character on a piece of paper, place the drawing under the photocopier lid, press 'copy', and 5 seconds later, your creature is dancing above your head among the creatures that other visitors created.
Ok, this one makes me feel super uncomfortable. Jorge Lopes dos Santos collaborated with a paediatric cardiologist at Imperial College to turn data from ultrasound, CT and MRI scans into physical models of foetuses. The designer believes that the models will help train doctors and provide emotional support for parents who have children born with deformities.
Back to safe design territory with vases! Julian Bond's Pixel Mould Machine produces vessels using a single mould made up of over 1300 individual plaster sticks. The sticks can be individually reconfigured to create one-off clay vases.
Publisher Princeton Architectural Press says: Creativity is no longer the sole territory of the designer. User-driven design has never been easier for the public to generate and distribute. Users of websites such as Flickr, Threadless, WordPress, YouTube, Etsy, and Lulu approach design with the expectation that they will be able to fill in the content. How will such a fundamental shift toward bottom-up creation affect the design industry? Participate considers historical and contemporary models of creation that provide ideas for harnessing user-generated content through participatory design. The authors discuss how designers can lead the new breed of widely distributed amateur creatives rather than be overrun by them.
Nowadays, many of the tools of production and distribution used by graphic designers are available to the broader public. And not only are members of the public turning into amateur designers, they are also invited by professionals to contribute to their creative process. The book addresses the curiosity of the amateur of course but it also talks to professional designers (or artists) who fear that they might be trampled underfoot by distributed amateur creatives.
Participate is a introductory book for anyone who is interested in the impact that networked co-creativity has on design, graphic design but also on other fields such as typography, silk-screening, craft, fashion, advertising, etc.
Chapters are colour-coded: the white pages are for theory and examples of successful participatory design. The yellow pages contain the interviews with designers, programmers, communication 'strategists' and curators. And because the authors of the books are designers but also educators, the blue pages are for exercises that invite readers to experiment with the concepts, projects and the ideas presented in the book.
The theory sections are written with clarity, they do a good job at explaining basics such as how the Open Source ad the Copyleft movements have paved the way for new mindsets, how technology has pushed users to adopt a more active role, what generative design is, etc.
A few projects presented in the book:
For the London Design Festival, Kram/Weisshaar and Reed Kram installed eight industrial robots on Trafalgar Square and let the public take control of them to write personal light messages which were recorded and shared as video files.
Keetra Dean Dixon created a photo booth-like space in which people activate a hidden camera each time they lift a bubble wand and blow a bubble.
For 100 days, Stefan Bucher filmed himself drawings monsters and posted the short clips on his website. He then asked readers to write the story of the monster. His "open Source Monsters" also allows people to submit their own drawings based on the inkblots he provides. The online project lead to a book which had already gathered a public long before it hit the bookshops.
MEBOX is a customizable storage system. Each box has a grid of perforated discs that can be pressed out to create characters. When assembled, the double-thickness construction presents the message against the contrasting colour of the box lining.
Earlier this year, Jeremy Hutchison sent emails to manufacturers around the world, asking them to produce a fairly simple and common item. He added a special requirement though: the product had to be imperfect, come with an intentional error. Moreover, the worker was in charge of deciding which kind of error, malfunction or fault he would add to the good. The artist reassured the factory that, whatever the result, he would pay for the faulty object.
The outcome of the experiment is fascinating. Sometimes, the object was shipped in bits and pieces because the worker decided they would simply damage it after fabrication. Most of the time, however, the dysfunctioning good demonstrates the creativity and imagination of men doing repetitive gestures day after day in the factory: a comb without its teeth, a walking stick turned into a nunchaku, a football ball that is anything but round, a pair of sunglasses without the space for the nose, etc. The objects are amusing but they also give their makers/designers a presence and identity we would otherwise not think of giving them.
"[Err is] about creating deliberate miscommunication," Hutchison told Creative Review, "forging a moment of poetry within a hyper-efficient system of digital exchange. It's about an invisible global workforce, and their connection to the relentless regurgitation of stuff. It's about Duchamp and the readymade, but updated to exist within the context of today's globalised economy. It's about the rub between art and design, the mass-produced and unique, the functional and the dysfunctional."
Hutchison kept track of all the email exchanges, all the skype conversations he had with the people working in the factories. At first, the answers he got expressed bafflement and perplexity.
Soon enough though, some kind of conversation emerged...
Jeremy's project toured the blogs and design/art magazines but i finally got to see it in detail a month ago, when i visited New Sensations, a competition and exhibition organized by the Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4 to highlight works made by some of the most talented students graduating from universities and colleges across the UK and Republic of Ireland.
No matter how much i had read and seen about his project, i still wanted to interview Jeremy. Here we go:
Hi Jeremy! One of the most charming parts of the Err project is the exchange of emails and instant messaging conversations you had with employees of the manufacturing companies. I noticed that at some point, they would inform you about the working conditions of the workers. How did these details about TVs in the dinner rooms, women dancing in the park and meal times arise? Was it a question you asked or did the information come spontaneously? Do you feel that they emerged as a kind of self-defense against the assumptions we might have in 'the West' that the workers are treated poorly or are they the result of some personal relationship you managed to created over the exchange of emails?
Well, I set out to develop a personal relationship to the people who make things. Something beyond 'producers' and 'consumers'. I wanted to disrupt a relationship based on a capitalist exchange, where communication operates within strict linguistic codes: price, quantity, customs port. I wanted to introduce a different register into these conversations, to ask what they watched on telly, what music they danced to, what they thought about while they worked.
Obviously this information didn't come spontaneously! But everyone's curious about everyone else. So as our conversations lost their economic anchor and drifted into strange territory, a kind of unspoken permission was given. We talked about Indian cigarettes, Shanghai dragon-boat racing, the Colombian drugs trade. In exchange for pictures of my newborn son, they sent me images of factory dormitories, production lines, workers' canteens. Sometimes they wanted to dispel my Western perceptions. Sometimes they simply wanted something else to talk about. Either way, we exchanged a lot of trust, curiosity, and emoticons.
Were you expecting to struggle so much to get your request understood? The football ball that looks like a football ball but isn't one seems to have caused a lot of trouble for example. Can you also explain us what happened with the ball?
To be honest, I didn't expect a single response. My request was absurd: factories normally take orders of five thousand - not one. And certainly not one with an error. So I guess it came down to finding people who were willing to engage with the absurd, who wanted to know what would happen.
I found a factory in Pakistan that makes 100,000 footballs a month. I made friends with the Sales Director, Waleed. He agreed to make an incorrect football, but without his boss knowing. Every person in the production line made an error: the patches were in the wrong places, the stitching was terrible, the bladder poured out. It was lovely.
But ironically, the error went further. I got a frantic call in the middle of the night: Waleed was at the customs port. The authorities had seized the ball. When he explained than an Englishman had ordered a ball with errors, all hell broke loose. They said it was illegal to fabricate incorrect products, and they would revoke his company's trading licence. I explained that this product wasn't incorrect since it was exactly what I'd ordered. Days passed: nothing. Lost in the bureaucracy of Pakistani customs, I eventually got through to the high commissioner in Islamabad.
She was very apologetic, and explained that 20kg of heroin had recently passed under the radar at Sialkot customs. So everyone was feeling a bit paranoid. She issued a document stating that "the sculpture/artwork looks like a football but in fact is not a football and primarily this object is not for using as a football but is an artwork." But it was too late: someone had destroyed the ball, and it disappeared without a trace. I never quite found out who.
But Waleed and I are still friends.
I was also interested in hearing more about the meaning and narrative that some of the employees injected into the final artifact. For example, the comb that you cannot use to comb even got a name and a whole text justifying its use to 'a completely different section of society its unique something out of this world.'
Well, the comb was made in a small factory in Kolkata. My contact Manoj explained what happened when he relayed my request: 'everyone thought I have gone mad or mis-read your enquiry as everyone in the world strives to improve not to create error.' It seemed like the entire factory was involved in my dysfunctional comb. "We have named it IMPICO because first it was impossible to make and then when we eventually made it, it was impossible to use. So Impossible Comb = IMPICO." Manoj was curious about the market: How would I sell it? Who would buy it? I said I wasn't sure. So I suggested we make a print ad. He wrote the copy, and I did the art direction.
One of Marx's major quarrels with capitalism was the alien relationship it creates between the worker and the product of his work. I'd been wondering about this relationship, and how it might be altered: What if we lived in a world where the factory worker claimed authorship over his creation? What if narrative was injected into the object? How would this affect it?
Perhaps the intellectual activity they were required to perform caused a momentary jolt in their position, inviting them to insert meaning, humour, personality into their work. I think they enjoyed it. Apparently the man who chainsawed the acrylic chair to bits found it rather cathartic: 'The feeling was great after he cut the chair piece to piece... he was happy and enjoyed the process'. He told his boss to thank me, so that was nice.
I don't think it's my job to take a moral stance on things - more to ask energetic questions. So rather than reinforce pre-existing arguments (e.g. capitalism / anti-capitalism), I wanted to see what would happen if you lodged nonsense into the mechanics of a hyper-efficient global machine. To manufacture error.
But this project didn't come out of nowhere. It was triggered by an article I read about the Apple Mac factory in Shenzhen. Consumer hunger for iPads had reached such dizzying heights that life on the Chinese assembly line had become pretty devastating. The management had attached nets around the building, to catch people who were throwing themselves off the roof. One worker told the newspaper that 'he would deliberately drop something on the ground so that he could have a few seconds of rest when picking it up.'
An intentional error is a strange idea - illogical, oxymoronic. And fundamentally human. So in some ways, Err is simply a continuation of this worker's gesture. It's a moment of respite from the endless repetition of the global production line.
Err is a tremendously successful work. It has been exhibited in various venues and was discussed in countless blogs and magazine articles. Are you tempted to come up with a project that somehow continues or Err in the future or explores other sides of goods manufacturing?
Well the simple answer is that Err isn't finished. Next year, the confusion that this project performed in mass-production will belch out as a luxury brand. It'll look like something you know, but somehow everything will be wrong: a marketing platform sabotaged by its own miscommunication.
I want my work to deal with what's out there: mass production, emerging markets, Skype, consumerism, economic meltdown. So I've found manufacturing a useful vehicle to engage with the chaos of the 21st Century. While I want to avoid formula at all costs, I do have a couple more projects that operate in a similar realm. One of these will launch at Paradise Row gallery, and another might materialise this summer as an outdoor sculpture for the Southbank Centre, London.
Finally i was intrigued by the bitter-sweet projects you developed in Palestine and Israel. You seem to have adopted the role of the unlucky and innocent British tourist who puzzles Israeli with labels written in arabic and cycles against separation walls. Is it possible not to take a stand and judge when working in Israel and Palestine and exploring the political and social situation? Were the situation and relationships between people different from what you had expected from what the press tells us?
My experience in Palestine / Israel was transformative. I found two sides shouting different languages over an 8 metre high wall. People crawling through sewage tunnels to see their families. Semites making anti-semitic slurs against other semites. Nothing made sense. So what does a white middle-class English boy do in a conflict zone? He rides into concrete walls, drives around roundabouts, buys milk from shops that aren't selling it. Somewhere in the noise and confusion, I realised a few things. That it's essential to remain impartial - but impossible to do so. That confusion may be more productive than resolution. That things aren't supposed to make sense.
So while it's important to stand by something, to have an opinion, I think its more important to offer an alternative. Because whatever beliefs I hold true, I'd like to hold them lightly, flip them over, even toss them into the wind.
All images courtesy of Jeremy Hutchison.
Publisher Princeton Architectural Press says: "Hello, my name is Thomas Thwaites, and I have made a toaster." So begins The Toaster Project, the author's nine-month-long journey from his local appliance store to remote mines in the UK to his mother's backyard, where he creates a crude foundry. Along the way, he learns that an ordinary toaster is made up of 404 separate parts, that the best way to smelt metal at home is by using a method found in a fifteenth-century treatise, and that plastic is almost impossible to make from scratch. In the end, Thwaites's homemade toaster-- a haunting and strangely beautiful object--cost 250 times more than the toaster he bought at the store and involved close to two thousand miles of travel to some of Britain's remotest locations. The Toaster Project may seem foolish, even insane. Yet, Thwaites's quixotic tale, told with self-deprecating wit, helps us reflect on the costs and perils of our cheap consumer culture, and in so doing reveals much about the organization of the modern world.
A few months ago, i was in Pittsburgh with 3 other authors writing an art&science book in seven days. Luke and Jessica, the designers of the book, were sitting across the table reviewing almost almost in real time the notes and images we were sending them. At some point we all raised our head because the designers had started laughing uncontrollably while saying "brilliant! this is brilliant!" This was the Toaster effect! Thomas Thwaites's project is mocked almost as much as it is admired. The designer has toured the world to show and discuss what is probably the most uncomely toaster that ever was created. It generated so much press, so many questions and such interest that i even suspect that Thwaites wrote the book as a catharsis, a way to get the toaster out of his life. He won't have to tell the story again, it's all there for us to read.
As befits the project, the book is hilarious. I never though reading about iron smelting and descents into mines would be so engrossing. You follow Thomas Thwaites' email correspondence and phone conversations with (mostly baffled) experts, miners and other "jolly nice chaps". Next, he is smelting iron in his mum's microwave, trekking in the highlands of Scotland in search of a mica mine, trying to convince BP to take him on a helicopter ride so that he can collect on an oil rig the crude oil he needs to make the plastic case for his toaster, attempting to cook some plastic using potato starch, 'stealing' water from the Marquis of Anglesey, etc.
With his über-english self-deprecating tone, Thomas takes you from one failure to another. Yet, this accumulation of fiascoes and disappointments, which at times reads like a hybrid between the story of the dodekathlon and the script of a Woody Allen comedy, turned into an extraordinary achievement. Thwaites went through experiences none of us would ever dare to undergo just to fabricate an object that would perform the mundane function of toasting a piece of bread.
And if you prefer taking a shortcut:
Sorry for being so slow with the updates on the blog this week. This morning i left London unimpressed by the Frieze art fair and took the train to Manchester. The lady at the hotel reception manages to wear two sets of fake eyelashes on top of each other, the weather is lovely and i'm following Creative Tourist's recommendation to embark on a Manchester Weekender, three days of celebration of art, literature, music and performances.
One of the exhibitions i was most eager to visit was On The March - An Exhibition of banners Made by Ed Hall at the People's History Museum.
Ed Hall makes the most amazing, colourful handcrafted banners i've ever seen. Before discovering his work at an exhibition curated by Jeremy Deller for the Palais de Tokyo in Paris a few years ago, I had no idea you could still commission someone to design, paint, embroider and stitch protest banners.
Hall used to be an architect but he was also a trade union rep when Thatcher came into power. In the '80s, he started drawing banners and posters to support Lambeth Council's protest campaign against government restrictions on the amount of tax councils could charge. That was his first foray into protest art. Nowadays, he's the UK's foremost trade union and campaign banner artist.
Hall works mostly for trade union organizations but as years passed he's been increasingly involved in protest raised by grassroot organizations that fight against climate change, violence against women or that defend the rights of the Palestinians and other causes the artist personally believes in. But his first non trade union banners were stitched for Brian Douglas who died in police custody in May 1995. During his arrest in South London, Douglas was hit on the head with a baton. Police claimed that they had acted in self-defense. He was not taken to hospital until 12 hours after injury, where he later died.
333 people died in police custody between the years 1998 and 2010 and Hall's banners are often part of the annual remembrance marches to Downing Street, to inquests and funeral. The banner below was made in memory of Sarah Thomas, a 34 year old student who died on August 1999 in Stoke Newington Police station after being arrested for a public order offence.
Finally, the exhibition also devoted some space to Ed Hall's collaboration with Jeremy Deller, in particular Procession, a mass gathering orchestrated by the artist for the Manchester International Festival two years ago.
Find more about his work in the film made by Platform Films:
On the March - An Exhibition of Banners by Ed Hall remains open at the People's History Museum in Manchester through 30 October 2011.