Questioning the role of design in times of global transformations
Swiss Design Network Research Summit
March 8–10, 2018
FHNW Academy of Art and Design Basel
Current discourse in design research, art, cultural studies, media studies, philosophy, and the social sciences is dominated by the much-debated concept of the “Anthropocene,” which claims that we are entering a new geological age determined primarily by the effects of human activity on the planet. It has been used to increase awareness of the negative influence of our actions on climate and the environment, and thus on the terms and conditions of our long-term survival. Against the backdrop of ongoing catastrophe and normalised crisis, the image of designers as problem-solvers and shapers of material-visual culture is constantly evoked. Designers are expected to come to the rescue and to draft speculative scenarios, construct artificial worlds, and develop smart solutions. In short: design is wielded as a catalyst for global change.
But isn’t this image of the designer as an omnipotent problem-solver itself problematic? What if design is not the solution, but very much complicit in the problems it wants to solve? At this point, we feel compelled to ask: How can design truly contribute to a more just society and sustainable forms of living without compromising bottom-up initiatives and marginalising the voices of those who are most directly affected?
Our conviction is: Design cannot change anything before it changes itself. The conference “Beyond Change: Questioning the role of design in times of global transformation” is a critical response to the tendency of seeing global crisis first and foremost as a worldwide design competition. How can we reimagine design as an unbounded, queer, and unfinished practice that approaches the world from within instead of claiming an elevated position? How, for once, can we see design as a situated practice instead of turning it into the Global North’s escape and problem-solving strategy? How can we think about one world without falling into planetary-scale thinking and the idea that resilience is our only hope?
Download the full call for papers and projects here.
Speakers: Beatriz Colomina, Kjetil Fallan, Cheryl Buckley, Ramia Mazé, Kenny Cupers, Mia Charlene White, Benjamin H. Bratton.
Overview: 3 Days, 7 Keynotes, 18 sessions, 51 presentations, 25 moderated discussions, 4 workshops, 3 platforms, 1 film, 1 audio-walk.
THURSDAY, MARCH 8
Entrance hall, Building D, FHNW Academy of Art and Design
WORKSHOP 1: Luggage Fitness: Decluttering Your Body Environment
WORKSHOP 2: Transformation Design – Design Transformation
WORKSHOP 3: Capturing the Invisible: An Experimental Proposal
WORKSHOP 4: Nationalism, Sport, and Fiction
AUDIO-WALK: wastescapes: An Audio-walk in the Basel Border Area
KEYNOTE: Are We Human?
Beatriz Colomina, Princeton University
KEYNOTE: And After Us… Robert Esdaile and the Emergence of Ecological Design
Kjetil Fallan, University of Oslo
KEYNOTE: On the Record: Researching Women and Design
Cheryl Buckley, University of Brighton
KEYNOTE: Feminist Modes and Politics of Design Practice
Ramia Mazé, Aalto University, Helsinki
KEYNOTE: The Earth that Modernism Built
Kenny Cupers, University of Basel
KEYNOTE: Love: A Blues Epistemology from the Undercommons
Mia Charlene White, New School, New York
KEYNOTE: Quote Unquote Design: Landscape-Scale AI and the Question of Agency
Benjamin H. Bratton, University of California, San Diego/Strelka Institute, Moscow
SCREENING: Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival , a film by Fabrizio Terranova
followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker, moderated by Melanie Eva Böhi, University of Basel
PERFORMANCE: Touch Base: An Anti-climatic Experience of Word and Sound , curated by A Walking Contradiction Collective & Sarah Reid
Thursday, March 8.
Design as Criticism and the Politicisation of Method
10:00–12:00 (Entrance Hall) — CONFERENCE REGISTRATION
Registration in the entrance hall of Building D, at FHNW Academy of Art and Design
12:00–16:00 — WORKSHOP 1
Luggage Fitness: Decluttering Your Body Environment
Peter Lang, Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm, and Weiling He, Texas A&M University
This workshop is inspired by the 1978 exhibition La coscienza di Zeno (Zeno’s Consciousness), which documented the material world of a Tuscan farmer. Alessandro Poli, a member of the architecture collective Superstudio, which conceived the exhibition, observed that Zeno’s small farmland was like a spacesuit, in that both provide vital sustenance. The objective of this workshop is to challenge the relationship between object and environment, where the “spacesuit” becomes a diagram for survival. Issues raised will include waste, consumption, redundancy, and durability, suggesting a critical appreciation for a new subsistence minimum.
12:00–16:00 — WORKSHOP 2
Transformation Design – Design Transformation
Ursula Tischner, FH Joanneum, Graz, and Lutz Kucher, designer
Design today primarily serves one objective – to increase the competitiveness, turnover, and profit of businesses. However, the world urgently needs design that is good for people and the planet. This workshop will explore ways for design and designers to support change and transformation towards a truly just and sustainable society. Participants will discuss existing approaches and develop them further. The platform innonatives.com will be used to document the results and continue the discussion beyond the workshop.
12:00–16:00 — WORKSHOP 3
Capturing the Invisible: An Experimental Proposal
Romi Mikulinsky, Eyal Fried, Itay Laniado, and Sarit Youdelevich, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem
In this workshop we will explore how designers augment and play with our sense of vision as well as visual information in the surrounding environment. Working with cutting-edge computer vision technologies, we will raise questions such as: Can we see beyond visibility? What applications, services, and experiences can we create and represent with the ability to see the invisible through these technologies? Can human perception and computer perception co-create?
12:00–16:00 — WORKSHOP 4
Nationalism, Sport, and Fiction
Gali Blay and Giuditta Vendrame, Design Academy Eindhoven
In a context of rising nationalism and social polarisation, the citizenship one possesses becomes a key element of one’s identity. Contemporary sport creates moments of unification alongside moments of increased political rivalry; gestures of peace as well as nationalistic gestures. In this workshop we will explore the relationship between sport and nationalism, taking movement and performativity as a basis for questioning current social systems and power structures while speculating and rehearsing possible alternatives.
12:00–14:00 and 14:00–16:00 — AUDIO-WALK
wastescapes: An Audio-walk in the Basel Border Area
Times of Waste research team, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
The audio-walk wastescapes follows the movements of people, animals, plants, and goods and looks at processes of cleaning and disposal in the tri-national area of Basel, bordering Germany and France. The research focuses on local phenomena that are exemplary for regional or global entanglements. The GPS-based audio-walk can be followed on smartphones. Besides technical finesse, the challenge lies in representing the “nonhuman” perspective aesthetically and medially. The largely individual pace of exploration enables a diverse and immersive perception of space.
(English and German, max. 10 participants per walk)
16:00–16:20 (Room D1.04, Aula)
Welcome & Opening Remarks
Claudia Mareis and Kirsten Langkilde, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Arne Scheuermann, Bern University of the Arts HKB
16:30–18:00 (Room D3.05, Critical Media Lab) — SESSION 1A
Publishing as Critical Design Practice
Moderated by Rebekka Kiesewetter, writer, editor, curator, and researcher
Francisco Laranjo, Modes of Criticism/Shared Institute, Porto
The journal Modes of Criticism was initiated in the context of research undertaken at London College of Communication, which sought to investigate methods towards the development of a critical design practice. The journal aims to contribute to the politicisation of design, while the research argues that in order to develop a critical practice, designers must approach design as criticism.
The Funambulist: Politics of Space and Bodies
Léopold Lambert, The Funambulist Magazine, Paris
This presentation will consist in an introduction to The Funambulist, a bimestrial magazine dedicated to the politics of space and bodies. Through this editorial line the magazine intends to approach the designed and built environment from decolonial, antiracist, queer, feminist perspectives. The talk will also describe (successful and failed) attempts to maintain a high ethical standard in the process of making the magazine.
Tactical Digitisation: A Few Thoughts on Recirculating Suppressed Knowledge
Dubravka Sekulic, Graz University of Technology
Digital technologies offer myriad possibilities for publishing and disseminating critical content, yet critical content was being produced long before the existence of digital tools. I would like to argue that it is important to use digital tools to bring back into wider circulation critical content produced during previous struggles, particularly in independent circles and on the fringes of the mainstream, with a special focus on material related to feminist, anti-colonial, and housing struggles.
16:30–18:00 (Room D2.05, Broadcast 1) — SESSION 1B
Designing (at) the Margins
Moderated by Johannes Bruder, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Design as Criticism and the Politicisation of Method
Social Sustainability and the Design Scene: The Role of History
Paola De Martin, ETH Zurich/Zurich University of the Arts
In this workshop/lecture, I will present material from my research project on designers from working-class backgrounds in metropolitan Zurich. Careers like these are referred to as “non-traditional” by sociologists because they are exceptional and underrepresented, statistically speaking. I argue that this is due to, among other reasons, a lack of historical representation – and will discuss what design historians can actually “do” to make the future for social climbers more sustainable.
African Culture as Development: Critical Reflections and Practical Challenges
Chioma Blaser, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel, and Tom Blaser, independent researcher
We investigate conceptions of relations between North and South, between black and white, between developing and developed societies as a challenge to the stereotypical image of Africa and blackness. How can the possibilities of collaboration across race and continents be thought anew? How can artists and designers from Africa, as well as cultural industries in their entirety, contribute to economic growth and human well-being in developing countries?
Things I Had No Words For: On Breaking Visual Silence
Benedetta Crippa, independent researcher
Threatened by systems of oppression, visual or otherwise, what we carry inside can become unspeakable. In this performative talk, graphic designer Benedetta Crippa departs from her work to show the person at the centre of the artistic process, and delve into questions of liberation. What allows for liberating work, and which processes of making can carry us through it? How can the art school make space for powerful transformations of consciousness, and encourage the practice of hope? The lecture also introduces the concept of emotional sustainability, exploring how feminist and human approaches can inform pedagogical practices against and beyond oppressive patterns.
16:30–18:00 (Room D1.03, Seminarraum) — SESSION 1C
Get up, Stand up: The Politics of Objects
Moderated by Flavia Caviezel, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Object America: Ways of Looking at a Design Object
Pascal Glissmann and Selena Kimball, Parsons, New York
This project – initiated by the Observational Practices Lab at Parsons School of Design – explores the idea of “America” through everyday objects. We invited Ellen Lupton, the senior curator at Cooper Hewitt, to choose an object which she believed would represent “America” into the future. Thirteen researchers with very different disciplinary backgrounds, from climate science to poetry, investigated this object. The observational methods that emerged will inform this participatory workshop re-investigating how we see the design object.
The Politics of Shit: The Portable Flush Toilet as Postcolonial Totem
Nadine Botha, artist, researcher, and assistant curator of the fourth Istanbul Design Biennale
A seemingly insignificant camping accessory in other contexts, in Cape Town the portable flush toilet has become a rallying object for service delivery protests, student activists, guerrilla artists, and social justice advocates. Analysing the transformation of this object from camping accessory to political totem shows the object’s role in maintaining the continued socio-spatial apartheid of the city, and why the sanitation shortage is not only a question of engineering but of social attitudes embedded by colonialism.
The Elusive Topology of “_______”: A Sellarsian Account of Complexity
Pedro Moraes, artist and independent researcher
The aim of this text is to sketch out a conceptual tool for the problem of complexity, taking the work of American philosopher Wilfrid Sellars as a starting point. The complexity of the objects that surround us seems to inhibit any attempt to come up with coherent accounts or strategic plans for making sense of their reality. This “tool” will be applied to money with the hope of clarifying its sprawling complexity and relations.
Friday, March 9.
09:30–10:45 (Room D1.04, Aula) — KEYNOTE K2
And After Us… Robert Esdaile and the Emergence of Ecological Design
Kjetil Fallan, University of Oslo
Making it his life’s mission to reform design practice and education according to ecological principles, Canadian-Norwegian architect Robert Esdaile and his concern for what comes “after us” represents an early, sustained effort to bring an ecological, or ecologically informed, critique to bear on design, its practices and ideologies. Tracing Esdaile’s work leads us along one of many trails through the extensive and dense Norwegian wood(s), exemplifying how ecological design grew from many and different roots.
11:00–12:30 (Room D3.05, Critical Media Lab) — SESSION 2A
Institutions and Their Policies of Change
Moderated by Meret Ernst, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Shaping a Sustainable Future? ICSID and Environmental Concerns, 1970–2000s
Tania Messell, University of Brighton
ICSID was founded in 1957 to raise the professional status of designers and establish international standards for the profession. Since the 1970s, this organisation has set out to align its activities with environmentally responsible practices. As this paper argues, its position has been grounded in the notion of “sustainable development,” which, by advocating sustainable practices alongside economic and industrial growth, has highlighted a tension between professional concerns and the claim to contribute to a sustainable future.
Anthropolitics: Craft, Design, and Technology in Mid-century India
Sria Chatterjee, Princeton University/Max-Planck Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence
This paper provides a historical account of design in newly independent India in the late 1950s. Thinking through discourses and practices of craft, design, and technology in view of colonial politics in pre-independence India, and a transition to a national rhetoric in art and design in post-independence India, it explores the ways in which designing for the nation and for the future were embedded in contemporary politics around Nature (with a capital N).
How to Grasp Future Sustainable Clothing: An Experimental Approach
Françoise Adler, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts
Three stakeholder workshops investigated the creation of a “semantic notion of space” to define a sustainable vision for fashion and textile by reference to the case study “Future F-ABRIC.” The goal of the workshops was to find a methodology that could equip research to find design criteria for the highest utility level of a garment. In this presentation, the results of the workshops will be shared and serve as a basis for discussing the completed approach to developing such an experimental framework.
Wood: Doing Design with a Renewable Material (an Ethnographic Perspective)
Sarah May, University of Freiburg
Now that the use of resources is not only a concern of politics and economy but also of individual households and persons, wood, as a renewable material, is attracting new attention. In order to discuss current cultural requirements and the agency of designed objects, this paper proceeds from an ethnographic perspective and asks for specific situations and individual practices in which people create objects and meaning – in which they do design with wood.
Designing for Energy Revolution – Designing with Technological Restrictions
Brigitt Egloff, Tina Moor, and Tina Tomovic, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts
This lecture will provide insight into how textile design strategies contribute to the topic of energy production. It will introduce the interdisciplinary collaboration between textile designers, architects, and photovoltaic engineers. Together they have delineated a photovoltaic module system with aesthetic and technical values. Textile design approaches and adoption for designing photovoltaic modules will be shown. Together with the audience, the conference topic will be debated within the fields of cross-technology approaches without turning it into a design project that values aesthetics over commitment.
Rethinking Fashion Design Pedagogies in the Era of Globalisation
Tanveer Ahmed, Open University/Royal College of Art, London
This paper draws on Black feminist scholarship that calls for the decolonisation of pedagogy. Using Mohanty’s idea of the local, this paper aims to help fashion educators encourage students to explore points of connection and disconnection between different cultures and histories. The paper introduces an experimental fashion workshop where students worked with Indian saris to offer a “pluriversal” fashion design process that resists stereotyping, appropriation, and racist forms of representation.
Teaching at the End of the World
Larita Engelbrecht and Francois Jonker, Cape Town Creative Academy
The title of this paper refers to two concerns: the geopolitics of our location at the southern tip of Africa and our desire to facilitate the imagining of futures beyond the “world as we know it.” In this paper, we explore different pedagogical approaches to design thinking within the context of our higher education institution (Cape Town Creative Academy). We share the results of our engagement with students, including practical teaching experiments and explorative projects.
Cultural Spaces and Design: Prospects of Design Education. Research, Approaches, Conclusions
Regine Halter and Catherine Walthard, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Faced with the question from which cultural horizon our understanding of design originates and whether this can still be workable today, the international research project Cultural Spaces and Design grants special value to the work experiences of students from non-Swiss life-worlds. The development of tools and educational formats for dealing with different design cultures aims to train the perception as well as the notation and articulation of cultural differences. This contribution presents and discusses the project’s outcomes.
Typography in Troubled Times: Making a Case for Historical Research and Critical Design Practice
Rathna Ramanathan, Royal College of Art, London
Typography has been a discipline and profession of territories. Using examples of three India-based intercultural communication design projects anchored in historical research, this paper demonstrates the potential of typographic practice, as a series of local-global networks, to create meaningful dialogue and change. It notes that we live in a pluralistic world, and for communication design to have real impact we must first visibly evidence our “critical positions” as creative practitioners.
Netted Letters: A Multifaceted Challenge
Christina Zimmermann, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Against the background of the omnipresence of the net as a visual metaphor and a recent turn to cultural critique in the digital humanities, this presentation addresses the epistemological implications of social network visualisations as implemented in digital archives of historic epistolary heritage. Reporting the author’s current reflections in developing and designing an interactive web documentary (practice-based research), it will stress the issue of a cross-disciplinary, culture-insensitive, and technology-driven standardisation in the depiction of individuality and social relationships.
The Phaistos Project: Forty-Five Symbols
Pascal Glissmann, Parsons, New York; Andreas Henrich, Academy of Media Arts Cologne; and Olivier Arcioli, University of Los Andes, Bogotá
The Phaistos Disc, which was discovered in 1908 and is thought to date to around 1700 BC, is a circular piece of fired clay stamped with symbols. For this initiative, its unresolved code will spark the conception and visualisation of a collection of forty-five unique symbols representing the participant’s identity, the phenomenon of language, the spirit of a culture, or concepts of social change. Participants will not be looking for functional pictograms but ethnographic visual narratives that are subjective, stimulating, and which contribute to global visual language.
Strange Encounters: Investigating the Hybrid Embodiment of Indo-Canadian Identity
Krishna Balakrishnan, graphic designer and mixed-media artist
This thesis employs the intervention of Homi Bhabha’s concept of “the third space” as a metaphor for the space in which cultures meet. The project prepared during this thesis, The Avatars – a digital montage of Hindu gods, goddesses, comic-book superheroes, Disney princesses, and prints produced at Belgium’s Frans Masereel Centrum in 2016 – represents an alternative way of seeing migrant perceptions of displacement, temporality, and belonging.
The E/earth Speaks in Silence: Design, Territory, and Indigenous Pottery in Oaxaca
Kythzia Barrera and Diego Mier Y Teran, Innovando la Tradicion and Colectivo 1050°, Oaxaca
Design has become a tool that makes the ideology of hegemonic power accessible and desirable, reproducing a “single story” that colonises and displaces local narratives. Indigenous knowledge, materialised in humble yet sophisticated tools for life, offer alternative narratives to the ways Western civilisation has constructed its relationships with the planet, community, work, body, time, money, and death. These alternatives present wonderful challenges and opportunities for designers willing to listen.
Artisanal Design: A Sustainable Future for Craft Traditions
Judy Frater, Somaiya Kala Vidya Institute, Gujarat
In India today, artisans are considered skilled workers who can realise the concepts of designers. But traditionally artisans designed, produced, and marketed their own work. Judy Frater developed a unique artisan-driven design education programme specifically for traditional textile artisans in Kutch, many of whom have little or no formal education. She details the problems the programme addresses, its goals, curriculum, and teaching methods, and the impact it has had on artisans over twelve years.
14:00–15:30 (Room D1.03, Seminarraum) — SESSION 3C
Shifts in Design Culture: Redefining Design Education
Moderated by Robert Lzicar, Bern University of the Arts HKB, and Jan Eckert, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts
Communication Design, Rigour, and the Inadequate University
Rebecca Ross, Central Saint Martins/University of the Arts London
What would a concurrent intellectual and designerly rigour require? What role could pedagogy, media, method, and methodology play in achieving this? Given the contemporary political and economic climate and the diminishing authority of the formal university, what is a productive stance for contemporary design education to take? These and other “big” questions about design practice, research, and education will be considered through reflection on one recently redeveloped master’s programme in Graphic Communication Design.
Ordinary Intervention: Introducing Everyday Routines into Undergraduate Education
Miriam Lahusen and Florian Sametinger, Berlin University of the Arts, and Susanne Ritzmann, German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI)
This paper provides an overview of how the authors dealt with the complexity of requirements in sustainable design through a seminar format which allows students to use methods of user inclusion for immediate adaption to their own project. It argues for a cautious integration of and experimentation with participatory methods in design education and provides insights into the boundaries of participation within the teaching context.
Investigative Design: Materiality, Systems, Critique
Kevin Walker, Royal College of Art, London
Design has traditionally focused on communication, problem-solving, or aesthetics applied in commercial contexts. Many of the “wicked problems” addressed by designers, now global in scale, are the products of design. How can designers address such problems without turning them into merely aesthetic projects? In this paper I detail our approach: we use, but also question, design, redefining and subverting it, focusing on materiality and systems. I illustrate with examples from recent graduates.
Papanek: The Politics of Design
Amélie Klein, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein
Design is much more than just giving form to something. It is part of a larger social structure and thus can be a tool for political change. This was the approach of the designer and educator Victor Papanek (1923–1998), who is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at Vitra Design Museum. The exhibition’s curator, Amélie Klein, will discuss not only Papanek’s pioneering design thinking, but will broach a larger theme expressed in the exhibition’s subtitle: “The Politics of Design.”
Futures Past in the Work of Victor Papanek
Martina Fineder, Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna/Victor J. Papanek Foundation
By envisioning future fields of design and their implementation in design education, the work of designer and critic Victor Papanek has become a popular reference within today’s search for a socially and environmentally responsive design culture. This presentation asks for adequate translations of Papanek’s legacy into contemporary discourse by reflecting on collaborative projects by Thomas Geisler and Martina Fineder, including the ongoing process of the Papanek archive and exhibitions like Nomadic Furniture 3.0.
A Cultural Recalibration of Design Thinking and Praxis
Nan O’Sullivan, Victoria University, Wellington
This paper seeks to navigate design thinking and praxis beyond the standardised and Eurocentric models currently practised. This study suggests that using a more culturally calibrated compass would serve design well in these endeavours. Using “indigenous wisdom” as framed in Transition Design, this research introduces both Māori and Pasifika ideologies to illustrate the opportunity afforded design when cultural acumen is knowingly and respectfully imbued in design thinking and praxis.
Te Reo Tātaki o te Ringa: Māori Narratives and Contemporary Technology
David Hakaraia, Victoria University, Wellington
Paralleling global calls for diversity within design and design education, New Zealand is experiencing a resurgence of indigenous Māori references into the aesthetic consciousness of both pedagogy and praxis. This research will examine and elucidate how Māori passed down and continue to pass down both empirical and ideological knowledge (mātauranga Māori) through visual storytelling and creative practice using the tools and technologies available to them at any moment in time.
Uta Brandes, Köln International School of Design; Florian Conradi, Berlin University of the Arts; and Roosje Klap, Royal Academy of Art, The Hague/Jan van Eyck Academy, Maastricht
Expectations around femininity and masculinity are present everywhere. In this session Uta Brandes, Florian Conradi, and Roosje Klap come together for an informal conversation, with an informal seating arrangement, to discuss gender in design. In three phases, corresponding to history, power, and methods, they will elaborate on the topic, accompanied by exemplary images. How does gender influence design? Why do we find products that obviously cater to a specific gender, even sex? What are the objects of power and what role does agency play in terms of empowerment? How does digitalisation influence this? Does the democratisation of technology create a space for thinking about the democratisation of gender? How is the design of gender moving beyond material manifestations into immaterial, obscured, or concealed dimensions? What tactics from critical feminism and queer theory could we possibly transfer to design and design research? The items to be discussed range from the Sony Walkman, the colour pink, weapons, shower gels, and more subtle artefacts such as the ‘female’ handbag. The conversation aims to develop current thoughts and suggestions that go beyond familiar designerly ways of understanding.
Saturday, March 10.
10:00–10:45 (Room D1.04, Aula) — KEYNOTE K5
The Earth that Modernism Built
Kenny Cupers, University of Basel
This lecture explores the roots of the modernist project – both heroic and tragic – to design the human by reshaping the environment, from the domestic sphere to the earth at large. It examines how statesmen, scientists, and designers mapped ethnicity onto territory and biology onto architecture, and in doing so, conceived of the human environment as an object of design. This entangled history of modernity demonstrates how novel ways of thinking about and intervening in the human environment were bound up with natural science and the colonial project, asking us to reconsider long-held assumptions about humanity’s relationship to the earth.
10:45–11:30 (Room D1.04, Aula) — KEYNOTE K6
Love: A Blues Epistemology from the Undercommons
Mia Charlene White, New School, New York
How can we, designers of all kinds, educators of all kinds, truly contribute to a more just society? My answer to you and to myself, is that though we have not always realised it, you and I continue to yearn for freedom. All the time. So, what does it take to build a movement in the millions? It takes the struggle of and for freedom, in all our spaces. For me, it means theorising black and brown spatial practice as love – a love borne from the generative forcefield that is blackness, my own, and that of the undercommons universe, out of which some answers to the question “what are we to do?” (about murder, democracy, liberalism, gentrification, capitalism, war, suicide, white supremacy) remain waiting for experimentation. The undercommons are those spaces inhabited and produced by us, black people, indigenous peoples, queers and poor people, and it is where and how we say “…we want to tear down the structures that … limit our ability to find each other, to see beyond … we want to feel a new sense of wanting and being and becoming.”* These are love practices, and they have no beginning or end. I have witnessed them as both structured and improvisational – a blues epistemology of daily revolutionary actions, in the land and in the body, in the classroom and through the page, in all the spaces.
* From the Introduction to Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions, 2013).
11:30–12:00 (Room D1.04, Aula) — CONVERSATION
Moderated by Emily Eliza Scott, ETH Zurich
14:00–15:30 (Room D3.05, Critical Media Lab) — SESSION 5A
Design and Science: Catalysing Collaborations
Moderated by Leslie Atzmon, Eastern Michigan University
Designing the Incomplete: The Agile Artefact
Jan Eckert, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, and Daniel Eckert, Horizon Discovery, Vienna
Design educator Jan Eckert and molecular biologist Daniel Eckert compare the development of knockout cell lines to open design approaches. Both the design and gene editing processes are based upon the deliberate creation of something unfinished or imperfect. Because of their ability to mutate and adapt, the authors call these kinds of processes or products “Agile Artefacts,” and present insights into the circumstances under which designing something incomplete can be more successful than something fixed.
Matters of Mathematics: Modelling Insights in the Sciences
Lee Chichester, Humboldt University, Berlin
In this talk, art historian Lee Chichester will show how artisanal practices have enabled the rediscovery of ancient solid-body geometry in the Early Modern period. As modern examples reveal, a hands-on “toying” with models remains a productive method of discovery at the intersection of design, biology, and mathematics. Thus, “designerly ways of knowing” not only mark the origin of modern empirical science (Cross 1982, 2001), they are gaining new impetus through highly sophisticated tools and 3D-modelling techniques.
Purifungi: A Natural Aid Kit for the Earth
Audrey Speyer, Purifungi, Brussels
In our contemporary Anthropocene epoch, bio-design offers integrated ways of thinking about, making, and interacting with the environment. Audrey Speyer has worked with biologists and agronomists to investigate natural soil remediation techniques utilising fungi. In this talk, she will discuss her design for an incubator system for harvesting mushrooms that break down industrial pollutants in the soil.
Polyphonic Design-Science: Critical Bio-design Through the Example of Reverse-engineered Silk
Veronica Ranner, Royal College of Art, London
This talk discusses the rise of bio-digitality and its enabling biomaterials such as reverse-engineered silk – a programmable and tunable material capable of building digital gateways into the human body. The notion of the interface is deployed to highlight the medical, ethical, practical, and critical dimensions of silken bio-digitality in comparison to currently existing technological practices. In response and conclusion, a more ethically informed “polyphonic” design-science approach for designing the bio-digital will be presented – Designing for Transience.
Software for the City yet to Come
Nashin Mahtani, PetaBencana.id, Jakarta, and Etienne Turpin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This paper explores how an investigative design methodology that draws on ethnography, design research, geography, and philosophy could help shape the development of software attempting to propel social and environmental justice. Conceived as a live demonstration of the platform, a documentary screening, and a lecture-performance on design methodology, the presentation will draw on practical, academic, and activist trajectories in our shared and respective design practices.
Smart Cities and Sustainable Urbanism: India’s Urban Challenges from a Policy and Design Perspective
Mihir Bholey, National Institute of Design, India
This paper presents a study of India’s Smart Cities Mission in the light of its existing urban challenges, infrastructure deficit, and policies. While discussing urban challenges facing the Smart Cities Mission, it underscores the role of design and technology in mitigating these challenges. It also talks about the key elements of so-called smart cities and their relation to sustainable urbanism, something which policymakers and designers can’t ignore while trying to convert hundreds of Indian cities into smart cities.
Design as Motion: Introducing an ANT-inspired Approach to (Urban) Design
Kim Helmersen and Jan Silberberger, ETH Zurich
This paper offers a critique of subject-centred approaches to urban design, which don’t adequately address the complexity of actual processes. Instead, the paper promotes an Actor-Network Theory (ANT)-inspired approach, engaging a set of heterogeneous actors in the design process. Supported by an example from a fieldwork study of design teaching at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, it is argued that urban design could benefit from the imagery of the board game, bringing the factor of chance into play.
Livia Rezende, Royal College of Art, London; James Langdon, Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design; and Zara Arshad, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Alternative design education initiatives have consistently provided a space for experimentation and new knowledge, from the Bauhaus to Black Mountain College, from the Ciudad Abierta in Valparaiso to the Construction School in Bristol. These initiatives have not only helped design to evolve, question itself, and push its own boundaries but education and learning in general. Simultaneously, many of these experiments have tested alternative ways of living, working, and connecting with each other and ourselves. Through this process-based experiential research, new manifestations, meanings, and implications of design have surfaced. This session will look at case studies from recent history, offering insights from initiatives taking place in South America, Western Europe and South Asia. They will explore diverse pedagogical positions and their spaces of agency, and reflect on what we can learn from them in our current times.
The Legal Status of Ice: Mapping Borders in the Arctic Ocean
Irene Stracuzzi, independent researcher
The current border dispute over the Arctic Ocean does not only concern geopolitical power structures but poses a more ontological question on the human right to declare sovereignty by means of a thin line. By tracking the history of cartography and deploying it to the Arctic, the research sheds new light on the origin of the conflict and reflects on the importance of mapping and visualising its complexity.
Greater Earth: Redesigning Our Planet
Arthur Woods, artist and independent researcher
Greater Earth is a new perception of our planet based on its true cosmic dimensions as defined by the laws of physics. Earth’s gravitational sphere of influence (SOI) extends 1.5 million kilometers in all directions from its centre where it meets the gravitational influence of the Sun. This sphere defines Greater Earth, and within it humanity will find the space, resources, and opportunities that it needs to survive and prosper in the current millennium.
The Common Task of a More-than-human-centred Design
Michaela Büsse, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel, and Konstantin Mitrokhov, artist and independent researcher
Current trends in design deal with complexity by investigating social and transformative aspects of design, but they do so by focusing very much on the human as the subject of inquiry. Critical and feminist theorists call for a design that moves beyond human phenomenology and towards a post-anthropocentric design approach. The short film Common Tasks attempts to outline such a practice – referred to as “xeno-design” by the authors – by prioritising data over the human.
Design Patterns for Future Commons
Martina Fineder, Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna/Victor J. Papanek Foundation; Luise Reitstätter, University of Vienna; and Harald Gründl, Institute of Design Research Vienna
In the light of the changing world of labour, this presentation radically rethinks design practice by drawing on knowledge culture and forms of interaction within commons. The case studies investigated include MakerNurse, apertus° AXIOM, WikiHouse, Open Source Bionic Hand, and Faircap Open Water Filter. As they protect and share natural common goods or foster social production, their alternative organisational and economic structures lead to new design principles – identified as “design patterns for future commons.”
Working In-between: Towards a Non-deterministic Understanding of Politically Engaged Design
Andreas Unteidig, Berlin University of the Arts
This talk will reflect on a collaborative design process within MAZI, an interdisciplinary and EU-funded research project, oscillating between entities such as design, activism, and technology. This process will be contextualised in a broader perspective about roles designers claim or take on, while their field is increasingly being framed and understood politically. Based on reflections-in-practice, this talk will discuss insights that emerge vis-à-vis the larger issues presented, and provide an outlook on future work.
Merve Bedir, Aformal Academy/Future+, and other participants to be confirmed
How can we use, question, and reframe previously tried-and-tested education models – from the museum-as-encyclopedia to the laboratory, the studio, and the academy – to create a setting for meaningful dialogue and design? Can design still create brave spaces for people to share their knowledge and ignorance, their experience and curiosity? This session will feature the voices of several transdisciplinary practitioners whose approach is reinforced and permeated by learning. We will look at a research institute that doubles as a community action center and laboratory of learning; a site-specific offshore laboratory and educational experiment that will engage multiple educational institutions; and a year-long initiative for a space for production, presentation, and potential pedagogy. These practices create new knowledge, search for alternatives to implemented systems, and, with radical diversity, push the boundaries of design.
18:00–19:00 (Room D1.04, Aula) — KEYNOTE K7
Quote Unquote Design: Landscape-Scale AI and the Question of Agency
Benjamin H. Bratton, University of California, San Diego/Strelka Institute, Moscow
What are the design ontologies of artificial intelligence? Three propositions and a question: (1) design is never “human-centred” but a mix of deliberation, sleight, accident, and evolutionary forces; (2) “AI” is emergent mineral intelligence at landscape scale; it may perform feats analogous mammal cognition but is based on fundamentally different sorts of sensing and signalling dynamics; (3) AI is both an exteriorisation of programmatic thought and a model of distributed agency. Question: if intelligence exists within ecologies in multiple forms and at diverse scales, how might AI augment any or all of these and how might design adjudicate this, if at all?
19:30–19:45 (Room D1.04, Aula)
Closing Remarks & Farewell
Claudia Mareis, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Arne Scheuermann, Bern University of the Arts HKB
20:00–22:00 (HeK House of Electronic Arts Basel) — SCREENING
Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival
a film by Fabrizio Terranova
followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker, moderated by Melanie Eva Böhi, University of Basel
Over the past four decades, Donna Haraway has produced groundbreaking work in science, technology, gender, and trans-species relationships, marked by a deep commitment to feminism and environmentalism. Haraway refuses to distinguish between humans and animals and machines but instead proposes new ways of understanding our world that challenge normative structures and boundaries. As a storyteller, Harraway is equally breaking with prevailing trends by embracing narrative techniques that paint a rebellious and hopeful universe filled with critters and trans-species. Brussels filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova spent several weeks with Donna Haraway and her dog Cayenne at their Southern California home. Exploring her personal universe and the longer development of Haraway’s views on kinship and planetary welfare, Terranova allowed Haraway to speak in her own environment while using green screen projections, archival materials, and fabulation to emphasise the playful and cerebral sensitivity of the scientist. The result is a rare, candid, intellectual, but also eccentric portrait of a truly original thinker.
22:00–00:00 (HeK House of Electronic Arts Basel) — PERFORMANCE
Touch Base: An Anti-climatic Experience of Word and Sound
curated by A Walking Contradiction Collective & Sarah Reid
Building Platforms: An intersectional space for decolonising, depatriarchalising, and deprecarising the conference from within.
During the three days of the conference, the foyer of the HGK FHNW will be inhabited by three design platforms that each problematise the role of design from within the discipline itself: Decolonising Design Group, Depatriarchise Design, and Precarity Pilot. With the aim of fostering an intersectional debate on the politics of design within practice, theory, and academic research – with particular focus on race, ethnicity, gender, and class – the three platforms will collectively activate a given space – a single two-storey scaffold of the kind used in civil construction. In this temporary structure, the three initiatives are invited to present their practices while proposing modes of knowledge exchange beyond traditional academic conference formats. This will be accompanied by a pop-up library, containing selected books, magazines, articles, and other materials, as well a directory of similar platforms and initiatives from around the world, collected through an open call.
Decolonising Design Group was founded in 2016 by eight design researchers, artists, and activists stemming from or with ties to the Global South, as a response to Euro- and Anglocentric socio-technical politics and pedagogies of design as both a field of research and praxis. The group does not aim to offer an “alternative perspective” on design, but rather to question the very foundations upon which the discipline was established.
Depratriarchise Design is a platform that examines the complicity of design in the reproduction of oppressive systems, focusing predominantly on patriarchy, using intersectional feminist and postcolonial analysis. Depatriarchise Design questions the shape and the very definition of design as a discipline, as well as its priorities, politics, and agendas.
Precarity Pilot is a platform that wants to support designers in reshaping, reorienting, and taking ownership of the course of their working lives. In the context of a Europe of welfare cuts and unfair working conditions, the platform attempts to direct the efforts and everyday activities of designers towards constructing a different economic environment – both through what they produce and the ways in which they practice and live. Precarity Pilot is thus not primarily concerned with stabilising precarious design practices as they are, but rather with creating conditions in which it is possible for designers to imagine and actuate what they could become when not pressured by precariousness to conform to the needs of the market.
“Building Platforms” is open and free of charge.
The FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel offers seven bachelor and four master degree courses in art, design, and art and design education and research. The school is located on the Campus of the Arts in the Basel Dreispitz area, close to several cultural institutions such as Kunsthaus Baselland, Schaulager, and the House of Electronic Arts.
FHNW Academy of Art and Design Basel
Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst
4142 Münchenstein b. Basel
Getting to the FHNW Academy of Art and Design:
From Station SBB: Tram 11, to Aesch Dorf Stop: Freilager From Basel DB (Badischer Bahnhof): Bus 36, to Schifflände; Stop: Dreispitz From Dreispitz Tram 11, to Aesch Dorf Stop: Freilager From the Basel Airport: Bus 50, to Bahnhof SBB and from Bahnof SBB with Tram 11, to Aesch Dorf Stop: Freilager Arriving by car: Take the A2 motorway, exit Basel-St. Jakob, and follow the sign for Dreispitz. From the Münchensteinerstrasse you can use Tor 13 in the Dreispitz area and park your car in one of the public parking garages, Ruchfeld or Leimgrube. If programming a navigation device, please note that the Freilager-Platz is located in the area of the municipality Münchenstein BL.
Swiss Design Network (SDN):
Since 2004, the Swiss Design Network has brought together the Swiss Universities of Design and Art, campaigning for recognition and support for design research at the highest international level. Up to today, SDN has organised nine internationally recognised conferences and has published their findings. Its tasks include supporting workshops and publications, promoting young talent, and maintaining contact and interaction between design researchers, institutions, universities, and institutes.
SDN Conference Chairs:
Dr. Massimo Botta, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland, SUPSI
Prof. Dr. Davide Fornari, Ecole Cantonale d’art de Lausanne, ECAL
Prof. Dr. Claudia Mareis, FHNW Academy of Art and Design, Basel
Isabel Rosa Müggler Zumstein, Lucerne School of Art and Design, HSLU
Prof. Dr. Sarah Owens, Zurich University of the Arts, ZHDK
Prof. Dr. Arne Scheuermann, Bern University of the Arts, BUA
Prof. Dr. Anne-Catherine Sutermeister, University of Art & Design Geneva, HEAD
Conference host: FHNW Academy of Art and Design Basel
Coordination: Prof. Dr. Claudia Mareis
Program coordination: Nina Paim
Logistics and organization: Sarah Haug
Program consulting: Vera Sacchetti
“Building Platforms” concept and organisation: Nina Paim and Julia Sommerfeld
Graphic design: common-interest (Corinne Gisel and Nina Paim) with Haejeung Paik, Sunjung Park, Naz Naddaf, and Arianna Smaron
Typeface: Papanekst by Dinamo Typefaces
Website: Jakub Straka
Copy-editing: Phil Baber