Despite many a primary school drawing or text book illustration, a true scale model of our Solar System is unfeasible on paper.
Over the Summer, Louise O'Connor gave Londoners a chance to walk the Solar System and get a sense of its true vastness.
A walkable scale model has been installed along the road which begins at Kingsland Road in Dalston and finishes in Stamford Hill. During last Summer, local shopkeepers at appropriate points on the route have been acting as guardians to the planets - hosting models represented by everyday objects, at their correct sizes on this 3.1 km scale.
Passersby were invited to enter the shops and ask "the planetary guardians" to be shown the planet.
Although her project challenges school books representation of the solar system, Louise didn't have the heart to deprive Pluto from its planet prestige. "Pluto was actually demoted from planet status along in 2006 and is now classified as a dwarf or minor planet along with Eris and Ceres," Louise told me. "However, after growing up with Pluto as a planet, the model just didn't seem right without it..."
How did you get interested in the solar system and its physical representation at a more human scale?
Louise: Much of current design practice increasingly contains speculations borne from more and more complex and abstracted scientific developments, and fascinating as they are, (and I sincerely mean that!) I wondered whether, against this complex background, we can truly comprehend even the 'simple' things? And recognize that these 'simple' things can be truly wonderful and inspiring in themselves.
So in terms of the Solar System, the simplicity and almost prosaic nature of it as a concept, coupled with a typical lack of true conceivability of the scale in physical form, made it a good candidate and a very evocative thing to connect to and experience physically.
Personally, I remember particularly my own primary school solar system project, drawing similar 'scales' as I mentioned before in class, and then later that day, looking at the sunset in my grandma's garden, trying to imagine this thing called 'space', with such a massive sense of awe, which I haven't forgotten!
In terms of my wider practice, I am interested in how physical experience, and re - presentation (of both the 'everyday' and intangible concepts) can be used as playful tools for debate, engagement and shifting perspectives, as well as 'human' and hence absurd yet genuine ways in which we can attempt to connect to natural phenomena outside our physical experience.
And so over the course of the year, as a project, this has included many investigations into ways we may experience a variety of fascinating phenomena from different scales more physically and intuitively; incorporating singing, listening, animating, wearing, and of course dancing, and so this particular outcome came also as a natural development from these.
Why did you decide that the solar system walk would follow a straight line? Why not distribute the planets over a non-linear walk that would reflect the fact that some planet are on the east of others, etc. not sure if my question makes sense though...
Louise: Yes that definitely makes sense and is a good question!
Well, there were a few of reasons:
Firstly, despite the fact that the planets very rarely all truly align, the diagrams we typically draw as children or see around us predominantly show this image, so I wanted to reference that, and expand it into reality. It also demonstrates how even at their closest - if they were aligned - just how very far apart they still are, so of course usually they are much further!
Secondly, on a practical and experiential level, I felt it would be more fluid to connect and feel the distances through a straight (ish) line, as in, if people had to navigate around blocks etc, they might get lost, or take longer routes than needed. Similarly, my choice of using everyday objects rather than abstract spherical models came from similar reasoning - that it would be a more graspable idea if it were based on a size we already roughly know.
Lastly, I really like the idea of these historic routes of transit in the City, and repurposing them for my own absurd ends! The road this walk takes place on is part of what was Ermine Street or Earninga Straete (in 1012), one of Britain's major Roman Roads, going from London to York.
Saying that though I have been thinking about future scale walks (for other 'un-draw-able on paper 'scales) and I think that they certainly wouldn't have to always be in a line, perhaps the planets orbiting and moving location will be my next step!
Walk the Solar System is part of the Psychomythic Nature Quest series which aims at finding ways of representing and physically experiencing scientific knowledge and in particular the most unimaginable aspects of the natural world.
Last year, the UK government announced their plan to build new nuclear power stations in 11 locations in England and Wales in order to meet their CO2 emission targets. Nuclear offers a clean, near limitless energy solution that could allow the UK to meet its emission targets without having to moderate consumer's access to energy. The broad public however is everything but prepared to accept the move. Over the past few years, science have failed to assuage the public's unscientifically-based fears and sometimes irrational concerns over nuclear energy.
With his speculative proposal Nuclear is good. What will it take to convince you?, Oliver Goodhall is trying to shape convincing arguments in favour of nuclear energy. The project is in no way propaganda, it's more about opening up a debate about nuclear energy and energy policy in general. The video below gives a clear overview of Oliver Goodhall's project:
One of the outcome of Goodhall's research was walking and talking tour to the site of a potential power station in Bradwell-on-sea, in Essex, England. He enrolled nuclear engineers, environmentalists and designers to have a nuclear-theme picnic with plenty of mushrooms and toxic-looking icecream but more importantly, to exchange views about nuclear energy in a way that would not have been possible had the encounter taken place in an office meeting room.
Among some of Oliver's proposals is a protective barrage cloud hovering over the power station to respond to fears of a disaster incident that would release radiation into the atmosphere; benefits to citizens for accepting to take responsibility of their individual nuclear waste; a special emergency team always on call to intervene in case of a problem at the power station, etc.
What if we ask for protective barrage balloons, establish concrete emergency services and resign ourselves to the perceived 'hazards'? What if we embrace pet polar bears and pineapple ice cream along with other benefits that nuclear energy could bring? And what if not; are we prepared for blackouts instead?
My research was based on UK policy, partly because of the immediacy of some of decisions that need to be taken (the Department of Energy and Climate Change was running consultation on the new nuclear power stations at the same time as the beginnings of my project too) and partly because of the re-emergence of nuclear energy as a potential energy source after a long time out in the cold.
My favourite examples of other strategies employed by other countries came from France. This probably stems from France being highly invested in nuclear energy, and it gets over 75% of its electricity this way. A couple of these examples formed the basis for some of my proposals - although I extrapolated them to a farther fetched conclusion.
One was the reporting of the Chernobyl accident in the French press whereby a supposed meteorological anticyclone effect prevented the radioactive cloud from settling, which was discredited more recently. If that story allayed fears about a nuclear accident in France for all that time, then could it be a solution to generate an artificial anticyclone to protect UK inhabitants from this perceived hazard?
The other example I enjoyed was about the channel tunnel. In order to meet CO2 emission reduction targets Eurostar switched is electricity supply from 50% UK 50% France to 100% France. As nuclear energy produces a tiny fraction of the CO2 emissions of the coal and gas-fired power the UK relies on, this slight of hand allowed them to easily meet their target. What if you scaled this up as a policy solution applied to parts of the UK?
I thought these were both fascinating examples, although not necessarily for entirely honorable reasons.
A part of your project involved a guided tour of the site of a potential new nuclear power station in Bradwell-on-sea, Essex. Do you know if the inhabitants of the area have a say in the installation of the power station? Did you go around Bradwell-on-sea to ask how people felt about the proposal?
Locally, they are consulted as part of the planning of the Government's proposed power stations and the local people I spoke to (although not many) were positive about Bradwell producing electricity again. It is a big industry, offering jobs and employment and local prosperity - before the current power station was decommissioned it provided a socio-economic stimulus to this part of Essex.
Interestingly, there were quite a few anti-windfarm stickers in the village protesting the nearby off-shore wind farm. So it's not that people are undiscerning about their energy supply choices.
What were the reactions to your project outside of the design sphere? Did you get feedback, invitations, critiques and comments from members of the governments or from scientists?
My proposals came from 9 months of research and investigation, and were heavily influenced by conversations I had with professionals from the fields of ethics, political science, materials chemistry and the Government's Department of Energy and Climate Change. Reactions were varied, but these other professional fields are engaging with the topics I was interested in; affecting policy choices and contributing to decision-making.
I think in terms of design, a common question tends to be 'what did you design?'. I say I designed an argument. Engaging with large-scale policy topics requires negotiating complex issues, getting to grips with them, and finding ways to engage the public in a meaningful debate. I'm keen to take a similar approach to other topics, such as rising sea levels, GM or land use futures (there was an interesting government report issued earlier this year on this).
The practice I established, We Made That, has just been offered an opportunity to take forward a project on energy supply vs. demand - so I think that the approach has a broader value.
I'm a bit puzzled by your idea of a cloud hovering around station. i guess i'm not comfortable with the association between cloud and nuclear. Can you explain me what it would be made of and how it would work?
This was loosely based on the example of the Windscale fire incident; escape of radioactive particles through the containment being breached. Reactors now have containment and passive safety controls. But these are shrouded within a generic shed-type building - the cloud was about us considering a more conspicuous and obvious safety infrastructure. What would it take to convince you that this safety infrastructure was sufficient?
The conversations that stemmed from this proposal were very interesting - especially with the nuclear engineers - about the 'public understanding of' reactor safety, and what measures might be most expedient to convince an unsure public. Some of this debate can be seen in the documentary film of the guided tour.
You mentioned that science didn't quite manage to convince about the benefits of adopting nuclear energy and that a reason for that was that science had to face argument that are "irrational or unscientifically founded". Can you tell us more about these arguments and why they are unscientifically founded?
Nuclear energy has been around for 60 years in the UK, but now we are at a point of dilemma; looming climate change alters our perspective on energy production. If the scientific arguments put forward are falling on deaf ears then how else can you go about convincing naysayers that difficult choices need to be made? On the guided tour there were both pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear participants - and the argument between them typically came back to;
"It's very very unlikely, imperceptibly unlikely, that something could get out of all that containment"... "But is that meant to comfort people?"
This reinforces that a shift in tactics or approach might be necessary - although not an admission that science might be very comfortable with.
You will present your work at the sustain 2010 exhibition. Are you going to present the project in the exact same way you did at the Summer show? Or has the content of your project or the way you communicate it changed over the past few weeks/months?
I'll actually be showing the project differently. I imagine it will remain fairly provocative in terms of sustainability, nuclear tends to be a divisive topic, but the implications of our energy choices still need to be addressed. Setting these energy choices against climate change leads to difficult questions.
I personally consider nuclear to be necessary as part of an eco-pragmatic energy agenda. My approach to the project considered nuclear the 'what if', but there's also a 'what if not?' choice available to us - but maybe this is less palatable than the nuclear option. As you might be able to tell, I question whether it is genuinely 'sustainable' to continue making more 'sustainable products' - and I would rather address the fundamentals at the root of our energy choices.
Millions of people around the world are type 1 diabetics. Most of them are otherwise healthy, and enjoy a perfectly normal life if they are disciplined enough to keep their blood sugar level constantly under check.
James Gilpin, who recently graduated from Design Interactions in London, suffers from type 1 diabetes. He has used his own experience of the condition to explore but also discuss the consequences of using science to alter our bodies' abilities.
The designer's project, Family Whisky, is inspired by the fact that large amounts of sugar are excreted on a daily basis by diabetic patients -especially older people- who don't have adequate control of their sugar levels. Processing old people's urine to produce whisky of high economic value is not a scheme sponsored by the government to solve Britain's looming pension crisis, it is the starting point for a discussion with health care professionals about the everyday problems caused by diabetes.
Is it plausible to suggest that we start utilizing our water purification systems in order to harvest the biological resources that our elderly already process in abundance? In James Gilpin's scenario, sugar heavy urine excreted by patients with diabetes would be used for the fermentation of high-end single malt whisky for export.
James had lined up bottles of various whisky blends for visitors to taste during the Design Interactions show (which closed in late June i'm afraid). Although the liquid smelled nothing like urine, I wasn't as brave as other people and refuse to drink any of it.
How did you approach the diabetic patients and ask them for their urine? How did they react to your request?
I began by working with people that I know personally so my grandmother was the first candidate to sign up for the trials. I went through lots of my process with her and worked out where people were likely to feel uncomfortable. This helped to avoid lots of awkward moments. (I should say that not all my collaborators were diabetic some just had dilapidated endochrine systems due to old age.) I then heard a story about a pharmaceutical factory based in a community of elderly people and they would send representatives door to door exchanging cushions and soft toys for tubs of urine. The factory would then take the urine and process it to remove all of the chemicals that they had originally been selling their customers on the shelves of pharmacies. I took this model and adapted it for my own purpose. The only problem was that people then mistook me for an innovation designer and the project would be misunderstood. I am of course not suggesting that this process should be in anyway commercial although the idea of old peoples homes with distilleries in the garden in a funny one.
Can you describe the process of turning urine into whisky? Did you do it yourself or did you just bring the 'ingredients' to a brewery?
So the urine is cleaned using the same techniques that we use for purifying our mains water stock. This process itself shares much of the distillery process. The thing that made life easier is that the sugar molecules are large and will form crystals which can then be removed and purified separately.
This sugar is added to the mash stock and used to accelerate the fermentation process. This is sort of a bit of a cheat as traditionally the sugars would be made form the starches in the mash. During the brewing process I make a clear alcohol sprit. This is again not the traditional method for making whisky but I adopted a commercial technique for cheap whisky and used whisky blends which I added to the sprite to give color, taste and viscosity.
Could people do it themselves with the kind of household equipment they already have home?
You can make the alcohol at home but purifying the sugars requires far more understanding of clean lab processes and chemistry so I definitely wouldn't recommend doing this at home. Distillery equipment can be bought legally but you will need a licence to actually produce alcohol.
Can the diabetic safely drink the whisky?
This is one of the reasons I choose whisky as an output. No, diabetics definitely shouldn't drink whisky and it's not a product intended to be consumed by diabetics only produced by them. That being said if you read the online diabetic forums you will find it is often the drink of choice as whisky will give you an artificial low in sugar levels shortly after drinking it. This is not because its is forming some biochemical miracle, it is simply that the high alcohol quantities mean that the sugar cannot be processed at the same time.
The fact that I am associating alcohol with a severe medical condition has upset some medical professionals that I have met during the process of my project. This was a very deliberate provocation on my part as I wanted to have a dialogue with health care professionals about the real complications of living with diabetes. People still want to drink, eat unhealthy food and experience the messiness of everyday life. In my personal experience this is often overlooked by professionals who can give the impression that theses things simply should not be a part of life as a diabetic patient but they are. I am interested in finding ways in which designed systems can help overcome these very social problems.
Are you planning to show Family Whisky in other contexts than the RCA show?
The piece was designed as a public engagement piece that would exist outside the gallery context and act as an educational tool. That said the next two venues of the Whisky shop are in a gallery context. I am showing at 100% materials in September and at the AND festival (Abandon Normal Devices) in Manchester in October. This is a festival organised by FACT and curated by Professor Andy Miah.
What do you hope that your project can teach to someone who has no experience of diabete?
I show a film trilogy at the same time as serving whisky and these each of these outline one aspect of living with diabetes. I had originally hoped to show people that although Diabetes is a medical condition it could be possible to consider this break from our genetic norms as a state of enhancement and not just an illness in need of constant attention.
All images courtesy of James Gilpin.
She's not only a graduate of Design Interactions (RCA, London), she's also Sputniko!, a Japanese pop star whose music, videos, performances and electronic devices explore themes of technology, gender and pop culture.
Hiromi is the author of devices such as the Pénis Cybernétique (i'm sure your french is fluent enough to make sense of the words) and Crowbot Jenny, a dark-haired girl who goes around urban park carrying on her shoulder a crow-shaped robot that can communicate with crows and turn them into a bird army. Her first dvd album Parakonpe 3000 is a collection of videos which comment on our relationship with technology. There's the "Child Producing Machine" but also the Google Song, "Sputniko! TV: A Children's Program for Newly Born A.I.s" and the Wakki Song (an interactive armpit performance).
More than just a gadget, a video, a song, Sputniko! creates a whole character with its own manga-inspired aesthetics, attributes, super-powers and dynamics. Each of her projects has been produced in collaboration with scientists experts in Zoology, Medicine and Reproductive Science.
She was presenting two new works at the Summer exhibition of the Royal College of Art.
First, a much blogged-about device which, i hope, will soon be added to the collection of the Museum of Menstruation.
The question at the heart of the Menstruation Machine, Takashi's Take is 'It's 2010, so why are humans still menstruating?'
Abdominal pain, headaches, depression, emotional sensitivity, feeling bloated, changes in sex drive and nausea, premenstrual water retention, etc. Not to mention mood swings. Why do women still have to go through that?
Women are in good company though. just like them, chimpanzees and fruit bats need to bleed monthly for their reproductive cycle.
What does Menstruation mean, biologically, culturally and historically, to humans? Who might choose to have it, and how might they have it?
Fitted with a blood dispensing mechanism and lower-abdomen-stimulating electrodes (the same used by your uncle to muscle his abs while watching tv on the sofa, only that Hiromi maxed out the power of the contractions), the Menstruation Machine simulates the pain and bleeding of an average 5 day menstruation.
The machine could be worn by men who desire to feel closer to women and experience what they have to go through, but also by women when menstruation becomes obsolete in the future and the process becomes a mere ritual of gender and identity.
The artist made a music video to illustrate how and by whom the machine could be used.
The video 'Menstruation Machine - Takashi's Take' stars Takashi, a boy who builds the machine in an attempt to understand better what the girls he hang around with experience every month.
Her second project had the same level of fantasy, the same vision of a technocratic future. Sushiborg Yukari is a cyborg designed to serve Sushi on her rotating belt. Her function is to entertain over-worked Japanese businessmen in their after-hours. She is tomorrow's equivalent of Nyotai Mori, the tradition of serving Sushi on naked women.
Given scientists' fondness for young, slick, pretty girl-robots, one would not be surprised to see a sushi cyborg hit the gadget blogs in the future. Sushiborg Yukari, however, is a dissatisfied cyborg.
When Yukari's artificial intelligence develops enough to understand she's little more that a sex object, she starts to slowly and secretly hack herself into a lethal weapon by attaching knives to her own body. And one day, she manages to escape the sushi restaurant....
More works from the RCA show, over here, ladies and gents!
He was showing a witty, wonderfully researched and tactful fake documentary aimed as a subtly subversive introduction for North Koreans into diverse aspects of western culture. The film also explores how design can contribute and impact on a social and cultural level, subtly challenging an ideological status quo.
North Korea is one of the most politically and culturally isolated countries in the world, any foreign influences is systematically rejected. The fact that the first pizzeria opened only last year in the capital Pyongyang, is quite symptomatic of how culturally controlled the country is. I was first tempted to compare the opening of the pizzeria to the one of the first McDonald's fastfood in Moscow but that would be misguided. Only the leader Kim Jong-Il and a handful of wealthy people can afford a Margherita or a Quattro formaggi.
Filmed in South Korea and split into four episodes, Star Pizza introduces North Koreans to typical aspects of Western culture through the eyes of a fictional young couple.
The lovely couple is exposed to Western cuisine with the chapter on How to Make a Pizza; the possibility of going on holiday with the episode about How to Pack a Suitcase To Go Abroad; Western entertainment with How To Become A Trend Leader At Pop Dancing and finally learn How to celebrate Christmas Day.
Since there is no hope that Star Pizza would ever be shown on North Korean tv, Hwang Kim converted his film to 500 DVDs, managed to get in touch with people who smuggle over the North Korean borders from China, and had them distribute the film on the black markets of Pyongyang.
One of the smugglers asked the designer to send him some clothes and shoes for his wife and daughters as a price for this dangerous job.
As Hwang Kim explained me, North Koreans have almost no access to the internet. The only way they can watch films and soap operas from other country is to buy pirate DVD on the black markets of the capital.
All the actors of Star Pizza are South Koreans, casting North Koreans refugees may have threaten their security. To give the illusion that the film was made in North Korea, North Korean refugees gave the actors a one week intensive accent training course. The refugees, living now in London and South Korea gave advice and feedback on all aspect of the film, throughout its production.
Star Pizza is accompanied by a series of specially designed political props that have been inserted into the four episodes and that were also exhibited at the RCA show.
For example, the prop in the second episode of the film is an "Exile Blanket". The young couple is packing a suitcase for their holiday abroad. A Russian-style bed sheet embroidered with the portraits of famous political exiles can be seen in the back of their room. Images of exiles are not allowed to be shown in any kind of media in North Korea. Yet, exile is the only way for North Koreans to travel abroad. According to the UN HCR, over 300,000 North Koreans have already chosen this form of holiday.
The designer chose some of his own favourite exiles for the blanket. From left top, Karl Marx, Dea Joong Kim, Vladimir Lenin, Miklós Horthy, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alejo Carpentier, Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov, Alfonso XII, Bob Powell, Edward VIII, Ferdinand Marcos, Francisco Goya, Haile Selassie, Sun Yat Sen and Manuel Azaña.
Another prop is the fan that doubles as a radio when you press the buttons in the correct order. Long distance, short wave radios are strictly forbidden in North Korea. In the film, a old fan is used as a vehicle to conceal this type of radio, enabling the protagonists to circumvent the regulations. It is a playful proposal for North Koreans on how to develop creative tools of cultural guerrilla.
From the same Platform: Nomadic Sound Systems.
Another look at the graduate projects of Design Interactions, Royal College of Art, in London.
Sitraka Rakotoniaina's Hyper Normal series of objects explores a possible 'Hyper-normal' space on the edge of normality, whereby a distorted experience of reality is induced because of physical or psychological stress, injuries, conditioning or training.
The first object Sitraka Rakotoniaina designed attempts to manipulate time, or rather the notoriously elastic perception we have of time. It flies when watching an action film and slows down when queuing at the post office. People who have been involved in car accidents have often reported how, in the few seconds before the crash, they had an experience similar to that slow motion effect called bullet-time. Warner Bros., the distributor of The Matrix, actually trademarked the term.
Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains that in a situation of intense stress and, when experiencing things for the first time, the brain creates much denser and richer memories, giving the feeling that an event lasted longer than it has.
Rakotoniaina created a "Time Conditioning" prosthesis for the arm that aims at providing this same feeling of bullet-time. Not to avoid bullets that villains might shot at you on a rooftop but to enable users to catch flies with chopsticks. Because...
" Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything."
The training prosthesis slows down the moves of the user's arm, as if under water. After a period of adaptation the training device is taken off. Once freed of the prosthesis the user has potentially increased his anticipation skills.
The second object of the Hyper Normal series triggers a temporary amnesia, called transient global amnesia.
Amnesia can be seen as a reflex that acts as a kind of safety fuse in case of an emotional or physical overload. It usually occurs after a brain ischemia when memory is more sensitive to the deprivation of blood than other areas.
Called Beam Me Down, the "self-inducing amnesia" device has a discrete trap-door hiding a pump that quickly pushes air in and out the user's lungs, causing hyperventilation which leads to a brain ischemia that eventually causes fainting and a potential temporary loss of memory. Once the user has hit the floor, a counter weight pulls the trap-door shut, leaving no evidence save for the light beam shining onto the un-animated body.
By getting this self-induced amnesia, the person would be on a 'holiday' from their own life and personality. But would they have to go to a bland, neutral or unfamiliar place to provide the user with the full amnesia experience? A building that looks nothing like their house for example, to ensure that memory would come back as slowly as possible or did you think of some other location?
No actually. As it is a temporary loss of memory that can last up to 24h i presumed that it would be more convenient for the person to stay home.
However the device is designed with a counter-weight that pulls the trap-door shut, once the person has fainted. Hiding the mechanism inside the beam in order to leave no evidence of what happened.
The idea behind is that you would trick yourself by displaying fake clues about who you are and what you do. As you might try to recollect your memory, those fake clues would lead you potentially to new experiences that you would have never tried whilst being 'yourself'. A temporary amnesia could be a good excuse to explore some kind of parallel life, without risking to lose everything you have done so far.
And hopefully it would give you the necessary distance to get a better awareness of the condition within you are living.
How would you define the sense of 'hyper normality' your devices are trying to recreate? Do you have examples of everyday life 'hyper normality'?
The hyper-normal is a space on the edge of normality.
There are few examples of that I would call hyper-normal, but most of the time they are seen as abnormality, disease, mental illnesses etc. For example sleepwalking can lead to really complex behaviours, like driving to the gas station. We do not really know what causes this phenomenon, but what if we would be able to control it and accomplish tasks while sleeping. Stress as well, during a frightening event like a car accident. People usually talk about experiencing the few seconds before the crash in real slow-motion.
And what would it be like to extend normality to few of these phenomenons? New experiences or better understanding of what is a 'normal' condition, maybe.
Do you plan to work any further on the hyper normal projects? With new prototypes or maybe by improving the existing ones?
I would like to, I think this space has got potentially a lot of depth to explore. I do not really try to make the prototypes 100% efficient as sometimes a good probe can convey the same message better. Because it can be more theatrical, dramatic, filmic or whatever it needs to be.
But I would be quite up for working with scientists as well to try to make fully working prototypes, but not on my own.
All images courtesy of the designer.