You spent so long building this thing up from the ground, trying to reconnect and bring other people into your cause…and now you want to destroy it?
Picking up from where we left off in our ZAO world, we were faced with the question of how we wanted to appear to a wider public. ‘ZAOCorp’ seemed to lack a direction, a motive. Why would we want to collect from the environment? Why was it important? We thought the solution would be to fabricate the fictional origin stories that would tie all of our ‘characters’ of the business together and break it open. Expose it for being intent on fighting off some other-wordly force which we could not make public. But why would you want to kill your ZAO?
It was this space of ambiguity between our consumers and the business that had formed the real points of interest during the project. To ground ourselves more thoroughly in being a mediator between this speculative world where object collections and communications met the real world of estrangements had an initial effect of appearing more distant and ambiguous than we would have hoped. Yet, there was room here for developing a coexistence with the real and figuring where our products could sit within real world contexts in order to build more of a coherent language with our public without revealing too much and watering down the content.
But where do you draw the line between cult and corporation?
The development of languages with which to better understand our cause has been an underlying construction material thus far, interweaving between our value system and our audience in a number of forms. We turned our attention to existing examples of persuasive organisations that have constructed their shared narrative with an aim to bringing these techniques to a wider audience.
The Church of Scientology is one such organisation that has adopted a specific set of doctrines surrounding their religion and ways of approaching potential followers. The inclusion of their own glossary in their seminars, along with accompanying literature on raising a family and handling ‘The problems of work’ offered interesting insights into how an organisation such as ours may access a receptive audience while also maintaining a degree of the eerie and unnerving…the sense that there are higher agendas at play.
By lifting some of the consistent themes from this literature, we were able to construct some ‘bullshit’ leaflets of our own, which we intended would provide the framework for our own strange interventions with the public. This was also a useful development in establishing a stronger relationship to ideas of ‘object fetishism’, with a growing understanding that, while we would want to hold back on becoming too ‘cultist’ and alienating ourselves from our audience, some of these documents would be able to play along to a mantra of elevating the collected object to a higher status.
“Seduction…wants the other to change us and us to change the quality of the other to create a unique narrative beyond any sexual narrative…the post-human is the moment of the in-between…”¹
It just makes me think I want to see your archives.
As we took a step back from becoming too involved with the language techniques of Scientology, we brought it back to the corporation. The staging of a focus group allowed for feedback on our products and to observe how our peers responded to their sheer abnormalities. In doing so, we wanted to learn what others thought was important about our items. The main question revolved around the motives for collection; does the white, ‘clinical’ nature of the products not make them too precious? and was this part of the act of collecting the environment and making this visible? if this was so, what were we really interested in learning about people from this? Given that the sponge shoes picking up dirt from the environment seemed in direct contradiction to a item like the bags, used primarily for storing and holding onto items deemed to be precious, who were these for?
It was a realisation that while we may have begun with the aim of collecting all aspects of the physical environment, perhaps it was beginning to form more into the obsession of the collected object, the story around it and the act of doing so. In ways, it offers a disconnect from the digital realms we all live within and highlighting an alternative way of living (and so a nod back to the lifestyle brand…). We gave three bags to members of the focus group to collect things of their own for a few days and report back with the items.
“The indifference with which the Earth’s surface has been stripped reflects how groups and individuals…are often anonymous to each other…Appearing completely abstract and neutral, fetishism is the reification of technology into an instrument of negative dialects…”²
And as it stands…how else do we access the public? Our next move is to take this research to Ridley Road Market in Hackney, to engage with an unbiased public and ask for their participation in testing these items for themselves. In doing so, we aim to identify ourselves as a lifestyle brand bringing the intended act of collection to a wider audience, if not for us to learn about them, then for them to learn more about what it is that makes them collect the things they do…and with the inclusion of a # link to our social media, we promise them to ability to reflect on all that they took away from the product testing.
“in the society of individualised consumers…what else besides shopping meets so well the prerequisites of DIY exorcism?”³
MacCormack, P. (2009) ‘Queer Post-Humanism: Cyborgs, animals, monsters, perverts’, from ‘Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory’ ed, Noreen Giffney, Michael O’Rourke. pp. 115
‘Year Zero’, Interior Ministry for Alienist Manifesto’ [blog] available at https://alienistmanifesto.wordpress.com/2018/08/21/2000-tanks-the-prague-doctrine/#more-487 [accessed: 05/11/2018]
Bauman, Z. (2012) ‘Liquid Modernity’, Polity Press, Cambridge. pp. 82
This is not a stool. In other words, it is not a time stamp for the point when the designer accomplishes the pursuit of that buzz question: “can anything be a stool?”.
Instead we see this object as a tool kit of individual components. Separated, individual and unique in their own way; and each carrying their own narrative of their making. However, each object is the product of the batch process – all follow a specification allowing them to be almost entirely identical. From the point of view of the Birch Ply seat, for example, the making process is one of doubt and unnatural manipulation. This first stage in fabrication is about the selection of that particular material with the explicit intention that it is there to be contorted and bent by the heavy force of clamps and jigs. Prior to this stage however, there is the meticulous task of first cutting to size the ply and checking the midpoints are aligned in a dry run of the task, before applying the resin glue Carcomite to each layer and securing it thoroughly.
If a degree of pessimism hangs over the making process, the expectation that anything and everything will go wrong, then from its inception the idea of the components of the object are constantly under the scrutiny of the designer being sure all elements are in place and ensuring the protection of the material (the use of the blocks in this case against the cold force of the clamps).
As stated previously, this is not a stool. It is a suggestion of what a stool may be if all pieces come together in such a way that it can be recognised as a stool. Another element that may support this is the use of the circular saw and the slot mortiser in the formation of mortise and tenon joints to form ‘legs’. Setting these to the precise measurements allow for the repeat process cutting grooves and rebates.
There is a trust in this particular joint. If done correctly it will fit securely, and in fitting the central beam into the mortises of the legs (having been measured top to bottom, shaped on the table router and finally clamped and glued with the vice with careful measurement) these components form a well-crafted object. Carefully plotted designs within designs for further designs. In exploring the multitude of joining methods between many materials, they are perhaps the focal point for the conversations around the designer, the user and the efficient object. What do we as consumers expect from our furniture in the present? Companies at the forefront of mass produced items such as ‘IKEA’ and ‘Habitat’ have their own seemingly definitive answer to this question, manifesting in cheap, easy to assemble goods where the designer has stripped the process away almost entirely. Similar examples can also be seen in the work of designers like Michael Marriott, whose furniture such as ‘Craft Table’ (2010) bring further ease and minimalist design to the household using only components fitted together with slots and cable ties.
But our object is not a stool. The batch process allows for the tools to be set up in such as way that the pieces may be planned thoroughly. The acts of crafting the draw with mitered joints, must adhere to the whims of an ordered process. We would cut the miters in the two lengths of poplar following the groove on the router because this is far more efficient than having four pieces.
Once cut down on the chop saw, the lathe holds the aluminium bar tightly for cutting the hole. The skills applied to crafting this part alone form a coherent series of steps from this point to using the grease and tap wrench to carve out the screw thread. All, once again, under a precise hand and certainty that the thread is vertical (usually obtained by hanging the bar loosely before clamping in the vice). Wet and dry and steel wool perfect the metal. Unlike when working in wood, metal will harbor all the damage that may be done to it during the process of its crafting. With wood, there may be points when damage may be removed, but this proves more difficult with metal when it comes to the finishing. This is another point at which the crafting of the elements of what we cannot call a stool must be carefully thought ahead and set in an order which allows for mistakes to be avoided and the finish to be preserved.
This act of finishing the components follows right to the end as we wind down to the final piecing together of these separate entities. The process of sanding down the legs, rounding off the edges and subtly shaping the seat to breakdown the rigidity of the material, softening it for our use. It is then the act of lacquering and waxing that preserves the wood and protects from moisture damage, perhaps even diverting from the strictness of common batch and mass production processes and leaving room for individuality.
Here, wood stain and wax is applied to the draw to break up the colour and add further interest to this piece. The wood itself on the inside of the draw tells its own story about the life of that particular tree, and these decisions may be made by the designer to negotiate with the visual interests of wood (the knots, the burn scars etc.) and the appeal for a client if selling is the prime motive.
Considering that our object is not a stool, because the function of a stool is to prove the designer’s ability in crafting a stool for sitting on, let us instead pose the components forming our object as learning tools. They are markers of a certain way of thinking applied to making, and demonstrate a range of potential methods that can separate these components from each other, despite them sharing a common material. We may also consider how, this final object represents a point where ‘the stool’ does not have to fulfill a linear transaction, i.e. sold by the maker to client, in a sense this has been explored already in a multitude of ways with the rise of multi-purpose and easily-maneuverable furniture (a response to current socio-economic conditions in living?). With this we may also ask where the designer situates themselves in the present when it comes to competing with these industries? But we may also consider how crafted objects such as this can pose as vehicles for the setting up of design opportunities – interventions perhaps, or performative narratives where the everyday can meet with the unusual design object in public space, opening new talking points and discussion around the possibilities for exploration. There is also room for critical reflection regarding the design of objects in this case. The designer Jerszy Seymour often plays with the possibilities of furniture as discussion points for the nature of production and materials. His work ‘Workshop Chair’ (2009) employs the use of the biodegradable material Polycapralactone for joining the wooden elements together. In doing so, it allows people to draw questions about how these materials may be used in a wider, more accessible context and place the construction of objects further into people’s capability (in essence, the reverse of what may be considered the role of the traditional crafts-person).
A challenge we faced as we progressed with the creation of our fictional ‘ZAO’ character was how this would be identified, and the entity we wished to define as our ‘other’. Our belief system around this being we had tried to gain an understanding of, gradually began to manifest itself in the form of a corporation – one intending to broaden its influence and understanding of the ‘ZAO’ in the form of consumer products.
The objects we had designed evolved from the initial experiments investigating how the being might learn and retain information about new worlds from physical assimilation and collection of objects, what we called ‘tactile information’. This was also about exploring the relationship between consumers and corporations, particularly in the way that the company appeals to and maintains the interest of the customer through a hierarchical, linear form of communication, usually in the form of vacuous slogans and contrived luxury products. This in itself has created a ‘zombified’ culture, where capitalism encourages the pursuit of the desired item. These slogans themselves were designed to appear more like biblical mantras revealing our cause, and were constructed through a mix of randomly generated ‘motivational quotes’, lacking any real meaning or context, and the use of our constructed language without nouns to accentuate previously explored themes of disconnecting from our human understanding.
In ‘Hypernormalisation’ (2016), Adam Curtis discusses aspects of ‘shape-shifting’ – a condition in our modern world whereby public perception is orchestrated by keeping people in a constant state of uncertainty, “a constant state of de-stabilised perception in order to manage and control”¹. It is a shift in politics epitomised by such leaders as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, with their ability to alter their actions and viewpoints to a receptive audience. The result is a world which is so alien to us because of its familiarity but lack of transparency, aided by ever-more imposing methods of restricting our thinking. The business was, in a sense, an illustration of this process. To project ourselves within the roles of a corporation was to express that we were selling a lifestyle brand; a new way of living to connect with the environment on a more experiential level, inspired by this belief in our fictional other, yet, we may wish to explore further how a particular brand identity and aesthetic can be a powerful factor in shifting people’s views of what is considered ‘reality’.
By this point, the ZAO for us represents an ambiguous entity, a thing not quite explained but beyond our comprehension in terms of its experiences in our world, as if ‘painting an image of the ZAO by design’. We can continue to play with this ambiguity as an interesting space for developing a narrative of our own separated from the cliche of an ‘alien encounter’, but can keep in mind the uncertain territory when trying to identify where we sit within that dynamic. Are we the corporation mediating with this being we claim to have relation with? (if so, perhaps a narrative of our own origin story is needed), or perhaps there is the suggestion our products alienate and ‘other’ our consumer market by their very uncanny nature, verging into realms of alien fetishism for example.
Ideas of ‘simulacra and simulation’ as discussed by Jean Baudrillard play into these themes. Baudrillard’s analogies using objects like the TV demonstrated ways simulations can be delivered to an audience via constructions of new realities and distortion of images. A corporation such as ours may fall into this category (amongst other corporations, religions and ‘cults’) which perpetuate the ‘hyper-real’² – a simulacra so real it becomes treated as reality, transported through such platforms as film, advertising and higher education. We might question how our products may also become objects of the hyper-real, and what the wider consequences of this may be for consumers buying in to our new way of being.
In moving into the second part of the project, where we must begin to bring our fictional world into the context of our own and work with existing discourses, we can start by narrowing down further the identity of our ZAO (i.e. the corporation, the consumer, the things itself etc.) and consider how to progress with the concepts so far. Perhaps this must start with the exposure of the corporation and the consequences of its brand on society as a whole, as a springboard for exploring further ideas without restriction of the business model itself and allowing us to become more clear about the approach we take to explore. It may be we first have to tackle the less ambiguous before we discover how our audience relates to the corporation entirely…playing with the format of origin stories and other examples of cultist or corporate founding narratives to build up a depiction the company relationship with its audience and what it’s further intentions are.
¹’Hypernormalisation’, 2016 [Documentary] Directed by Adan CURTIS, England: BBC
²Baudrillard, J. ‘Simulacra and Simulation’, (1988) from ‘Selected Writings’, Ed. Mark Poster, Standford University Press, pp. 166-184
Following an exploration of what we believe it means to be Human, an exercise in asking ‘what if’ questions of our ZAO entity was a way in to driving more physical experimentation with objects and the environment and avoid being too grounded in theoretical and existential concepts. We question, what if this ‘other’ lacked an inability to retain information? What if it had to be submerged in water? what if it had no concept of time relative to our own? What if it could only ask questions? What if it needed to be in contact with its surroundings constantly? in order, perhaps, to satisfy its deprivation of knowledge and desire to build understanding in this strange world. We might say a collector of souvenirs; ‘an alien tourist.’
One approach was through a playful manipulation of our own language to translate the world of this entity. We attempted conversations, setting rules like the removal of all verbs and then all nouns – a tool for understanding our world from an alternative perspective, one-removed of our ingrained understanding of objects and their uses.
These were, in part, references to the film ‘Under the skin’ directed by Jonathan Glazer (2013)¹, whereby the otherly protagonist (Scarlett Johansson) associates with her victims by assuming human characteristics, yet remains alien in her inability to empathise or differentiate between the human beings she prays on. In developing this basic structure of a language of the ZAO based on replacing nouns with verbs and adjectives, we began to get an insight into this kind of naive attempt to assimilate with a strange world where all objects and organisms are understood only by their action and appearance, rather than their place in design and culture as human beings would understand them.
The ZAO takes this to extremes when out in the real world. Its inability to place objects in the context of their function as we would understand lends itself to ambiguity and constant fascination with everything it comes into contact with (maybe it is vital it has contact with these things at all times). We considered it a collector, gaining sensory experience through touch and careful analysis of the objects it finds and holds in its containment vessels. In ‘Collecting, the rescue of things and the human’ (2012), Noël Valis discusses the act of collecting as “find[ing] its analogue in the writing of the aesthetic experience through the display of words and colours”², which can be intrinsically linked to our desire for order, and a fear of growing bored with the world when deprived of greater experiences. Our ZAO may present itself in this way, as a reflection of something which is, conversely, more human – as being bound to objects.
We drew connections here, also, to theories of speculative realism and Object Orientated Ontology as proposed by such theorists as Graham Harman, where there may be “many ways, objects, animals, and so on, have of relating or accessing the objects of this world beyond [our senses and experience]”³. With this in mind, objects and organisms can be placed on one plane, in which human beings are not dominant over any ‘other’ and all ‘others’ carry with them a latent, inaccessible experience that we can only speculate on. The ZAO may view our world with similar perspective. Where arguably, the most successful life form is the microorganism, and all objects equal to each other.
The ZAO prefers water. Its inability to sustain itself in our environment means it requires a containment unit in order to transport itself…with difficulty. Experimentation with a water-filled trolley moved into the territory of sensory experience and the change in conditions being an uncomfortable transition. When in public space, our ‘other’ faces challenges in navigating the architecture, even maintaining its dignity (if such a concept is considered) in the process.
Such encounters may also raise questions around the ways our being is able to navigate amidst our infrastructure. As a stranger experiencing this new environment, there may be sensitive issues around this area of inaccessibilty and design which could be addressed.
This is where we begin to take an alternate direction in our exploration of the ZAO. As questions generate further questions, we are inclined to continue to explore just what it is and how it exists in the context of our world. Further exploration using this as a vehicle, lends itself to us becoming the experts; to becoming the fanatics intent on making the argument for its existence and how it operates. To convince others of its plight and give them an understanding of its alternate experiences which we can only speculate on. This may continue to be inspired by our exploration of language and its incessant need to assimilate itself with the environment through collections. We may gradually, and subtly, begin to design a conversation about our cause and our fanaticism by providing a catalogue of knowledge. We can also ask how far our belief systems and ethics may be influenced or pushed in accomplishing this, and begin to develop a greater understanding of our process in doing so.
¹’Under the skin’, 2013 [film], Directed by Jonathan GLAZER, United Kingdom: BFI
²Valis, N. ‘Collecting, the rescue of things and the human’ (2012) from The Yale Review, pp. 84, available at Wiley Online Library, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9736.2012.00808.x
³Gratton, P. ‘Speculative realism: Problems and prospects’, (2014) pp. 95, London: Bloomsbury
- La Molleindustria, http://www.molleindustria.org/blog/about/
- ‘Casual games for protesters’ (2017) ‘Snap Zap’, http://www.protestgames.org
- ‘Casual games for protesters’ (2017) https://harrygiles.org/portfolio/protest-games/
- ‘Casual games for protesters’ (2017) ‘Mind Reading’, http://www.protestgames.org
- Paterson, D. ‘A brief biography of Augusto Boal’, (2018) Pedagogy and theatre of the oppressed Inc. https://ptoweb.org/aboutpto/a-brief-biography-of-augusto-boal/
- Casual games for protesters’ (2017) ‘Mind Reading’, http://www.protestgames.org
Photographs attributed to myself taken at the Design Museum London, ‘Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-2018 Exhibition’.
Below is footage of my use of the hot wire used to cleanly cut over 700 blocks of polystyrene, which would eventually become the structure for the BA 3rd year exhibition piece design by Claudia Del Olmo Russo www.deconstructingwesternwalls.com whom I was assisting in fabricating this installation. These blocks would accompany 264 genuine bars of soap which had been manufactured in Aleppo, Syria, and wrapped in news print featuring graphics of a variety of Westernised views on the wars of the middle east and the refugee crisis.
The significance of the soaps having been crafted in Aleppo reconnects with one of the original industries of Syria before the war, in the intention to design an educational experience and a subsequent product surrounding issues of media representation.
In aiming to build an architectural structure that would invite viewers in to watch Claudia’s video of the formation of the project, we needed a lightweight and easily transportable material that could be quickly constructed when in the exhibition space. Large polystyrene blocks presented themselves to us and I got on cutting these to the specified size of the real soaps, before they were wrapped to mimic their effect. The real soaps would also form part of the structure for viewers to take and buy with proceeds going to charity.
Once wrapped and in the space, we could begin laying out the blocks and testing the best arrangements for people to engage with and be informed by the video. The images and text on the wrapping paper were coordinated to build up an image of the media interpretations of the Syrian crisis in contrast to the soaps they contained being a link to the original industries now threatened by the wars. The choice to stack them in this way was based on the traditional methods of stacking the soaps.
Arthur, G. ‘Aleppo soap: War threatens an ancient tradition’ [article] BBC News, 15th May 2013. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22541698 [accessed: 16/06/18]
This layout of pages for a zine discusses the possible effects that low employment and the segregation of individuals in the workplace may have on the consumption of limited resources and a disconnect from the natural environment. I frame this discussion by proposing that the victimisation of those who are unemployed and the spatial and time restrictions placed on those who are employed may not only isolate them from making emotional connections with each other, but also reduces their experience and greater enjoyment of the spaces whereby we learn to live amongst and have respect for other living organisms. Perhaps, I argue, it is this which is at the core of the problems of the ecological in design thinking and how we better bridge the divide between the coldness of the man-made and our relationship to the world around us.
Following the success of the model presentation, a natural direction to take our final design intervention within the space of the Pleasure Gardens was in the pursuit of a performance that built on the ways we had explored narratives using the scale models. Further reading and reflection on our own experiences of pleasure within the space led us to consider how pleasure could become dis-pleasurable – at what points does pleasure reach excess? does the repetition of pleasurable actions account for this? These were questions we wished to propose to viewers when we would perform our intervention. This was also accompanied by the construction and decoration (to the point of vulgarity) of six performative wooden palette stages and props that would be used to aid the representation of each of the ‘pleasurable activities’ that we had observed, experienced and documented whilst immersing ourselves in the gardens on a number of occasions.
Our pleasure process: the making of the performance presentation
This invigorating performance lasted for an hour and involved us, as the performers, acting out these roles for continuous, 5 minute periods of time before an alarm would signal us to switch stations. This form of the mechanical reproduction of pleasure was later highlighted to us as being historically relevant to the Victorian obsession with automatons and clockwork mechanisms that became popularised in London around the same time period as the original Pleasure Gardens.
This too was a highly successful intervention, attracting much attention from commuters on their otherwise ordinary walk through the park. Had we taken this project further, we may have considered also how we could engage this audience in more extensive ways. Perhaps this would have involved the implementation of a system of more extensive actions and ‘performed’ activities undertaken by participants on a larger scale. While the palettes here represented our understanding of segregating the activities of pleasure within the park, a development on this could well have been the fabrication of more interactive or collaborative stations designed to make people reflect on and consider their experiences within this space in a more provocative and considered manner.
Inherent in the distinction between ‘going unnoticed’ and ‘being unseen’ are the ways in which we inhabit the multi-faceted networks that document all aspects of our identity in the present. To be ‘unseen’ in our world of mass surveillance would suggest a missing presence. We can assume that such an individual had fallen through these networks completely. To go ‘unnoticed’ however, connotes the motivations for wanting to be so: illegal action, evasion from authority, the necessity of avoiding compromising encounters or situations.
Surveillance/Subversion’ is a collection of garments and items of the everyday that can be transformed within a short time-period for those who wish to feel themselves disconnected from CCTV occupied spaces. If going unnoticed is such an apparent impossibility in our society, where our actions are recorded and our identities laid bare due to the objects we possess, where are the openings to retain the integrity of our image? How do we begin to reclaim our urban environments in ways that free us from the fears of becoming associated with adverse behaviour? This solution proposes a transition in thinking from our Orwellian perception of mass surveillance, into its potential as ‘closed-circuit performance platforms’ – exploiting the low resolution of digital imagery to exist across many spaces in multiple personas and contexts.
These conclusions were drawn following my research exploring the question with relevant people who have tried to ‘go unnoticed’ in their own way and with their own motivations (some of them due to career profession, some of them to avoid authority). The items presented here blend with the everyday, while their transformed states contrast with each other in such a way that users can create many disjointed projections of themselves while navigating between camera systems, generating disorientating and contradicting information about themselves. It interrogates the political motivations for going unnoticed, intercepting the lives of those who wish to feel that their image is not compromised and is not being used for purposes beyond their control. To be able to say with conviction “I passed through here and left no trace”.