The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on Resonance104.4fm, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guest in the studio will be Matthew Plummer-Fernandez. The designer and artist gained fame recently when he released The Disarming Corruptor, a free encryption software application that scrambles 3D objects and allows authorized users to repair them with a key. Which means that we're going to talk about 3D-printed objects & the freedom but also the patent trolls and censorship that accompany them.
Plummer-Fernandez received his MA from the Royal College of Art in 2009, after a BEng in Computer-Aided Mechanical Engineering at Kings College London and an unfinished BA in Graphic Design from UCCA.
He is currently based in South East London, working in research at the Interaction Research Studio, Goldsmiths, University of London.
Plummer-Fernandez also runs the tumblr blog #algopop on algorithmic culture.
The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 12 February at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud one day.
Last week was the School of Design students work in progress exhibition at the Royal College of Art, that's probably my favourite show at RCA because everything is still gloriously wild, promising and unpolished.
Marcel Helmer from Design Interactions had a very puzzling display showing sketches of an audio recorder inside of a walnut that squirrels would then bury in enemy territory, nuclear landmine warmed up by live chickens, military equipment for insect related units, etc.
He called these scenarios Technocratic Fables. They tell the tales of machines depending on, cooperating with or being defeated by animals. The work looked closely at animals in military use. Some of his examples came from the past (believe it or not, in the 1950s the UK seriously planned to put chicken inside landmines to regulate its temperature), present and looked at how engineered animals might shape the future of warfare.
These fables show potential of putative simple organisms in the past, present and future. What if invasive species become a weapon? What if the next danger is an engineered physical insect, not a digital one?
The designer kindly accepted to answer my questions:
Hi Marcel! Why did you decide to present the work as 'fables' and not as just 'projects' like most other works in the show?
Technocratic fables are a collection of stories. All of them based on animal/technology interaction inside the field of military purposes. They are placed between the 1930 and the not too distant future, embedding the most sophisticated technology of each specific time into the tale. Showing its vulnerability, dependency or cooperation to/on/with animal behaviour.
Traditional fables use anthropomorphised animals not only to tell fantastic and entertaining stories, but to teach and exemplify sociological human behaviour. My idea is to use animals and technology not to explore the human/human interaction, but the human/technology side of society of a specific time. Specific time for the reason, because of the idea that a relationship of course changes throughout history, whether it actually does may remain unanswered though. It is certainly not about finding new uses for animals in warfare, even though it mentions the possibility of invasive species used as weaponry.
Can you walk us through some of those animals used for military purposes?
My favourite story so far: During the cold war Germany was separated into the soviet east and the allied forces' west. The western forces were seriously concerned about the possibility of the soviet army conquering western Europe, therefore they developed a plan B. Burying nuclear landmines to make central Europe inhabitable in case of an invasion. The only problem they had, German winters can be quite rough, and the electronics of the time weren't made for those temperatures. The proposed solution: burying live chicken with the bombs to use their body heat to keep the sensitive electronics alive. The soviet reaction to this plan was the attempt to train foxes, not only to track down the bombs but to "defuse" them by killing the chicken.
This is one example of the past, more recent ones include squirrels captured by the iranian government because they were "carrying espionage equipment", jellyfish fields blocking passage ways for multi million dollar nuclear submarines or moths distracting sonar controlled homing missiles.
Why did you associate a particular animal with a particular military use? Are they already used for similar purposes?
This is the twist: the stories i just mentioned are true! Design fictions like to use fantastic narratives to communicate scenarios, encasing and presenting them as realistic as possible, perfect renderings, tables and facts to create plausibility. I'd like to go the other way around, i cloak the stories as fictions to surprise with the truth, stressing once more that reality can be stranger than fiction! My design is the communication of the story and the speculative next step of these truths, what if this really happened and became the standard of warfare? What are countermeasures to chicken bombs? What does a squirrel use to spy on you? How can jellyfish become a weapon? It is an alternative century of animals in warfare.
Are animals still used in warfare?
Absolutely. But today its usually less spectacular and experimental, since computer technology supposedly became the answer for most problems. It is no more necessary to use pidgeon as pilots for "intelligent" missiles (again, true story!). We still cherish the advanced sense of smell of dogs, or recently even rats to find hidden landmines. One of the more fantastic approached is the research of the U.S. navy using dolphins to find sea mines. On the other side, who knows what's happening behind closed curtains? The "chicken bomb" was a rumor, until it has been proven in the early 90s by secret documents, which became open to the public after the fall of the Soviet Republic. It definitely leaves enough space for speculations of future stories, especially in regard to engineered organisms, which will be part of the "near future story" i develop.
These factors are also part of the reason why i choose to place it in the realm of military technology. It's the secret, yet fantastic nature that evolves out of the almost blind trust into technology inhabited by this area. Pushing the boundaries of technology with only limited emphasis on ethical or moral restrictions.
Are you planning to push the project further?
Yes, it is definitely going to be one of my main projects i'll be presenting in the Summer show. While i personally appreciate the idea of mixed media installations to offer the audience artefacts to explore the fables, i'd like to work closer to the expectations of classic fables in literature. Whether this is going to be a book, including the fables and the research or another traditional form of storytelling is still to be determined. I certainly have a lot more fantastic stories written not only by me, but history itself i can work with.
The Work in Progress show of the design school is over, alas! but the School of Architecture Work-in-Progress Show opens in a few days in the Kensington building.
This week, Resonance 104.4FM is holding its Annual Fund-Raiser, with a series of live events, an on-line auction and special broadcasts. The reason why i'm mentioning it this year is that the radio needs your help even more than in the past : we need to secure £50,000 reserves in order to bolster our next funding application to Arts Council England, who have generously supported us for the last 11 years. The exciting bit: our programme makers and many friends have organised a variety of amazing entertainments for you - all proceeds going to Resonance. With your help we can keep our unique and exceptional broadcast service on air and advert-free!
The whole list of events is over here: Resonance104.4fm's Annual Fund-Raising Drive. I'd like to point you to a couple of evenings you might enjoy:
There are tons of music events. I know zilch about music but i do know that on Thursday 13 February, Resonance104.4fm has lined-up an impressive series of sound-art performances at Cafe Oto. There will be Janek Schaefer + Rie Nakajima + Yuri Suzuki + post-electronic research group Oscillatorial Binnage. I've no idea who curated this event but it's hard to imagine a more exciting selection. And all that for a very reasonable £8.
Also very tempting is High Tea with Max and Stacy. "Financial war reporter" Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert of The Truth About Markets will be at The Roxy for a high finance Q&A. That's on Sunday 16 February 4pm. Tickets are £15.
So please do come to any or all of these events. Do grab something in the online auction (i'll link to the page as soon as i have it) or make a donation. Today. Because we really need your help at Resonance104.4fm.
Photo on the homepage: Oscillatorial Binnage at the Merge festival.
Speculative Everything. Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming, by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby.
Publisher MIT Press writes: Today designers often focus on making technology easy to use, sexy, and consumable. In Speculative Everything, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby propose a kind of design that is used as a tool to create not only things but ideas. For them, design is a means of speculating about how things could be--to imagine possible futures. This is not the usual sort of predicting or forecasting, spotting trends and extrapolating; these kinds of predictions have been proven wrong, again and again. Instead, Dunne and Raby pose "what if" questions that are intended to open debate and discussion about the kind of future people want (and do not want).
Speculative Everything offers a tour through an emerging cultural landscape of design ideas, ideals, and approaches. Dunne and Raby cite examples from their own design and teaching and from other projects from fine art, design, architecture, cinema, and photography. They also draw on futurology, political theory, the philosophy of technology, and literary fiction. They show us, for example, ideas for a solar kitchen restaurant; a flypaper robotic clock; a menstruation machine; a cloud-seeding truck; a phantom-limb sensation recorder; and devices for food foraging that use the tools of synthetic biology. Dunne and Raby contend that if we speculate more--about everything--reality will become more malleable. The ideas freed by speculative design increase the odds of achieving desirable futures.
A book that champions the power of ideas is always a great addition to anyone's library. And because my lack of enthusiasm for design is fairly well documented, i'm going to be cynical and add that a book that calls for more ideology and values in design is a rare find indeed.
In Speculative Everything, Dunne and Raby ask whether it is possible for design to operate outside of the market place while at the same time acknowledging that we live in a consumer society. Once the focus of design is not on selling a product, can it act as a catalyst to connect, debate and speculate? And more importantly, can it turn us into more discernible consumers?
You probably already know how the formula works: the two designers create objects, photos, texts and insert them into scenarios that are neither too realistic nor too outrageously disconnected from the world as we know it already. They don't package the work in a complete narrative either. Instead, they sketch a skeletal structure that leaves enough space for the public to be puzzled, fill in the gaps and attempt to answer the many questions that lie at the core of the work that Raby and Dunne submit to their attention.
Most of us aren't used to a design that doesn't do all the imaginative work and requires us to think. Yet, we live in a time when consumers moonlight as producers, rediscovering craft, 3Dprinting at home or self-publishing porn fiction. So why shouldn't we also be stimulated (by design or other creative disciplines) to produce our own dreams, our own ideas about a future that should or shouldn't be?
If you've ever asked yourself perfectly sensible questions such as "What is speculative design?" "Is it the same as critical design?" "Is this another name for fiction design?" "Why don't they call that art?" or just "What's the point?", then you'll probably find satisfying answers in this book. And because by now Dunne and Raby are used to communicating with scientists, artists, fellow designers, as well as the broad public, they answer these questions in a clear, efficient and very enjoyable way.
Speculative Everything neatly and quietly dispels the myths, misunderstandings and simplifications surrounding speculative design. Of course, there will always be people who dismiss Dunne and Raby's work for being too arty, and, well, too speculative to be strictly design but if some of them ever read the book, i'm quite convinced that they will at least agree on the fact that its authors ask some valid questions and more importantly perhaps articulate them in an intelligent, compelling way.
I often find design to be too insular but in their book, Raby and Dunne look beyond design and survey the works that operate in the same speculative area. These works belong to all creative disciplines under the sun: art, architecture, film, manga, cinema, literature, science, art, ethics, politics, etc. And it's quite a joy to read about works as different as Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror tv series and Luigi Colani's shark-shaped plane. I couldn't resist listing some of these works below:
P.s. Favourite quote from the book is "Designers today are expert fictioneers in denial" (p.88)
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
My guests in the studio will be Mathias Gmachl and Rachel Wingfield from Loop.pH. The work of the London-based studio speculates on near and far future scenarios as a way to probe at the social and environmental impact of emerging biological and technological futures. Some of their most renown projects include collaborating with a Nobel prize winner to communicate the functioning of molecular machines, designing a curtain made of algae that produce bio-fuel, setting up an edible DIY bio fab-lab for the video of Aussie band Architecture In Helsinki, creating an immersive sound and light performance that explores the field of neuroscience and investigating the possibilities of living architecture.