Ethnographic experiential futures

exf

Stuart Candy recently blogged about this design framework he and his colleagues use:

"ethnographic futures is more descriptive; looking for what's present but often hidden in people's heads. Experiential futures is more creative; rendering these notional possibilities visible, tangible, immersive and interactive, externalising and concretising representations of them for closer inspection and deeper discussion."

Why do I blog this? Currently looking back at our research process at the Laboratory. This one's kind of close to our interests and approaches.

Ethnographic experiential futures

exf

Stuart Candy recently blogged about this design framework he and his colleagues use:

"ethnographic futures is more descriptive; looking for what's present but often hidden in people's heads. Experiential futures is more creative; rendering these notional possibilities visible, tangible, immersive and interactive, externalising and concretising representations of them for closer inspection and deeper discussion."

Why do I blog this? Currently looking back at our research process at the Laboratory. This one's kind of close to our interests and approaches.

Imaginaires synthétiques

What does it mean to live in an hybrid environment made of organic and synthetic matter? What happens when technologies become so ubiquitous that it becomes difficult to know what is "natural" or not? Such concrete tetrapods used as armour unit on breakwaters of the Mediterranean sea can be seen as a metaphor for this hybridity. How do artists and designers explore this hybrid character? How does their work overcome the opposition nature / technology and reveal new imaginaries of a future in the making?

Imaginaires synthétiques

 

This blogpost is an entry about a new project I'm working on, in the context of the "NONCOMPLIANT FUTURES" exhibit curated by Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska (disnovation.org) at Musée du Jeu de Paume (Paris).

Intriguing animal-machine collaborations and their design have always been relevant to me. Looking back at old entries on this blog, I realize it's been more than 10 years that I started compiling cases of design/art work such as the "pigeon blog" (Beatriz da Costa), or James Auger's "Augmented Animals". In addition, my interest in design fiction/speculative design/new media art has also led me to observe with great curiosity recent projects about synthetic biology,  genetically-engineered creatures.

"Augmented Animals" by James Auger (2001)

"Augmented Animals" by James Auger (2001)

Over the years, my fascination towards such cases of interactions between machine and "living beings" have slowly changed. What was at first an interest towards the objectification of non-humans led me to a more thorough questioning of the classic nature/culture divide, and the current ecological crisis.

Perhaps it's my old interest in biology (having a bachelor’s degree in Life Science certainly played a role), perhaps it's Donna Haraway's latest book about the Anthropocene that got me back to such matter. Using da Costa's example – among other cases  – she discusses the need for “Science art worlding for living on a damaged planet”. I understand this mysterious phrase as a call for investigating and crafting, through art and art/science collaboration, stories to "stay with the trouble" of living in an environment of global warming, pollution, and species extinction. Why stories? She basically describes the following reasons:

"Each time a story helps me remember what I thought I knew, or introduces me to new knowledge, a muscle critical for caring about flourishing gets some aerobic exercise. Such exercise enhances collective thinking and movement in complexity. Each time I trace a tangle and add a few threads that at first seemed whimsical but turned out to be essential to the fabric, I get a bit straighter that staying with the trouble of complex worlding is the name of the game of living and dying well together on terra, in Terrapolis." (Haraway, 2016, p.29)

"Ursula Le Guin taught me the carrier bag theory of storytelling and of natural-cultural history. Her theories, her stories, are capacious bags for collecting, carrying, and telling the stuff of living. (...) Nonetheless, no adventurer should leave home without a sack." (Haraway, 2016, p. 41-42)

"As Jim Clifford taught me, we need stories (and theories) that are just big enough to gather up the complexities and keep the edges open and greedy for surprising new and old connections." (Haraway, 2016, p.101)

The different projects she discusses in the third chapter of her book can be seen as stories that try to achieve such goals. They reveal how artists, designers and scientists explore (a) the fact that the big divide between nature and culture (or technology) is problematic... (b) that their work – and their ways of doing things – can overcome such opposition, and (c) eventually reveal new imaginaries of a future in the making. New visions of the future that maybe offer a sort of counter-narrative to the discours around "progress" and "innovation" that we always hear about these days.

Reading about the projects presented by Haraway in her book, one also realizes that they can be both gloomy and hopeful, reconfiguring despair and hope in a strange way. In some sense, they reminded me of Timothy Morton's notion of "Dark Ecology":

"What is dark ecology? It is ecological awareness, dark-depressing. Yet ecological awareness is also dark-uncanny. And strangely it is dark-sweet. Nihilism is always number one in the charts these days. We usually don’t get past the first darkness, and that’s if we even care. What thinks dark ecology? Ecognosis, a riddle. Ecognosis is like knowing, but more like letting-be-known. It is something like coexisting. It is like becoming accustomed to something strange, yet it is also becoming accustomed to strangeness that doesn’t become less strange through acclimation." (Morton, 2016, p. 5)

With this theoretical background in mind, I started to revisit my lists and notes about similar projects... and decided it would be relevant to find a way to map such territories. 

The very fact that it's all about animals, and sometimes plants, fungi and geological elements mixed with technological/synthetic matter reminded me of bestiaries of the Middle Ages. Those descriptive treatise on various kinds of animals have always been interesting to me because of their sort of pre-naturalistic character. The "beasts" were described with lots of anecdotes (often presented with a moralizing tone) and a wide-range of material (drawings, notes, dimensions, weird remarks). Comparing the material I compiled (spreadsheets and textfiles full of links and notes... the kind of things one collect of a computer in the 21st Century) and old bestiaries, I found it would be a relevant metaphor to present the material. Besides that, I may also been influenced by Borges' book of imaginary beings and Claude Maillard-Chary's book about the Surrealists' menagerie.

Another interesting aspect of bestiaries lays in the fact that they are never complete and exhaustive. The very idea of a bestiary corresponds to the fact that it should be updated over time... with the help of others.

So? I'm currently building this bestiary of hybrid creatures of the Anthropocene. So far, as I said, it's mostly computer files and handwritten notes in my sketchpad. It's quite diverse at this point, with quite different entries: geological material, new media art projects, speculative design cases, or engineering prototypes. It's an ongoing occupation and it would be great to get some suggestion. The fact that Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska asked me to participate in their "Futurs non-conformes #3" (NONCOMPLIANT FUTURES) exhibit at Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris certainly helped me to frame the project and I have to thank them for that.

My field research notepad

My field research notepad

What kind of creatures one will find in there? Well, there's plenty beyond Eduardo Kac's rabbit, but here are some examples to be shown in my talk at Jeu de Paume :

Bibliography

Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble, Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham: Duke University Press.

Morton, T. (2016). Dark Ecology, For a Logic of Future Coexistence. NYC: Columbia University Press.

“crap future”

At some point the Internet of Things is going to look like this: a bunch of discarded plastic artefacts in a flea market.

At some point the Internet of Things is going to look like this: a bunch of discarded plastic artefacts in a flea market.

Strangely enough, I had to come to the Southwest part of Madeira to discover Crap Future, an insightful new blog "about futures, innovation, politics, technology" by Julian Hanna and James Auger. The premise looks great as can be seen from the About page:

"Crap Futures casts a critical eye on corporate dreams and emerging technologies. It asks questions about where society is heading, who is taking us there, and whether ‘there’ is where we really want to end up."

Perhaps the most fascinating entry so far is the one about their critique of "smartness"... which looks quite close to long-time research interests here.

Why do I blog this? Knowing James' work for a long time, I'm curious about their analyses. Also, like the two authors of Crap Future, I also believe it's preferable to explore near future worlds by investigating islands. As they say:

"escaping from a big city to a distant island also reminds you of how far we’ve been brought down by technology: how inhuman many aspects of our lives have become, how much we’ve lost or traded away in a few quick swipes. From here on the margins of Europe, what we’re promised by advertisements and political manifestos looks even less shiny than it does in the steel-and-glass centre. We know intuitively that the smart home is not our home; for the margins it’s cast-offs, afterthoughts, crap phones. "

Given the news from Las Vegas' CES – with smart fridges among other products that may or may not appear on the now infamous @internetofshit twitter stream – it's definitely wise to adopt a more critical perspective, and I guess Crap Future may be helpful for this.

“crap future”

At some point the Internet of Things is going to look like this: a bunch of discarded plastic artefacts in a flea market.

At some point the Internet of Things is going to look like this: a bunch of discarded plastic artefacts in a flea market.

Strangely enough, I had to come to the Southwest part of Madeira to discover Crap Future, an insightful new blog "about futures, innovation, politics, technology" by Julian Hanna and James Auger. The premise looks great as can be seen from the About page:

"Crap Futures casts a critical eye on corporate dreams and emerging technologies. It asks questions about where society is heading, who is taking us there, and whether ‘there’ is where we really want to end up."

Perhaps the most fascinating entry so far is the one about their critique of "smartness"... which looks quite close to long-time research interests here.

Why do I blog this? Knowing James' work for a long time, I'm curious about their analyses. Also, like the two authors of Crap Future, I also believe it's preferable to explore near future worlds by investigating islands. As they say:

"escaping from a big city to a distant island also reminds you of how far we’ve been brought down by technology: how inhuman many aspects of our lives have become, how much we’ve lost or traded away in a few quick swipes. From here on the margins of Europe, what we’re promised by advertisements and political manifestos looks even less shiny than it does in the steel-and-glass centre. We know intuitively that the smart home is not our home; for the margins it’s cast-offs, afterthoughts, crap phones. "

Given the news from Las Vegas' CES – with smart fridges among other products that may or may not appear on the now infamous @internetofshit twitter stream – it's definitely wise to adopt a more critical perspective, and I guess Crap Future may be helpful for this.

The Leaky Future Conjecture: The Leaky Future Conjecture (LFC)…



The Leaky Future Conjecture:

The Leaky Future Conjecture (LFC) asks “What if nature were able to leak information from the future to its own past?” Although human-like time travelers are standard fare in Science Fiction, the conjecture makes no presumptions about what form this communication might take. A Leaky Future could take the form of a stream of bits of information, perhaps as a stream of electromagnetic radiation. The transmission bit rate of this information could be much slower, say, measured in bits per year or centuries. It could operate at very small scale, such as DNA replication, or at the very large scale, such as the sun’s solar cycle.

Why do I blog this? this is a notion I was aware of but not under this name.

betaknowledge.tumblr.com as a compilation of weak signals about the future

Btw, I started a tumblr few days ago to accumulate insights, data points and “weak signals” in a very basic/raw way… I use to put that material into delicious but I’m not satisfied with the service anymore.

It’s called beta knowledge and it can be seen as material that can be turned into long posts here on Pasta and Vinegar, in articles/books/reports, or, even better, into design objects.

I’m trying to integrate that into the feedburner RSS feed.

Weekending 11132011

Hello. It’s time for the weekending post. A few things.

First — I was introduced to this graphic above from @bruces. It shows a Venn diagram showing a kind of perspective of what-could-be. For that reason, I chose to interpret it as another “graph of the future”. How’s that? Well, because it indicates the measure of what can be a product and therefore, what can enter into the world at a particular scale — it’s represents things that can exist at some point in the future. It’s a really simple measure of “product” or “possibility”, but because of its simplicity, its admirable. It says that what can be a product must be desirable, profitable and possible/buildable.

Update: @bruces posted his notebook drawing that I originally saw three, wine-fueled hours into a midnight dinner in London. It comes from Hugh Dubberly.

I pondered this a bit over the week. I shared it for a moment at the recent Society for the Social Studies of Science conference, as a way to think about the future. But, what I want to consider are the unexplored, peculiar areas that are not at the super-sweet spot there in the middle. Are these various terrains that can be explored — perhaps to shift the meaning of what is desirable, profitable and possible? Ultimately, that sweet spot in the middle has to become some sort of least common denominator. What about the impossible? Or the barely possible? Or the unprofitable, but possible and desireable? You see what I mean? How do yo get out of the rut of assuming that everything must be a product — desirable/profitable/possible — and actually innovate? Make new impossible things? Or new, weird things only desirable to 17 people?

Update #2. Here’s Hugh Dubberly’s drawing — at least I think it is. I never saw the one from which Bruce did his notebook sketch.

Yet to be considered.

Well, also this week was a bit of frustrating time figuring-out-new-stuff. Can you believe that we still have to use USBSerial dongles by Keyspan in 2011 in order to talk to modern bits of development hardware? What gives with that?

This is a development board for a VS1000 chip which does audio decoding. I’m hoping to learn more about how to make it do interesting things for some real-time audio hacking and making-of-things. Look for cool stuff soon. Definitely desirable, possible and unprofitable little gizmos and hatchapees.

The last thing is that the video of the Thrilling Wonder Stories thing I did in London last week with Bruce Sterling and Kevin Slavin is available online now at the Architectural Association web site. It’s worth a look. If you fast forward to about 1/2 way through, you’ll get to the start of the presentations from myself @bruces and @slavin_fpo.

Finally, had a lovely coffee time chat with David Kirby who was in town to do some interviews for his upcoming projects.

That’s it for what happened.

In upcoming news, you’ll find more people blogging and doing things through the Laboratory.

The band is getting back together. Yeehaw.

Continue reading Weekending 11132011

Opportunism

RadiationDetection

Completely understandable how the recent tragic events in Japan would translate into email from an electronics source containing *only parts and supplies and modules to make Geiger Counters. At the same time as it’s understandable, it’s one of those things that feels like it’s taking advantage of the general panic, confusion, sadness and apocalyptic angst.

Not deflecting the urgency and anxiety of recent events in Japan, it’s curious to me to think about how and when change is able to happen. By that I mean that things happen, swerve off-course or are able to swerve off of into unexpected, new directions. For example, the events after 9/11 where an *opportunity space opened up in which dramatic, unprecedented changes were able to be made in the legal systems of some countries. Things that would not have been so easy to implement had their been no epic tragedy. Similarly, in a way — now we learn quite a bit about nuclear physics, science, speculation about the malfeasance (if you can call it that) of this nuclear quasi-agency in Japan (via @xenijardin WSJ: TEPCO initially resisted using seawater to cool reactors; harm to “valuable power assets” feared ). We find ourselves preparing — again — for an earthquake, nuclear catastrophe, flood, Tsunami, etc. Entirely enormous nations are scaling back and turning off nuclear power plants (I find this most intriguing) and rethinking their energy policies. I mean — that’s epic. Whatever side you may be on the issue of nuclear power, these events, at the cost of untold lives, future lives, physical infrastructure, and so on — everything has been changed.

The imagined course into which the future was going to be made, has swerved.

We often like to think of change coming about from good, thoughtful, happy actions and activities. Like good design work, for example. I think, from my experience, it is often never like this. It is hard. Change is hard. Making things better is hard. Generally, and anecdotally from the experience of myself and others up and down the hall here on the 7th floor of the Laboratory — people are reluctant to change their ways, the course of their lives. Moving out of “comfort zones” and all that is, well — uncomfortable. Adapting and adopting new ways of living, behaving, thinking would make for a more resilient world, I think. One that was not afraid of difference, of giving things up for the hope and possibility of a better things.

Of course — it can all go wrong. But at least we’d try.

*Anyway..

Parenthetically, Studio 360 has an intriguing related radio story on this topic. It is called Japan: The Imagination of Disaster.

Why do I blog this? As always, we here are quite intrigued by how the future comes to be — what are the mechanics, semantics and motivations that move people to obtain and create possible futures. In this case, “taking advangage” of opportunites when one can do that bit of swerving, rudder-pushing, tiller cranking because the currents become favorable to try a new tack.
At that moment when the normal course of events seems to swirl out of control

Continue reading Opportunism