Hiromi Ozaki is some kind of hybrid between Laurie Anderson and Maywa Denki.

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.

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Pénis Cybernétique, close-up. Image Sputniko!

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.

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Photography: Rai Royal

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.

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Detail of the Menstruation Machine

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.

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Photography: Rai Royal

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.

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Hiromi Ozaki demonstrates the dangerous sushi belt

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....


Sputniko!, Sushiborg Yukari

More works from the RCA show, over here, ladies and gents!

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Never a dull post with the graduates from Platform 13, Design Products Department, Royal College of Art.

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Hwang Kim (also the author of a spectacular CCTV Chandelier) was one of the superstars of the whole RCA exhibition for me.

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.

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Scene from How to Pack a Suitcase

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How to Make a Pizza

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.

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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.

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Pyong Yang, North Korea, 2010. Photographed by Unknown

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."
Miyagi-Karate Kid (1984)

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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.

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I had a couple of questions for Sitraka:

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.

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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.
As I put normality as a brain-made experience of the world. Everything we experience via our 5 senses is readjusted by the brain that gives us our interpretation of our environment. And it is reality. The hyper-normality is just a distortion of the same reality that have been induced by injuries, body mal-function, psychological or physical stress, artificially via drugs or by sort of 'physiological hacking' like I try to do in my projects.

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.
Which proves that our perception of time can be totally made up by the brain.

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.

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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.

Thanks Sitraka!

All images courtesy of the designer.

Third project i discovered at the RCA Summer Show. This one was developed at Platform 13, part of the Design Products Department and mentored by Onkar Kular and Sebastien Noel.

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Platform 13 is by far the most interesting of all Design Products platforms for me. Hopefully, the projects i'm going to blog in the next few days will demonstrate why i find their work so relevant and surprising. Here's the blurb from their website: Platform 13 starts from the premise that our current global society, with its prevailing techno-political system, faces challenges of an unprecedented scale. We are asking ourselves 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.

Before i proceed with the text about Benjamin Newland's Nomadic Sound Systems, i'll invite you to watch the video of the performance:

The wireless wearable sound system frees electronic music from the restraints of immovable equipment, opening up possibilities for mobile performance and new forms of audience participation.

The NSS enables musicians to fully engage with the space and experiment with human analogue surround sound, moving speakers around the audience, setting up surprises in the halls and corridors and creating site specific musical journeys in the process.

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What i found most generous and smart in Benjamin's approach is that he doesn't see himself as the ultimate performer and controller of the NSS. He's rather put it in the hands of talented and creative musicians who would make the most of the possibilities offered by his project.

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Benjamin gave me more details about his plans when we met at RCA and during a more recent online conversation:

I see the project as having 3 key directions which can be pushed it further.

The first is in terms of performance. I would like to work with musicians and DJs who can make use of the new set of possibilities provided by the system, to make specific music and performances. The NSS puts a human in control of each element of the sound system and allows them to move individually or as a group so you can use choreography to mix sound spatially and travel through space. Currently, sound is broadcast from a single band leader and participants have control over their location and volume, but in future we will be able to let them shape the sound they are producing, and if we can network the system with MIDI control, they could play each component like an instrument.

The second direction is about spontaneity and flexibility. The NSS can be used for unplanned and impromptu events which opens up the possibility to use the psychological and emotional influence of sound and music, to change behaviour.

Lastly, I think the wireless speakers can be used informally to socialise the consumption of music, outside ipods and club culture. Several of designs are suitable as open source designs where people can download them, adapt, and make them for themselves. It would be great to create a culture of sound system modification and display, much like modified car culture.

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View of the exhibition space

Are you planning to do more performances in London or elsewhere? Are there places where you would dream to see the NSS perform?

As for forthcoming events, I haven't yet confirmed any, but I would really like to see it at community events and celebrations. My favourite events are Lewes bonfire night which has an amazing archaic anarchy about it it, and and the joyous Hanover day in Brighton. I would like to see the project become a set of tools for for people to create events like those, but relating to their own unique contemporary street cultures, formalising them with pageantry and social display. Obviously this already happens at events like Notting Hill carnival but I think it is good to enable more people to do it in more ways.

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The track used on the video is I.R.L. by Girl Unit (real name Philip Gamble), who has kindly given his permission for it to be uploaded online.

The video was shot in a void space under the Westway (M40), on Wood Lane, White City, in London.

Thanks for your time and answers Benjamin!

All images courtesy of the designer.

Back to my visit at the Royal College of Art graduate exhibition
Post graduates of the Architectural Design Studio 4 (ADS4) at the Royal College of Art have been exploring the concept of immortality with a series of projects that speculate on the consequences of a society increasingly obsessed with youth and beauty, and denial of death. How will this desire for immortality manifest itself in an architecture that resonates far into the future?

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One of the projects of ADS4, A Crime of Passion - Synthetic Murder in our Midst, knits together a scenario made of gene therapy, criminality, love and lurid gossips for tabloids. The twisted and compelling project designed by Rachel Harding revolves around the question: In a Future Dominated by Gene Therapy, How Might Criminal DNA Mend Britain's Breaking Hearts?

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View of the entrance

The answer to the question lies somewhere at the intersection between two facts that might otherwise seem to be poles apart:

1. In 2003, the British Food and Drug Administration eased the ban on gene therapy trials using retroviral vectors in blood stem cells. Scientists could potentially correct the genes responsible for a life-threatening condition by "smuggling" functional copies into the cells. It is hoped that one day gene therapy studies might be able to find a cure for cancer and hereditary diseases. The therapy doesn't come without problems and a high cost. However, it is estimated that the cost of decoding a person's genome is likely to fall from $50,000 to $100 by 2015.

2. Crime groupies or prison groupies who profess their love to notorious criminals. Some even manage to marry them. Ted Bundy, a serial killer who confessed to over 30 murders, is said to have received 200 love letters a day after his conviction. Josef Fritzl seems to attract an equal amount of amorous passion.

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In 2030, the detritus of crime scenes has become a romantic commodity. A health-obsessed public are turning to genetic miracles to cure their many ills. To maintain their medical regimes, each patient requires the regular donation of hundreds of genes from a singular donor, but as our genetic blueprint has become increasingly vital to our lives, so has our aversion to donation. Studies have shown that some 30% of the public surveyed would not accept to donate an organ, and that 89% people would refuse to give their genes for therapies.

Criminal DNA is therefore used to meet public demand for genes. As treatments progress, donor and patient become increasingly homozygous, and peculiar romances begin to form.

This idea of a romance comes from a phenomenon called genetic attraction, in which people with similar genetic codes feel attracted towards each other. It is believed to affect half of the adopted siblings who first meet as adults. The next step according to Harding's scenario would see women who have undergone gene therapy fall in love with the criminals who have donated their genes to medicine.

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Rapid prototype of 3d lace structure. The hospital is constructed from lace patterns that have been grotesquely extruded to create a fairy-tale castle of treatment rooms and watch towers

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Elevation

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Exterior perspective

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One of the models exhibited at the show

The love would bloom in a series of buildings and structures where patients can receive gene therapies  in a hospital of bullet proof mirror glass whilst enjoying romantic but high-security rendezvous with their criminal donors. The convicts would be kept in locked concrete structures whilst the housewives enjoy their genetic honeymoon. Both would be able to date at a distance at specially-designed film theaters and parks. That's what Harding calls a love resort providing a medical honeymoon of genetic perfection.

In an attempt to revive readership, media group News International would fund Gunpowder Park (that's the name of the charming resort.) This glorious union of violence and romance creates a sensational community filling red-tops with exclusive juicy crimes and intriguing love affairs to grip the British public.


Photographer: Hitomi Kai Yoda

I'm going to spend the whole week in blogger inferno (meaning no wifi at all, just apathetic connection using a phone network somewhere in Wallonia where people don't appear to be keen on getting decent mobile phone coverage), i might therefore be a bit slow with the updates and reviews.

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Installation of Andrew Friend's works in the exhibition space

A few days ago i was in London to visit the Royal College of Art Summer show. I'll kick off with the Design Interactions department but expect stories from Architecture and Design Product as well in the coming days.

Back in September when i came to see the work in progress show, i was very intrigued by Andrew Friend's exploration of the fantastic. He was showing a long mast designed to attract lightening strike and brand/burn the skin of your upper arm with a lightening logo, as a souvenir of this one-in-a-lifetime experience.

Friend's project has evolved over the past few months. It is now made of a series of three prototypes that act as a compelling antidote to a society that would have us live an increasingly safe, bland and surprise-free existence. This is specially true in England i guess where the infamous Health and Safety Authority seems to dictate how one can use an escalator, roll a cheese or walk in order not to be defeated by the treacherously slippery leaves that paves your way in Autumn.

The designers project, simply titled Fantastics, fully embraces the unexpected, the confusing and the extraordinary. The fantastic has the power to engage the imagination, initiate dreams and trigger desires, excite, manipulate and confuse. The projects explore how one can, through the production of objects and services located in specific contexts, enable these fantasies.

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Photographer: Hitomi Kai Yoda

The first prototype is the Device for Experiencing Lightning strike, a long, light and foldable mast which increases the user's likelihood of getting struck by lightning. Energy from the strike is transferred to heat, used to brand the user (yes, like cattle) and scar him or her as a memory of the event. The device questions the dissemination of this experience, from the life threatening, to simple story, the transition from the fantastic to the banal.

Friend tested the device in the Peak District a few weeks ago. He was not lucky enough to be hit by lightening. The fact that the fantastic might or might not happen is actually part of the whole experience.

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The prototype i found most interesting (in spite of my fierce claustrophobia) is the Device for Disappearing (at sea) which offers the individual opportunity for a safe, temporary disappearance, experiencing an isolation seldom found on land. The candidate for this isolating experience goes down a rope to the bottom of a floating well located in the middle of a lake or quiet sea, disappearing from view beneath the water's surface. The device examines the relationship between the known above, and the unknown/ imagined world below sea level.

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The device for disappearing at sea is made of fiberglass. It stays afloat thanks to inflatable buoyancy bags, and it is ballasted to pull it down to the desired level. As Andrew explained me, "In order to achieve the correct balance the volume of air in the buoyancy bags is adjusted to float the device just below the water's surface, with only the rim of the hole above."

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Experiencing the invisible, RAF Flyingdales Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station, N.Yorks. Photo by Hitomi Kai Yoda

Finally, there is the Device for Experiencing the Invisible, a parabolic dish that places its wearer at the center of any invisible energy passing around. For optimum and most extraordinary results, the wearer must go to sites of increased radio, paranormal, or electrical activity. Could the device lead to mutation, possible harm, or uncover new, previously unseen landscapes and instances? How much risk / danger will individuals put themselves under in order to experience this invisible fantastic?

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Drawing of the device

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Close up image of the Device for Experiencing the Invisible during testing

Photos and drawing courtesy of Andrew Friend. Credit photo for the Lightning strike & Invisible devices: Hitomi Kai Yoda.

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