The fourth episode of the art and science show i've been recording for ResonanceFM is about to go live. It broadcasts today Monday 11 June at 16.30 (GMT.) There will be a repeat on Thursday at 22.30. You can catch it online if you don't live in London. And of course we will have podcasts (still waiting for them.)
My guest on the show is Dr. Jonah Brucker-Cohen whom i'm sure you all know. Jonah is a researcher, artist, and writer. He is based in New York and received his Ph.D. in the Disruptive Design Team of the Networking and Telecommunications Research Group at Trinity College Dublin. Apart from his work as an artist, Jonah has been teaching in several universities in New York, lecturing internationally, writing essays for magazines focusing on technology and since he is teaching a course called Designing Critical Networks at Parsons in New york, i thought he'd be the perfect guest for a program which covers issues such as social media, subverting network experience, hacking, and internet censorship. We also took the time to focus on some of his own works, from the now legendary Wifi Liberator to Scrapyard Challenge Jr. 555 Noisemaker Kit and America's Got No Talent (two works he developed together with Katherine Moriwaki.)
Publisher Gestalten says: Visual storytelling uses graphic design, infographics, illustration, and photography to convey information in the most elegant, entertaining, and informative way. Today, the creative scope of existing visual storytelling techniques is being expanded to meet the formidable challenge of extracting valuable news, surprising findings, and relevant stories from a daily flood of data head on. Visual Storytelling is the first book to focus solely on contemporary and experimental manifestations of visual forms that can be classified as such. The rich selection of cutting-edge examples featured here is put into context with text features by Andrew Losowsky and interviews with experts including the New York Times, Francesco Franchi, and Golden Section Graphics.
Visual Storytelling was the big surprise of the last batch of books that Gestalten kindly shipped to me. I thought that volume would be merely lightweight and amusing but it turned out to be far more striking and informing than expected. Hundreds of works are presented in the book. Yet, there's no redundancy, no boredom, no weakness. It's a perfectly well curated collection of some of the projects that have spread over countless design/graphic design/interaction design blogs over the past couple of years. Some of the works presented are more narrative than others but page after page have brought me revelation and wonder. I must confess that i don't read many design blogs (up to zero actually) so it's probably not much of a challenge to amaze me.
In his introduction, magazine editor and journalist Andrew Losowsky defines 'visual storytelling' as a combination of narrative information and emotional reaction, he charts its history, explains its challenges, its ability to substitute data complexity with order and clarity and rejoices in its total absence of universally accepted rules.
The first part of the book contains interviews with a few creative studios: DensityDesign, Les Graphiquants, Steve Duenes, Antoine Corbineau, Carl Kleiner, Peter Grundy, Jan Schwochow and Francesco Franchi. Franchi is the art director for IL-Intelligence in Lifestyle, the monthly magazine of Il Sole 24 ORE, and his work is particularly arresting. Gestalten TV interviewed him recently:
The second part of the book is entirely left to images and short descriptions. The works range from graphic design to software pieces to installations to wall paintings and they are distributed over 5 themes: News, Science, Geography, Modern World and Sport.
Now for a quick selection of some of the works i discovered in Visual Storytelling:
Roland Loesslein's installation, Digging in the Crates, uses modified turntables to navigate dynamic data visualization. The works also uses info graphics and sounds to allow the public to explore Sampling as a production technology of music.
Lang/Bauman gave an urban edge to a traditional village in Switzerland by painting lines on the streets that evoke a subway map.
Kali Arulpragasam's oversized necklaces pay homage to conflict-torn countries.
Views inside the book (Images: Gestalten):
Related book reviews: Visual Complexity, Mapping Patterns of Information and Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design.
Tim Miller has devised 101 ways to use a trailer. Yes, a trailer, that mundane, strictly utilitarian object no one would ever waste a glance on. The designer, however, sees the trailer as a blank canvas that has the potential to become a tool for the realization of collective as well as individual dreams. You can use trailers for anything, you can reinterpret them, you can use them to manipulate the world around you or better said you can 'pervert' trailers according to your desires and needs.
Miller has already put some of its 101 ways to use a trailer to the test:
- Trailers are routinely used as a rapid deployment devices that generate a zone of exclusion or control. The police turn trailers into mobile surveillance tools by mounting them with CCTV cameras. The military uses them as walls. Inspired by these practices, Tim Miller designed a trailer that emits a pink light that would deter teenagers from any area where the object is left. The choice of colour is not arbitrary. Pink lights have already been used in a Nottinghamshire housing estate because the colour is seen as 'uncool', emphasizes acne and as such rely on any personal insecurities young people might have.
- A film screened at RCA's work in progress exhibition showed another function for the trailer: the vehicle was used to simulate and film car driving in a similar way to the studios of Hollywood.
Pervert Trailer was exhibited at the Work in Progress show a few weeks ago at the Royal College of Art in London. Only 99 more ways to use a trailer to go!
Pervert Trailers was developed at Platform 13, in the Design Product department. The platform, which is by far my favourite in the whole department, is headed by Onkar Kular and Sebastien Noel. Together they look at how design can contribute to alternative models of living and production by engaging with, commenting on, and addressing issues currently beyond the usual scope of design - political, social, technological or ecological.
Design Act - Socially and Politically Engaged Design Today. Critical Roles and Emerging Tactics, edited by Magnus Ericson and Ramia Mazé, the founders of the DESIGN ACT project (available on amazon USAand UK.)
Publishers IASPIS and Sternberg Press write: Design Act: Socially and Politically Engaged Design Today--Critical Roles and Emerging Tactics is a project that presents and discusses contemporary design practices that engage with political and societal issues. Since 2009, the Iaspis project Design Act has been highlighting and discussing practices in which designers have been engaging critically as well as practically in such issues. Itself an example of applied critical thinking and experimental tactics, the process behind the Design Act project is considered as a curatorial, participatory and open-ended activity. Design Act has developed through an online archive, public events, and an international network.
The book is thus putting the spotlight on 'Socially and Politically Engaged Design'. Design! With a bit of architecture thrown in. If you're into activist, socially engaged art, you might find that many of the projects presented in this book are very reasonable and appropriate. They have less bite than the work of, say, Santiago Sierra (more about him tomorrow) but that shouldn't be held against them. Because these designers are smart. And levelheaded enough to look for practical, witty solutions to very circumscribed issues. There's no 'Design will save the world!' here.
The publication attempts to answer three groups of questions:
This book is the conclusion and digest of the ambitious DESIGN ACT programme produced by Iaspis, the Swedish Arts Grants Committee's International Programme for Visual Arts. It took the form of a series of panels, interviews, an online archive and a research that offered a platform for practitioners and members of the public to discuss how design practices are engaging with political and societal issues.
The undeniable strength of the book is the interviews. Every single one of them contains invaluable insights and reflections. Especially the ones with Doina Petrescu, the co-founder of atelier d'architecture autogérée (aaa) (studio for self-managed architecture), an interdisciplinary network that develops "strategies" and "tactics" for research and intervention into city; with Pelin Derviş, an architect, editor and curator who used to head the Garanti Gallery, one of the most forward-thinking cultural spaces in Europe; Joseph Grima, editor in chief of Domus and former director of Storefront for Art and Architecture; Ou Ning, a Beijing-based curator, artist, documentary filmmaker, activist, designer, and director of the Shao Foundation; Yanki Lee, a young designer interested in methodology for participation and social innovation; designer, resercher and hacktivist Otto von Busch; architect and urbanist Mauricio Corbalan who co-founded m7red, a research platform dedicated to exploring the interactions between information technologies, urban ecologies and public policies; and architect Tor Lindstrand, one half of the brilliant International Festival and of Economy.
The experts interviewed share their opinion, experiences, talk about the difficulties encountered when starting a project and keeping it alive afterwards and questioning the role of design and architecture. Their conversation with the editors touch upon more specific dilemmas and concerns as well. Such as why they chose to operate inside or outside the academia, to put forward self-initiated projects rather than rely on commissions, where they find funding, how they manage to maintain a balanced relationship with sponsors, how to involve local communities, how to put traditional craftsmen in touch with young designers, reach out to various audiences, why they developed ideas in Europe but put them into practice in Asia or the USA, how to express a political position within a collective exhibition or a biennale.
And of course, i had to give you a few examples of what i meant when i wrote that many of the projects in the book are smart and rational:
Raumlabor turned a neglected and regularly vandalized metro station into an opera house.
Telemegaphone Dale stands seven metres tall on a mountain overlooking the Dalsfjord in Norway. When you dial Telemegaphone's number the sound of your voice is broadcast across the fjord, the valley and the village of Dale below.
m7red designed a board game that projects disaster scenarios and lets players try their own hand at instant urban planning.
PeopleProducts123 brings consumers the most up-to-date information on the people who make the products we use every day in the form of easy-to-use package labels and stickers. The improved packaging shows images and stories about the workers who make them and is 'shopdropped' in stores.
The Dale Sko Hack workshop built bridges between designer and producer in an effort to evolve small scale production methods, save work places and develop skills within small scale shoe production.
Before closing the review, i need to add something about the design of the book: it is not even remotely practical. You keep getting numbers in red telling you to flip back and forth in the book to see pictures or just a description of a project discussed in a paragraph. It quickly gets tiring.
Related book reviews: Book Review - Art & Activism in the Age of Globalization, Art & Agenda - Political Art and Activism.
The premise of Raphael Kim's project at Design Interactions' work in progress show --which closed a couple of days ago at the Royal College of Art-- contained all the ingredients to intrigue me: The falling cost and increase in speed of DNA sequencing has given rise to two extreme scientific worlds: giant pharmaceutical companies who trawl the Arctic Ocean in search of potent genes that would profit them in a lucrative cancer market; and DIY biologists who try to beat the system.
The device would rely on rotifers, tiny animals capable of absorbing environmental DNA, that have been genetically programmed to start glowing as soon as a target gene is spotted in their environment. The rotifers sit inside a chamber attached to the gene hunting device, and wait for the targets to come near. This kind of "LED switch" can be obtained by fusing a commercially-available fluorescent gene with a part of rotifer's own DNA (see image on the left).
A motor spins at high speed to draw the air onto the sampler while the outer mesh of the device protects the delicate samplers and filters out large, unwanted particles.
In-line with biohacking philosophy, these actions can be done, in theory, using an open-source data and hardware available to the public. Ever since the complete DNA sequence of human has been made public, genetic maps of other organisms have been published gradually, including those of rotifers, on free online database such as GenBank. Many other pieces of biohacking equipment can either be made at home or can be purchased on eBay.
Unsurprisingly, i left the show with many questions for Raphael:
The description of your project in the show mentions the 'falling cost and increase in speed of DNA sequencing', so how cheap and how fast can this be done nowadays? do you mean 'cheap' for corporate labs or do you mean 'so cheap that anyone can do it'?
This is a 'Carlson's curve' that monitors cost of DNA sequencing over time (see blue line). At the moment, my understanding is that for each base of DNA it would cost you a fraction of a penny. The cost of DNA synthesis (the act of actually creating new strands of DNA) is falling as well, albeit relatively slower (red and yellow lines).
If we think about sequencing the entire genomes of organisms, the cost can be huge for an average biohacker. Humans, with three billion base pairs of genomic DNA, would cost just below $20,000 using the latest sequencing technology, and even a relatively simpler E.coli bacterial genome would be costly. However, most biohack projects do not need to involve the entire genome, but a selection of few genes from its massive catalog. These are in the regions of hundreds to thousands of bases, which brings the cost down to a manageable level, and they can be sequenced by commercial companies that can take your sample away and sequence them for you on your behalf.
Some companies even offer an overnight sequencing service, that would allow them to sequence around 1,400 bases of your sample through the night. So yes, the speed is there, and also affordable for ordinary people to carry out.
This is already happening in citizen science. DIY bio groups in Europe have already started to create microbe maps - by collecting samples from various parts of a city and analyzing them they are trying to paint a picture of microbial diversity in a given area.
It is also important I think that whilst low cost of sequencing and synthesis is a significant trend that allows biohackers to explore the genetic contents of their environment, it is only a part of a bigger economical landscape in which 'biohacking' practice as a whole, sits in. In fact, most biohack projects do not involve DNA sequencing at all, as they can buy cheap, ready made DNA components and templates for use (think of it as components of an electric circuit board - resisters, amplifiers, LEDs etc), as well as cheap second hand lab equipment bought from ebay, sold by pharma companies who are going bankrupt from the credit crunch.
The gene hunting device you're showing would thus be used by a citizen to do their own gene hunting. Does it look in any way like the tools used by pharmaceutical companies? Do you know which kind of instruments they use to discover new genes?
If we think about what kind of genes we are looking for, what kind of organism these genes sit in, and where they might live, the design of the collecting device can be extremely diverse. At present, most gene-hunting is targeted at micro-organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa and planktons, which narrows it down a little.
For solid surfaces (e.g. skin, soil etc), the 'device' would simply consist of a cotton swab which is enough to pick up microbes. These swabs would then be sealed and taken to a big machine in laboratory for analysis. For water samples, they would use some kind of filter/net system to filter out biological samples according to size. The Craig Venter research group use specialized equipment which can be found here.
As for sampling air, which the device that I am showing at the moment is doing, simple machines called rotorod samplers are used in industry, as shown below:
They consist of rotating rods powered by motor. The rods are covered in sticky material for the microbes to land on, which can be analysed.
The story I am working on is a device based on this technology. The idea is that the biohackers gather around a fish market, trying to pick up exotic microbes that become airborne from drying and decaying fish. And the rotating rods are found at the end of the device as shown below.
The air is a seemingly-unlikely source of microbes, but recent studies show that it contains abundance of them, and who knows if these could come from different parts of the world? The bacteria that coexist with fish - either living/found on its skin, or inside their stomach (ingested as food) or simply in contact with parts of the ship etc. or any other possible sources could possibly become airborne once it reaches the fish market.
A bit of imagination was used to design the rest of my object - how long should they be to reach pallets of fish in the market, how could they imply a notion of a 'hunting tool', and also additionally, could they use some kind of a bait to help them capture the gene that they want? Where will the bait be positioned, how will it work?
Bait, here, is the rotifer, which leads me to your next question.
What made you think that rotifers would be the best ally of the bio hacker?
Many reasons behind this:
* Also - perhaps most importantly, rotifers are used because they are able to absorb environmental DNA. This is known as horizontal DNA transfer - and rotifers do this first by eating the source of DNA (eg. oncoming bacteria, plankton, yeast etc). The rotifer then needs to undergo some kind of stress - eg. heat, dryness, etc. This produces an unknown mechanism in which the rotifer 'patches' the DNA content of its stomach into its own genome. Using this mechanism, the hackers try to engineer a switch that can be incorporated into the animal so that when gene horizontal transfer occurs, the organism lights up as shown below:
The book that is in the exhibit is a journey and experiments that were undertaken to produce this switch.
Japanese love hotels go out of their way to satisfy the most outlandish fetish: some rooms offer the feeling of being inside a subway carriage, a class room, or a Hello Kitty SM room, others locks you into an alien abduction nightmare (/dream).
Ai Hasegawa, second year student in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London, proposes to close loving couples into an even more extraordinary fantasy.
Her Extreme Environment Love Hotel simulates impossible places to go such as the Earth of three hundred million years ago (during the Carboniferous period), or the surface of Jupiter by manipulating invisible but ever-present environmental factors, for example atmospheric conditions and gravity.
Our bodies would survive if we were propelled back to the Carboniferous period but they would need to adapt if we'd stay over long periods of time. It is estimated that during that time, the peak oxygen content of the atmosphere was as high as 35%, compared to 21% today. This oxygen level resulted in insect and amphibian gigantism--creatures whose size is constrained by respiratory systems that are limited in their ability to diffuse oxygen. For example, the ancestor of the dragonfly, the Meganeura, grew up to seventy-five centimeters due to the huge concentration of oxygen in the air.
Life on Jupiter doesn't sound very pleasant for us either. The atmospheric environment of the largest planet within the Solar System is one of strong gravity, high pressure, strong winds, and extremely cold temperatures.
How might our bodies change, struggle or even adapt with varying conditions around us?
The first of Ai Hasegawa's Extreme Environment Love Hotel room, the carboniferous one, is currently on view at the work in progress show of the Royal College of Art. The prototypes show how couples would have to carry a suitcase containing higher levels of oxygen that recreate the atmosphere of the Carboniferous period, they would also be surrounded by plants similar to the ones that proliferated in the warm and humid climate: large trees covered with bark and huge ferns growing in swamps.
The designer's work is of course a bit eccentric but it also propose to reflect on how making love inside an Extreme Environments Love Hotel room might give rise to new evolutions and mutations of the human body and sex and give it a brand new role away from our biologically-programmed needs and inclinations.
Why did you decide to explore new frontiers in Love Hotels?
Love hotel is a utopia to serve the people's dream and fantasy.
We are able to go to space or have a hyper gravity experience at NASA , but that is only for chosen people, the rich or some elites.
A love hotel, however, is opened to all adults. I could have worked on a 'Fun fair/ amusement park' type of attraction, but these gives us only short time experiences that don't last more than 5 minutes.
I wanted to have an experience longer than a funfair ride, an experience that would last until our body could feel slight changes and adapt to them. You can stay at the hotel for one hour, for a week or a year. Also sex is a hard form of exercise, and a "love" hotel is the perfect place to challenge the limit of our body in extreme environmental conditions.
Also from critical point of view, Love hotel is designed for sexual urge. It is a place for desire and pleasure, probably not for love nor reproduction.
I feel sex isn't motivated solely by life instinct, by the need to reproduce and make our species survive. Sexual urge can make us take some life-risking actions such as HIV infection.
I wonder if our DNA might need to be modified in order to redesign the strategy of reproduction... In other words, why not have some evolutions?
To trigger evolutions, we might want to use a technology to modify our DNA, of course. But before that, we need to study our body potentials with basic elements, invisible factors, such as atmosphere, gravity, temperature, electromagnetic waves, etc. We need new environments, new frontiers.
I chose places where 'we are not able to go to' for a romantic or melancholic reason. We don't have any strong reason to go to Jupiter. Moreover, we are able to have a time-trip to the future (possible in theory, but it's only a one-way trip), but not to the past (the theory hasn't been proved yet, i think). The love hotel would be the ideal place to serve such dreams and fantasies.
What does their body risk if the lovers keeps the breathing mask for a long time?
There is no risk. If healthy people breath 100% oxygen for long time, they would have lungs problem, but this Carboniferous portable room portable supplies only 35% oxygen under usual atmospheric pressure. A real chamber, thus not the "portable" version will be higher atmosphere, but still it will be fine. This real chamber will be similar to Hyperbaric medicine. It would probably be slightly easier to breathe and recovering energy would be faster than usual in this room.
You're also working on a Jupiter room. What will it be like? And feel like?
Customer might need to wear a harness to support the weight, they might also need to wear a bone protector, just in case. You have to be careful with the position you chose. If you want to adopt a 'woman on top' position, then your body might be too heavy to climb up. Besides, the man's hipbone might break under the weight. But if you stay for a week or a month, maybe after a while your body will adapt and become more masculine.
In a Hotel room, you also need to have a toilet and a shower. The water in the Jupiter room would fall 2.35 times faster than usual. One day lasts only 9 hours and 55 min in this room.
If you want, you might probably be able to make a baby under the hyper gravity...
Check out The Extreme Environment Love Hotel: Carboniferous Room at the Student Work-in-Progress Show, Royal College of Art, London. The exhibition end on Monday afternoon.