The book under review this week is Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive, edited by Bas van Abel (Creative Director of Waag Society), Roel Klaassen (Programme Manager at Premsela, Dutch Platform for Design and Fashion), Lucas Evers (Head of Programme Culture at Waag Society and member of Creative Commons Netherlands) and Peter Troxler (independent researcher and concept developer.) You can find it on amazon USA or UK.
BIS publishers writes: In design(ing) there is a revolution ongoing that is triggered by an emerging networked community that is sharing digital information about physical products and the ubiquitous availability of production tools and facilities. It transforms design into an open discipline, in which designs are shared and innovation of a large diversity of products is a collaborative and world spanning process.
Open Design Now covers these issues:
You might remember that I've already said a few words about Open Design Now in early June when it was launched at DMY International Design Festival Berlin. I hadn't read the book at the time. I have now.
The book is divided into three main sections. The first one is made of some 210 pages of essays by practitioners and thinkers such as John Thackara, Dick Rijken from STEIM and professor at The Hague University, Bre Pettis of the MakerBot fame, Renny Ramakers from Droog Design, Tommi Laitio from Demos Helsinki. The section of essays is followed by a stimulating list of case studies that range from the Fifty Dollar Leg Prosthesis to Fritzing and the RepRap digital fabrication system. The last part is the 'visual index' made of examples over examples of inspirational works and ideas: guerrilla gardening, bamboo bikes, hacker strategies, recycling initiatives, manifestos, grassroots inventions, etc.
The authors of the book announce right from the start that they won't try and reduce open design to a definition. What they do instead is provide a clear snapshot of the state of open source design in all its guises. Van Abel, Evers, Klaassen and Troxler did also a great job at editing a book that provides a solid framework for discussion as well as plenty of opportunities to reflect and ponder on the opportunities and challenges offered by open source values on the whole spectrum of creativity, from chair marketing to robot making.
In their essays, the contributors explore with more depth many of the issues that the design community might prefer to ignore right now: shifts in the distribution and production process, 'loss' of control, adjustments of intellectual property rights, reassessment of old hierarchies, access to knowledge, definition of 'design literacy', impact of new technologies and tools, the hybridization of the designer's role, the designer-client relationship is under (re)evalution... And most crucially for some, the business potential of open source creativity.
Joris Laarman's point of view is one of the highlights of the book. The designer (and one of the initiators of Make-Me.com) raises thought-provoking questions about the 'mediocracy of the middle classes' that dominates the current mass production design, about why true modernists wanted open source design 100 years ago, how the power could get out of the grasp of multinationals and back into the hands of craftspeople whose know-how and talent had been rendered irrelevant by industrialization, why creative commons licensing shouldn't prevent you from making profit, etc.
Another great input is Mushon Zer-Aviv's essay "Learning by Doing", a very personal and often humourous account of the strategies he deployed in his efforts to teach open design in art and design schools.
Finally, and mostly because it gives me the opportunity to highlight the breadth of the book, i'd like to single out Open Design for Government, an essay in which Bert Mulder calls for applying some of the tools, frameworks and values of open design to governmental institutions in order to open up policy making to citizens.
Before i close this post, i should mention the very brave and befitting publication model. BIS publishers is making the content of the book gradually available on the Open Design Now website. Right now, 15% of the content can be read online.
Views inside the book:
Image on the homepage: ÖLKE BÖLKE by Remy&Veenhuizen. Photo: Leo Veger.
Gambiarra is the Brazilian practice of makeshifts, the art of resorting to quirky and smart improvisation in order to repair what doesn't work or to create what you need with what you have at your disposal. Gambiologia is the 'science' that studies this form of creative improvisation and celebrates it by combining it with electronic-digital techniques.
Gambiologia is also the name of a collective of artists - Fred Paulino, Lucas Mafra and Paulo Henrique 'Ganso Pessoa' - who mix this art of improvisation with DIY culture & technology to develop electronic artifacts.
Last year, Fred Paulino gathered the work of Gambiologia along with the one of over 20 Brazilian and international artists in an exhibition titled "Gambiólogos - Kludging in a Digital Era". The objects, sculptures and installations selected explored the concept of technological gambiarra: they adapt, reinvent recycled and found materials using electronic technologies and much improvisation.
Fred Paulino, who is an artist, designer, gambiologist as well as the curator of the exhibition, was kind enough to send me the catalog of the show a few months ago (you can also download the catalog in its PDF form.) I liked its content so much i thought it was my duty to pester him with my questions:
You translate 'gambiologia' with Kludging. How different is it from hacking?
Gambiologia is something like "The science of gambiarra", which is a Brazilian cultural practice of solving problems creatively in alternative ways with low cost and lots of spontaneity, or giving unusual functions to everyday life objects. There is no exact translation for 'gambiarra' so we initially used kludge which means (from Wikipedia): 'a workaround, a quick-and-dirty solution, a clumsy or inelegant, yet effective, solution to a problem, typically using parts that are cobbled together'. In the US they'd call it makeshift. Gambiologia is the study of 'gambiarra' in a technological context.
We actually stopped translating Gambiologia at all :^)
I 'd say it is a specific kind of hacking - it's the proposal of hacking not only electronics or codes, but objects as well. It's about using things (or bits, maybe) in functions they were not initially proposed to. Modify them or join them in improvised and creative ways so they'll not accomplish the original task anymore. Using parts that were not supposed to be together to create a distressing whole. In our case it's also deeply linked to Brazilian folk culture.
Before we go to the artworks themselves, could you give us a few examples of everyday gambiology in the streets of Belo Horizonte?
It's easy to find many samples of 'gambiarras' if you travel anywhere in Brazil. You can also get many pics if you google it but I attached some I collected myself.
Audio cable fixed with candy wrapper:
Beer chilled in suspended pail:
Shower in a pet bottle:
Mobile beer chilling:
Pet bottle lamp:
Simplest way to leave it open:
Among the works presented in the catalogue i was particularly curious about the following ones:. O Grivo, Polvo, Eles estão vivos, Furadeiras. Can you describe them briefly and tell us what they are about?'
Passo a Passo (Step by Step) is a work by the guys of O Grivo. They propose a random percussion symphony where different notes are played as the shadows of small pieces of wood are detected by sensors connected to a computer. Each of these pieces is attached by the end of a stick which rotates 360º at random speed, so when it gets to 0º, it plays its own note very loud. It proposes an interesting contrast between a very delicate structure and loud music tones in a kind of physically constructed musical timeline.
Polvo (Octopus) from Paulo Nenflidio is a sound machine made by plastic conduits. These are originally used to hold electric cables but Paulo used them to hold compressed air. As the visitor "plays" a keyboard made out of door ring bells, the conduits blow, generating different sounds. The seven bells form a complete tone set. This bizarre octopus-instrument still have an 8th note generated by an water spray on its top.
Eles Estão Vivos (They're Still Alive) was created by Paulo Waisberg. I initially invited him to be the scenographer of the exhibition but he also came with this work. We had all these old displays and keyboards that were donated by the city's council but we didn't know how to use. Paulo created this artwork during the exhibition preparation just a day before the opening, using old footage of blinking eyes in the displays. In my opinion it tells a lot about how re-creating can be much more interesting than recycling. It's also a good demonstration of how a strong sense of improvisation and spontaneity was incorporated all through the exhibition.
Furadeiras (Drills) is one of the simplest exhibited artworks but surely one of the smartest. It's by Guto Lacaz, an experienced artist from Sao Paulo. He proposed an unusual meeting between "different generation" drills - one being analogue and the other electrical. It's an ironic interpretation between planned obsolescence and how technology evolves, sometimes just rotating around itself in an infinite loop. Or how the old (low-tech) and the new (high-tech) can live collaboratively.
How about Gambiociclo? What made you decide to create this 'mobile unit of multimedia transmission"?
The Gambiocycle is inspired on Graffiti Research Lab's mobile broadcast unit. I got to be friend with those guys a few years ago, we made some stuff together, they proposed to me run GRL Brazilian sister cell www.graffitiresearchlab.com.br . We run it in parallel to Gambiologia.
I always wish to have a multimedia vehicle that could project video and digital graffiti in public space. It's terrific how that can be a straight path to a democratic dialogue between people and the city itself. But our MBU should be gambiological - reflecting the logics and aesthetics of 'gambiarra' with this strong Brazilian accent. So we built it inspired by trolleys of salesmen who ride here mostly selling products or doing political advertisement. The idea was to mix performance, happening, electronic art, graffiti and 'gambiarras'.
Yes. People are always surprised as they're not much used to digital graffiti or having electronic art in the streets here. But what impressed me the most is the immediate affinity that the Gambiocycle caused in ordinary people not directly involved to art. I was initially most worried about the vehicle's funcionality or the performances' visual contents, but probably due to the strong local aesthetics it incorporates, people were suddenly feeling more like touching the MBU, taking pictures with it or riding it. I believe it comes from this unconscious feeling of spontainity the work proposes and everybody practice some way since childhood.
And we just got the news that Gambiocycle got an Honorary Mention at Prix Ars Electronica 2011 yeah!
Is there a conscious art community of gambilogos in Brazil but also beyond it? Or is it more like a natural and widespread way of using technology that doesn't really need a name or a purpose community to exist?
Gambiologia was initially the name our three guys' collective but the word is now being used here to identify a new way of think about technology, hacking and (Brazilian) pop culture. Like a science or a movement... It somehow captured the feeling of many creators, and I believe not only in this country. Many artists worldwide are "gambiólogos" (gambiologists) without knowing that. I recently had been in touch with the work of European artists like Niklas Roy which are pretty much gambiological! That's the feeling that Gambiólogos exhibition proposed to group and show.
It doesn't need a name at all but if it had that should be in Brazilian Portuguese :^) Yes I strongly believe this country is a perfect example of chaotic miscegenation - cultural or technological - that results in a notion of creative spontaneity. As a colonial country we initially didn't have enough resources for solving everyday problems so we had to invent simple and cheap solutions... Gambiologia tries to go beyond this, bring it into the art scene with an aesthetical and political discussion about technology.
Does Gambiologia have any consideration for aesthetics?
Sure! But for us we had enough of Apple-like clean aesthetics, we had enough newly-released electronics. People can't stand so many rubbish and consumption... That's why we love to work and play with recycling, remixing and - why not - reproposing the notion of "old" and "new".
Last week, i was dragged out of bed at the most scandalously early hour to participate to the final jury of the projects presented by the students of the Master in Media Design at the Geneva University of Art and Design, aka the Head. The programme has been launched two year ago and a first class of students were finishing their cursus. We had seven projects to review and mark. The one that really stood out for me was Matthieu Cherubini's rep.licants.org web 'service.'
rep.licants.org allows people to install a bot on their Facebook and/or Twitter account. The bot will combine the activity the user is already having on other channels such as youtube or flickr with a set of keywords selected by the user to attempt and simulate that person's activity, feeding their account with more frequent updates, engaging in discussions with other users and adding new people to their list of contacts.
The bot does not provide a fictitious identity, but will be added to the real identity of the user to modify it at his convenience. Thus, this bot can be seen as a virtual prosthesis added to an user's account. With the aim to help him to forge a digital identity of what he would really like to be and by trying to build a greater social reputation for the user. Moreover, this bot can be perceived as a threat by defrauding even more the reality of who is really who on social networks and by showing the poverty of our social interactions on these so-called social networks.
Here's a short video introducing you to the service:
But since, Cherubini already has a rather promising portfolio, i took the liberty of digressing a bit and asked the artist to talk to me about a couple of his other projects as well:
Hi Matthieu! This Summer, you are going to exhibit one of your previous projects at the FILE festival in Sao Paulo. The Afghan War Diary "connects to a Counter-Strike's server and retrieves in real-time frags (when a player kills another). These frags trigger a search by chronological order in the Wikileaks database: Afghan War Diary, which contains over 75,000 secret US military reports covering the war in Afghanistan. According to the retrieved data, the website shows the location of the attack on Google Earth."
Is this the database the project is using http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/07/wikileaks-afghan/? it can't seem to be possible to access it right now. Does it affect your piece?
Yes, my project uses this database. When Wikileaks published these stolen databases it was possible to download them in order to install them on your own web host. It is what I did and hopefully it doesn't affect my project.
What is fascinating with AWD is how you managed to put together 3 potentially subversive issues: online ﬁrst-person shooter video games, war in Afghanistan and Wikileaks. What did you wish to say, highlight or denounce with this work?
When Wikileaks released their data set I was kind of surprised by the enthusiasm of people for these data because if you forget the "top-secret" part, they got absolutely nothing special nor divulge any over sensible information. Actually you can ﬁnd a lot of similar database related to war in public data banks which were created way before the release of the Afghan War database.
However, except some information designers, statisticians or journalists who needed speciﬁc information for an article, nobody ever cared about this kind of information.
Wikileaks supporters claim "Information wants to be free" however most of them are the ﬁrst to hide behind a mask of anonymity.
All of this gave me the idea to do a project that is a sort of reality television based on Wikileaks data where actors are unconscious virtual soldiers and spectators passive towards this kind of events.
Because we are terribly passive towards this kind of events -and that includes me, having an interest for Wikileaks data is not an act of interest towards war atrocities but an act of interest for what the government hides from us.
Now let's discuss rep.licants.org. This is a "web service allowing users to install an artiﬁcial intelligence (bot) on their Facebook and/or Twitter account. From keywords, content analysis and activity analysis, the bot attempts to simulate the activity of the user, to improve it by feeding his account and to create new contacts with other users." One of the objectives of the projects is to improve the social reputation of the user. Is it that clear-cut? Can a bot really make you a more interesting person in the eye of twitter or facebook users?
In someway yes. Social networks are the ﬁrst medium to display our social status to everybody with a simple statistical number (number of friends on Facebook and number of followers on Twitter). Those numbers are a kind of digital validation about what we are really worth, for example a user with a low number of followers will be regarded as not interesting. On Twitter getting a higher number of followers isn't that difﬁcult, you have to post aggressively, follow a lot of users, retweet, get retweeted, etc. All those actions can be done by a bot. If suddenly the bot ﬁnds and posts an interesting content, it can become "viral" and you will get more followers. Of course we can argue that those kind of things can be done by the user and that's true. However a lot of user are digitally shy, introvert, etc. The bot has been programmed to be extrovert so it doesn't worry about posting ridiculous or interesting contents, contacting users that it doesn't know or contacting users that you wouldn't dare to contact. All those things put together will help the user keep an activity on social networks which make them visible to the others. That is why i like to compare the bot as a virtual prosthesis for introvert users.
But it is disturbing that a bot can be more sociable than yourself on social networks. So all those social interactions we virtually have, and that a bot can do better than some of us, are they really sociable ? Or is the word "social" in "social-networks" just a way for the designers to pull the wool over our eyes?
What is the feedback from the people who tested the 'service' so far?
I'm happy with the feedback of the users, some really interesting things happened which i couldn't have imagined. For example, one of the users couldn't recall if it was him or the bot who was posting messages; another began to interact with his own bot. There is a case where the bot contacted a random friend of an user on Facebook and it was actually an old friend of him whom the user never thought about contacting. The fact that the bot started to discuss with that old friend allowed the two users to have a real discussion together.
There is also, sometimes, interesting conversations between the bot and a user who doesn't know that he is speaking with a bot. Some excerpts of those communications can be seen on the bot's diary.
Looking at your portfolio, it seems that rep.licants builds on previous projects which also investigated social networks. The Pursuit of Happiness for example. With the project you hacked into some Facebook accounts in order to steal users' private messages. This was a bold move. Were the people whose fb account was hacked aware of what you were doing? And more importantly, what did you try to achieve with this project?
No, they weren't aware of that but as i have deliberately put their contact (email and/or phone number), it happened once that a girl contacted me and asked me to remove all the information related to her. Someone warned and contacted her but i do not know whom!
My ﬁrst aim with that project was pretty similar to rep.licants.org: i was fascinated by the relation in between Facebook's users and the kind of communication they have. I was motivated to ﬁnd why so many people use for so many hours per day social networks while they are whole day already constantly surrounded by real social interactions. Having a look at the users private messages was a way for me to have a look at the real use of Facebook because the public part is not relevant. For example, no one is going to say that he uses Facebook as a way to ﬂirt (ﬂirting is almost never mentioned on the Facebook's users studies) however i was impressed by the number of users who where using Facebook as a ﬂirting tool. Unfortunately I don't really feel I could achieve those initial aims because most of those private messages were extremely poor. I then made the decision to centre my project on the poverty of dialogues between the users, who mostly used Facebook several hours by days.
But now, after all that Wikileaks buzz, I think this project could open some discussions because it is basically a Wikileaks of the individuals instead of the governments.
Are you planning to improve rep.licants.org? offering new services, features, etc.
Yes because the bot is actually using very basic rules and features and it doesn't pass the Turing test with some "experienced" users. There is still a lot of research to do for trying to close the gap in between a bot and a human on social networks.
NAI Publishers and V2_ say: Modernist belief was informed by the vision of technology as a tool of reduction, purifying nature from a state of randomness into one of cleansed controllability and perfection. It was not just the art of modernism that was all about purity and the search for abstraction, the same logic and politics of purity were also at work in rationalized agriculture, refined food, urban planning, population control, and the experience of the Other, both as the goal and the legitimization of the means to reach that goal. With amazing, world changing consequences - but also with devastating effects for the environment, climate, cultural diversity, biopolitics, and city and country life.
This book investigates this urge for the pure, but also advocates a much deeper need for the impure, not to reinstate a new organicism or back-to-nature movement, but to trace progression to a point where all modernist values reverse, where technology becomes an agent for the impure and the imperfect. Technology, long an agent for homogeneity and purity, is now turning into one for heterogeneity and global contingency.
I've been guilty of a "don't judge a book by its cover' offense. I almost recoiled in horror when i saw the design of The Politics of the Impure. Heavy book, flamboyant design, golden cover. When i finally decided to open the illuminated manuscript, i realized that it was probably the publication most relevant to my interests i could have received this year.
The Politics of the Impure alternates presentations of art works with interviews or essays by thought-provoking thinkers. Their conversations oscillate between the 'right here, right now' and the tomorrow. Whether they are activists, socio-biologists, artists, science-fiction writers or philosophers, the contributors to the book deal with mess in all its guises.
Academic, journalist and activist Raj Patel calls for a more democratic food system which he calls "food sovereignity"; sociologist and economist Gunnar Heinsohn discusses violence, education, integration and lost generations; Arjun Appadurai explores possible ways to deal with intolerance, minorities and fanaticism on a day to day basis; Arjen Mulder investigates what is left of the so-called "European spirit"; artist and architect Lars Spuybroek has an essay about the use, meaning and purpose of ornaments in culture; (controversial) biologist and geologist Lynn Margulis answers questions about bacteria, their creativity, gene exchange and autopoiesis (the whole interview was so fascinating i wish i could copy/paste it here), designer Christian Unverzagt pens the obligatory essay about garbage, except that what he has to say about it is everything but banal; the interview with writer Bruce Sterling drives you from Tokyu Hands department store to Luxembourg, via supervolcanoes and Casablanca. The list of essays and interviews goes on and on.
Each of them is followed by the presentation of an artwork that gives a form to the impurity at the heart of the book. The model is one page of bio and description of the work + a dozen pages of photos to illustrate the piece. There's Ken Rinaldo and Amy Youngs, Herwig Weiser, P.A.P.A. (Participating Artists Press Agency), Casey Reas, Tord Boontje, Knowbotc Research, Driessens & Verstappen and Wim Delvoye.
This book is exciting every step of the way (except that i clearly don't get its design). You might not agree with every statement and idea put forward by the experts called to participate to The Politics of the Impure but that's what makes the book so engaging. The bold opinions shared in the book are bound to make you put it down and reflect about some of today's most chaotic issues.
Princeton University Press writes: Art today is defined by its relationship to money as never before. Prices of living artists' works have been driven to unprecedented heights, conventional boundaries within the art world have collapsed, and artists now think ever more strategically about how to advance their careers. Artists no longer simply make art, but package, sell, and brand it.
Noah Horowitz exposes the inner workings of the contemporary art market, explaining how this unique economy came to be, how it works, and where it's headed. He takes a unique look at the globalization of the art world and the changing face of the business, offering the clearest analysis yet of how investors speculate in the market and how emerging art forms such as video and installation have been drawn into the commercial sphere.
By carefully examining these developments against the backdrop of the deflation of the contemporary art bubble in 2008, Art of the Deal is a must-read book that demystifies collecting and investing in today's art market.
Money and art. What's not to like? Most of the works i write about on the blog have very little to do with art speculation, auction houses and investments funds but that doesn't mean that i'm not curious about the myths and mysteries of the art market. I've read a few books on the subject over the past few years. Sarah Thornton's Seven Days in the Art Worldwas widely praised in art magazines but the author's palpable apprehension of causing any discomfort to the very world she belongs to was a bit off-putting. Don Thompson's The 2 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Artis far more candid and fearless. Its purpose, i think, was to be a kind of Freakonomics of the art world. The book sometimes went for the spectacular and the obvious but it was entertaining, informative, unconceited and a nice introduction to the subject. Ben Lewis' DVD The Great Contemporary Art Bubble DVD(trailer this way!)wasn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers and to use sensationalism as an excuse to engage viewers into though-provoking reflections.
Art of the Deal is in a class of its own. Like Seven Days in the Art World, it was written by an insider. Noah Horowitz is a member of the faculty of the Sotheby's Institute of Art in New York and the Director of the VIP Art Fair - the first-ever exclusively online art fair. Horowitz, however, doesn't confuse respect for the art world with blatant kowtowing. He even manages to be critical without falling into the cynical trap.
The merits of the book do not stop there.
It opens where every recent book about the contemporary art market starts: Damien Hirst and an auction that has its own wikipedia entry. But it then ventures into territories left untouched by other authors of similar essays. Instead of talking Murakami paintings and Koons sculptures, Horowitz approaches more 'immaterial' genres which, despite their popularity in art galleries and biennales, tend to get far less attention from collectors and auction houses: video and 'experiential art' (performances, installations, action art... any art form that focuses on experience and social interaction.)
I learnt something at almost every single page of the book: the way videos and their ancillary goods drive the art market, how Barney financed the Cremaster Cycle, issues of content ownership, the rise of the collector's box, the 'experientialization' of the global art world, the difference between prestige buying and investment in art for financial return, what collectors acquire exactly when they purchase a "constructed situation" by Tino Sehgal, an artist who doesn't create tangible works, doesn't issue press releases, refuses to throw opening parties and doesn't allow photo documentation of his work.
Horowitz doesn't generalize, nor does he simplify facts. His conclusions are prudent and well-balanced. He bring economics and art together like no one has done before (as much as i can tell.) Perhaps more importantly, the author doesn't live in an hermetically closed contemporary art bubble. He has read Geert Lovink, he (briefly) takes into account artists who -whether by choice or fate- do not sell their works, drives parallels with the commercial music and film industry, doesn't throw daggers at ubuweb and even sees youtube and other online video platforms as 'providing new opportunities and challenges for future developments of exhibiting and collecting standards.;
Art of the Deal is dense, impeccably researched, its language is clear, its insider stories come fast and numerous.
Horowitz doesn't touch upon the delicate issue of the market for new media art but my next review might have more about the subject.
The title of the project that Ilona Gaynor presented at the Idea in Progress show at the RCA, London a few weeks ago could be applied to almost every single story that graces newspaper front pages nowadays. I've actually stopped counting the times the word 'chaos' has been used in connection with unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. What surprises me is how often the news of ongoing 'chaos' in Libya or Egypt is associated with 'Western' fears of a rise of oil prices or spike in immigration numbers.
Everything Ends in Chaos fascinated me because it is somehow related to all of the above and much more. The project attempts to design, then reverse engineer a single, spectacular Black Swan event. Black Swan events are unpredicted but of such magnitude that they have an important impact on history. Nassim Nicholas Taleb exposed this theory in 2007, in a book that has been credited with predicting the banking and economic crisis of 2008. According to Taleb, the rise of the Internet, World War I, and the September 11 attacks as examples of Black Swan Events.
Ilona's research topic is ambitious, it spans economics, finance, global markets, risk management, insurance and mathematics. I aim to explore the paradoxical nature of policy by examining and speculating on the 'invisible' negotiations and momentary instances that affect, compromise and twist policy for means of financial and / or political gain as well as its implications.
What are your body parts worth? By Insure.com, Dec. 7, 2009
For the work in progress show at the RCA, Ilona presented two fictional scenarios that intertwine real documents revealing actual insurance practices (such as the existence of kidnap and ransom insurance, of dismemberment insurance and charts listing the worth of your body parts, etc.) with imaginary stories. The result is an exploration of the seemingly fictional paradoxes that could occur and unfold as a result of precautionary bureaucratic policies.
Follow the project on twitter!
Could you take us through the scenarios? In the first one a bomb is hidden inside golden trophy hangs above the heads of directors in a boardroom. In the second scenario, the wife of a rich insurance broker is kidnapped. What lies behind those snapshots of the whole story? How are both scenarios related to one another?
Ilona Gaynor: The first scenario takes place within a boardroom at an underwriters firm called A-Corporation, the firm specialises in the insurance of military assets, from missiles to the transportation of assets between geographical borders. The 24 carat golden missile that hangs so delicately above their head's, was commissioned and hung by the CEO of A-Corporation as a commemoration, a beacon of hope, and inspiration, a celebration for the last profitable decade of underwritten contracts. There are 6 board members that sit within this room, all of whom are exceptionally well paid and each have a severance contract attached to their position within the company. A-Corporation is considering a merger and through its decision decides to blow up the boardroom, with the intention of killing its 6 board members, and therefore rendering the severance agreements null in void.
The second scenario takes place around a family called the Henderson's. Mrs Daphne Henderson is the wife of Frank Henderson, a wealthy senator. Mrs Henderson is kidnapped. She was taken from their family Mercedes state car on a highway in Arizona, which the kidnappers mistook for the Senators motorcade vehicle. The kidnappers cut off her wedding ring finger and sent it via FedEx to the Henderson's family Insurance broker Mr Bowery of Hiscox, along with their ransom demands. Upon receiving her finger, the broker was ordered by the senator for the ransom money to be sent immediately. In the expecting return of Mrs Henderson, the senator decided to throw a small party to welcome her back to their home. Not knowing how hideously disfigured she might be, he took the liberty of inviting their plastic surgeon.
In the exhibition the two video scenarios were accompanied by various artefacts relating to each of the stories. The artefacts are made up of designed and doctored legal contracts, mostly insurance related to pull the fiction back into the reality. The contracts, fine prints and stock snapshots are offered up to the audience as evidence, physical coordinates that lead to and highlight the very real motives involved and reveal the benefactors. The scenarios will eventually relate to each other in a larger narrative, made up of a series, 5 events to be exact.
Your scenarios are fictional but how do they relate exactly to the current economic situation? Do they have relevance on a global level or do they mostly apply to the UK situation?
Ilona Gaynor: Over the last 3 years, we have all been confronted by a global economic crisis. It seems to be all too easy to critically attack and lay blame to bankers, market traders and corporations.
I think it's more important if not more interesting to contextualise and frame the infrastructure that was able to facilitate such media projected 'atrocities' and make sense of something that has such impact on our lives and our future. The scenarios are hypothetical, an exaggerated microscopic look at a system that exists within our proximity, that often goes fairly un-noticed, or is deemed too complex to be understood. My research for this project has led to such potent content; that moving beyond the 'highlighting illustrative' and pushing it into the designed hypothetical is really important. We can all relate to insurance and the frustrating paradoxes that crop up within mundane bureaucracy, but we might not all be aware of the circumstances that need to occur in order for the various systems in play to spit out a sizeable profit.
EEIC deals with economic policy. What could be the role of a designer in the context of economics?
Ilona Gaynor: I think the role of designers in economics is crucial and could be one of reflection and scenario based strategy. It is becoming more evident that the role of human behaviour in systems design, particularly those designed to monopolize tends to be neglected. Human nature makes mistakes, not the machines. How could we possibly manage risk without the acknowledgment of this key factor? Design has the power to stimulate the imagination and make abstract issues tangible. If we can use speculative design proposals to imagine alternative trajectories and reflect upon current methodologies, it might allow us to open up a meaningful debate before policies are written. Designers have been starting to contribute to many important fields for years, from medicine to politics. I don't see why economics should be any different.
The project looks very cynical to me. The title itself is fairly daunting. What is the critical discourse behind the project? Do you really have such a dark view of economics?
Ilona Gaynor: I have a dark view of most things, but unlike most I don't think it's a bad thing... the world makes more sense in the dark... it's when it's viewed in the light that we should be worried. Economics, I don't think is necessarily so sinister... the Vatican for example is probably more riddled with corruption, scandal and greed then the banking sector. But I do think that as its complexity continues to grow and get increasingly denser, it starts to tangle and knots occur. It's becoming more and more difficult to control such a living organism and I don't think we can continue down a pathway that's so obviously treacherous. The critical discourse lies in my aim to celebrate such a system. It's a non-human entity with non-human goals, and it's deliciously destructive. It was designed for one thing only - to make a profit. The seduction is obvious, you only have to witness Oliver Stone's Gordon Gekko to empathise with such a honey trap.
We can do one of two things: we can witness it unravel and enjoy the complicated pleasure accepting that "greed is good", or we can move towards a rethink of how we design economic and financial systems.
EEIC is still a work in progress. How much research do you still have to do? And where do you think that it will lead you to?
Ilona Gaynor: The research will always be ongoing, I think it's important that the dialogue between the economics and finance communities and myself continues to be ongoing and stays strong.
But my quest overall, is to design and then communicatively reverse engineer a singular 'Black Swan' event. The work in progress (for the show in particular) was more of an exercise in communicating such complex abstract narratives viscerally. I intend to write a further three scenarios, drawing on the emphasis of which is to highlight the principal of cause and affect. The final project will take the form of films (five in total). The stories will highlight linchpin key moments that will merge to become a hypothetical Black Swan event.
A second layer to the project will then be an assessment made by five legitimate insurance underwriters. This will be carried out to determine how much actual profit (written in insurance premiums and contracts) in monetary terms is extractable from my hypothetical scenarios. Can we really insure for the highly unexpected? How much money is a chaotic collapse actually worth? Who might be the winner? And Is this something to aspire to?
I saw on your flickr set that you did some research to create a precise aesthetics for the project. What kind of feeling and ideas does this aesthetics try to convey?
Ilona Gaynor: The aesthetics need to be precise enough to pull you into a world. I'm interested in drawing upon the hyper-real, something that could be deemed uncanny, to reflect the hypothetical absurd nature of the world we are looking down upon. I want the audience to experience something voyeuristic, as if you were that third person in the scene, totally absent from participation but free to stand, observe and smirk... 'There's an elephant in the room and no one can see it but me'.
To give a sense of place, to me is thrilling. Places are made up of a very fluent language of detail and are therefore incredibly important and necessary in allowing you to dream and speculate beyond four walls. Taking into account color, perspectives, shape and texture... if all those things are correct and something catches your eye in certain way, with a certain kind of light and the right subtle movement you're gone, you're in heaven. I think the world I'm playing in is so distinctly un-explored, you can't go in and film it, unless you first build it first.
Thank you Ilona!
Other project from Design Interactions' latest work in progress show: Known Unknowns and BACK, HERE BELOW, FORMIDABLE [ the rebirth of prehistoric creatures ].