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Document 1. – Symposium Report

Earlier this year, CAN joined forces with UAL Creative Computing Institute to kick off a new CAN-curated event series examining new forms of cross-disciplinary art and design practice. Entitled Document 1., the inaugural event took place March 11th–13th at the UAL’s Camberwell College of Art in London and was comprised of a workshop, seminar, and a symposium. Having already documented the workshop, in this in-depth article we take a closer look at the symposium, which drew together a small group of exceptional practitioners with work that blurs boundaries between many fields and carrier trajectories, and that offers savvy critical, technological and cultural narratives that provide both cautionary warnings and imaginative paths forward.

Document 1. included Revital Cohen, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Eva Rucki (Troika) and Theodore Spyropoulos (Minimaforms / AADR), as introduced by CAN Editor-in-Chief Filip Visnjic. Revital Cohen, together with Tuur Van Balen work across objects, installation and film, exploring process of production as a cultural, personal and political practice. Matthew Plummer Fernandez is a British/Colombian artist that creates sculpture, software, online interventions, and installations – often in connection – producing and reflecting on contemporary social and computational entanglements and configurations. Eva Rucki is one of the founders of Troika, a collaborative contemporary art group formed in 2003 with a particular interest in the subjective and objective readings of reality and the various relationships we form with technology. Finally, Theodore Spyropoulos, Director of the Architectural Association’s renowned Design Research Lab (AADRL) in London and co-founder of the experimental art, architecture and design practice Minimaforms.

For the last decade CreativeApplications.Net, has been focused on how ‘tools’ prompt change and drive technological development in art and design. Using ‘tools’ as a lens, we critically examine the implications of software, trying to increase understanding and provoke conversations about their application and impact on the culture as a whole. On CAN we also talk about how art and design is a vehicle for interrogating various facets of society, and a mechanism for eclipsing the present and peeking into the future – revealing cultural transformations that are already underway. Document 1. is a manifestation of this ethos, conceived and executed as both a research project and event, and left open enough to provide space for reflection and dialogue for its participants. It also explores the role of documentation (hence the title), and the nature of dissemination can be used to both drive discussion and inflect the reception of creative projects.

Below we provide an overview of the thinking that has informed Document 1.’s development. This design pedagogy has helped us shape both our new event series and it also resides in CAN’s editorial DNA – informing both what and how we cover creative practice here. We organise this perspective around three overarching nouns (Synthesis, Abundance, and Convolution) as a set-up for framing the condition and landscape for art+design research. Extending out of that framework, we then recap the talks of our four Document 1. speakers.

Synthesis

[ the combination of components to form a connected whole ]

In this context, it is well known that commercial design is a product of building relations – or hybridisation of technologies to suit corporate needs. In a non-commerical environment, what we consider innovation is something that comes from adapting new and old technologies to current contexts – drawing new narratives and situating technologies within, current, near-future, or speculative scenarios. Furthermore, it could be said that the difference between the commercial and non-commercial synthesis of technologies is predominantly based on intent and context. What we are interested in is artists or designers that interrogate some facet of society with their works – creating a critical window into the present or the future – not those that serve market-driven client interests.

Abundance

[ the state or condition of having a copious quantity of something ]

The internet was once thought to be a cultural renaissance and has become an economic revolution (Douglas Rushkoff). It has brought tangible technological advances without accompanying social or cultural critique. Today, technologies are deployed without consent by the end user, and little in the way of regulation or ethical guidelines, driven by corporate need to condition, control, predict and anticipate the users next move. Simultaneously, education is mostly skill-based and close links to industry are highly valued, with learning prioritised over teaching. As a result, in the design field specifically, we notice a techno-solutionist urge, i.e. technological advancement for the sake of advancement to serve industry – what Max Weber would describe as “specialists without spirit,” fit for the iron cage. The products we consume are all a part of the infinite cycle of supply and demand without much consideration for need, all existing within an endless planned obsolescence cycle that we feel we have very little control over.

Convolution

[ a thing that is complex and difficult to follow ]

While the Barbican Centre continues to tour their “Digital Revolution” exhibition, we are now talking about the digital “counter revolution”. Reversing the process from scale to locality, escaping years of technological regress, defying algorithmic futures and machine-based logics towards celebrating individuality, diversity, sensibility and freedom of choice. Arguably, if art and design have a single purpose today, it would be to interrogate these conditions. There is a desperate need for our role as creatives to shift, away from techno-solutionist ideals towards assessing and reflecting upon our condition. How do we rethink our practice as artists and designers? What is our role here?

Art and Design Practice as Research

To address some of these needs, it is important that creative practice shifts away from singular outputs towards research, grounding itself in the past, present and future. Some 20 years ago now, Christopher Frayling (RCA), attempted to describe what kind of research happens in design schools. Although a little bit dated, his observations are still relevant. He described the differences between research “into”, “through” and “for” art and design. ‘Into’ refers to examining existing or historical practice whereas ‘For’ refers to for the benefit or advancement of art and design. What we are primarily interested here is using “research through Art and design”, i.e. using Art and Design as a vehicle to interrogate a particular subject area.

The young designer has become an imagineer – an archaeologist of images and signs, and styles from within the urban wasteland. The research scientist is orderly, he, it tends to be he, in popular images – has conjectures and hypotheses and he sets about proving or disproving them according to a set of orderly procedures. His subjects exist outside himself so he must submerge his subjectivity and personality in order to study it.

Christopher Frayling, Research in Art and Design, 1993/4
Common understanding of project workflow and and documentation.

Clearly defining Context within which one operates, stating precedents, thinkers, events in history, movements etc. It’s an area that expands and grows as we learn more. Similarly, what Method are we using to interrogate the subject area? Are there any precedents, works and ideas that correlate and align with what we are trying to do? This could be Drawings, images, photographs, code, video, film, models, installation – any medium. Can we make our own tools, use open source projects, build on them, develop and contribute to them? Situate your projects alongside work by other artists and designers by Positioning. Critique our own and others’ work, participate in a dialogue and debate and finally, and most importantly, document, record and communicate.

Diagram showing separation of the outputs from the core, each output acting like a door/entry point into the project and into the research.

It is a common practice for creatives to think about their workflow as a ‘project’, followed by documentation. It is, on the other hand, important to consider an alternative – thinking about documentation as an integral part of any project, one that both nurtures and critiques the process. Documentation holds a dialogue, between the creator and the audience, and thus is an important component of the project, if not (at times) the project itself. Documentation can also become bridges into other creative fields, disciplines or conversations.


Back in 2013, at the Resonate festival in Belgrade we had the pleasure of hearing Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen speak about their practice. Mesmerised by the synergy between the two, we took this opportunity to once again invite Revital and learn about the duos most recent work. To those unfamiliar with their practice, it follows geological, political and biological strains within the manufactured landscape and they create work that questions the context of its own becoming. Speaking about objects as reflections of who we are, Revital spoke about understanding what surrounds us as “relics of the bigger picture, larger systems that are hidden from the view. ”

Revital Cohen

Discussing their first project together, The Immortal (2012), comprised of a number of life-support machines that are connected to each other, circulating liquids and air in attempt to mimic a biological structure. The project investigates human dependence on electronics, the desire to make machines replicate organisms and our perception of anatomy as reflected by biomedical engineering. In this work, Revital speaks of the interpretation of anatomy with a mechanical vocabulary that inherently reflects Western perception of the body. Defining the body as a machine – where dysfunctional parts can be replaced by prosthetics. These objects encompass social debates about the ethics of euthanasia, the quantification of both the value and quality of life, making physical a poetic desire to conquer our own mortality. In contrast, 75 Watt (2013), explores the nature of mass-manufacturing products on various scales; from the geo-political context of hyper-fragmented labour to the bio-political condition of the human body on the assembly line. The process is once again reversed, and just like in the The Immortal, a mirror of sort, comprised of a product designed with a single function in mind – to choreograph a dance performed by the labourers manufacturing it. This project was first of many collaboration with a friend and choreographer Alexander Whitley, here the engineering logic has reduced the factory labourer to a man-machine, through scientific management of every single movement. By shifting the purpose of the labourer’s actions from the efficient production of objects to the performance of choreographed acts, mechanical movement is reinterpreted into dance. Revital and Tuur question the value of this artefact that only exists to support the performance of its own creation. Furthermore, if the product dictates the movement, does it become the subject, rendering the worker the object?

In the project Sterile (2014), continuing to explore the blurring boundaries of object and systems of production, and following a very long collaboration that included many trips to Asia, Revital and Tuur designed an albino goldfish, engineered to hatch without reproductive organs. An edition of 45 was produced for the artists by Professor Yamaha in his laboratory in Hokkaido, Japan. This fish were not conceived as animals but made as objects, unable to partake in the biological cycle. The research also resulted in the design of a machine that is capable of producing sterile goldfish in an automated reenactment of Yamaha-Sensei’s movements and actions. Physically articulating this fabrication process, its mechanisation allows for the standardisation of both sequence and animal.

In Revital’s talk we were also offered insight and behind the scenes of the film Trapped in the Dream of the Other (2017), where a camera navigates through a performance: in the summer of 2016, bespoke fireworks were set off in an open-air mine near Numbi in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The fireworks had been imported from Liuyang in Hunan Province, the epicentre of China’s fireworks industry, by means of a twenty-first-century Iliad that at this moment in time had already continued for a number of years and required several circumnavigations of the globe as well as its bureaucracies. From China to Democratic Republic of the Congo while establishing an entirely new trade route by way of a container ship to Durban in South Africa, a protracted flight to Kigali in Rwanda via Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, a drive to the border of the Congo, an arrest, a bribe, and a convenient re-titling of the goods as “special effects.” The resulting film features one half of the artist duo is positioned remotely, and the other at the scene. One holds a recast resin Sega controller gun to a screen in a studio in East London, and the other a steady cam trained at a mystery of proliferating smoke in the mine. The project does not aim to represent the reality of the Congo, where most basic tools are used to carve away minerals that are soon to be shipped back to China to be processed by Foxconn and other factories eventually destined for our tech devices at home. The film by Cohen and Van Balen is rather the result of an endeavour to retro-engineer the global trade routes that delineate the bridge between Sub-Saharan Africa and China via extraction and the manufacture of electronics. It is the documentation of a performance whose main interest and unease is a lack of answers and a failed attempt at orientation within this entanglement.

Currently the duo are working as fine art fellows at Stanley Picker Gallery focusing on their current research that considers gambling as the contemporary condition. A project still in the making, we eagerly await to learn more about it and as can be expected with Revital and Tuur, an inherently a very large undertaking resulting in equally, we are convinced, fascinating results.


Matthew Plummer-Fernandez

Matthew Plummer-Fernandez began his talk by discussing his early work, which explored 3D printing with software, scripts, 3D scans, and remixing and creating related 3D printed derivatives. This work mostly focused on looking at questions of authorship, asking ‘how far do you have to go when manipulating an object before it becomes a legally viable remix of the original?’. Some of this work may already be familiar to CAN readership – note some examples here.

Following the lineage of finding objects online and remixing them, Matthew created Algopop, a Tumblr that started in 2012 that satisfied his need for a blog that was documenting interesting moments when people were encountering automation, through apps and services. Some example posts: someone playing a trombone through voice recognition software for transcription, or a murderer asking Siri for suggestions on where to hide a body (Siri was kind enough to provide suggestions). As his interest developed in this entanglement between humans and machines, this led to Phd studies at Goldsmiths University, focused on discovering what conceptual frameworks we have for understanding these strange situations.

His studies are rooted in existing research, systems and viewpoints, situated within Media, Software, Critical Algorithm and Science and Technology studies. Having found better grounding within Science and Technology as well as Feminist Studies, Matthews work and observations are mostly concerned with the aspects of social activity associated with this particular entanglement. Moving away from algorithms as core technology, his interests are rooted in the writings about software architecture, normally considered a very dry area of computer science.

One of the strands of his research is Multiplicity (Deleuze) which applies nicely to software architecture.

“A software architecture is defined by a configuration of architectural elements – components, connectors, and data – constrained in their relationship in order to achieve a desired set of architectural properties.”

Roy Fielding, 2000

Interestingly the architectural analogy is used to describe the construction of the web. The focus here, Matthew explains, is “code on demand”, using a building idiom to describe how the web is shaped. Chatbots, for example, are a very small example of computer architecture that interfaces with larger platforms with their own databases. There is no singular algorithm and what we find is that code is encapsulated in many small components. All these interrelated parts create new agencies and generative output systems, which inevitably produce anomalies. This brings up another component of his research – the way social activity is entangled in these computer systems. Interaction normally frames these entanglements as a dichotomy of two – computer user and the machine, that meet through “interaction”. Whereas what Matthew is interested under the term of “interaction” where a different types of social activity takes place – one that is both interaction and “intra-action” (Barad).

Taking an example of mechanical turks, where human capacity is entagled within a computation system, behind the technological system there are embedded human workers and social activity which is hidden from us, to give an illusion of sublime human-machine relations.

Matthew uses this example of Reddit Place to discuss examples of human + machine entanglement into a unified/singular system.

Similarly, a notion of Figuration comes into consideration here Matthew explains, i.e. how we characterise these systems and how this characterisation is used to develop new technologies. Some of these ideas go back as far as to invention of the word “Robot”. Originally used to describe forced labour, robots were first imagined as machines that must obey humans. The narrative has been ingrained and reenacted throughout history in particular that of popular culture, resulting in new technologies being developed to perpetuate these narratives. Take the example of Cortana (Window’s AI assistant that originates from Bungie’s game HALO), an imaginary system that was actually materialised. Not only do technology companies pedal these narratives, but so does the press, at times distorting artists’ work to fit existing narratives.

Recently Matthew spearheaded the exhibition “Art of Bots”, featuring works that exemplify this idea of multiplicity – inviting artists and technologists to suggest and imagine what a bot could be. One included work was The Big Data Pawn Shop by Sam Lavigne, Surya Mattu and Adam Harvey, which uses leaked NSA catalogue of spyware objects to sell it on Zazzle store – a form of contaminating the marketplace with NSA files. Another is Jeffrey Thompson’s Bot Art School, where you are given instructions using generative briefs. The exhibition was mostly concerned with different ways of categorising bots. a small curatorial exercise to explore what a bot could be. This also included Matthew’s Novice Art Blogger, a project that is comprised of an algorithm trained on photographs with a task to find abstract art images (from the Tate archive) and caption them. The most interesting were those that pushed software to see meaning and metaphors in pictures. What interests Matthew in Novice Art Blogger is that instead of it being smart, it turned our to be crude and almost honest, rendering technology in a very unexpected way.

Matthew’s own project Shiv Integer created with Julien Deswaef, includes a bot that generates mashups of others peoples objects from Thingiverse. A site that reenacts a community of people that have 3D printers and share models, within a CC legal framework, selectively choosing how much freedom to give to each object. The bot was a way to utilise this framework as a rule base system upon which gathered and joined objects together. The bot creates models and descriptions while at the same time notifying all the owners of the models. The process embedded itself so deep in the software architecture of Thingiverse that it still generates comments from other users, even though the bot is no longer running.

Finally, Matthew discussed the projects he is currently working on, including one that he abandoned some time ago but he is coming back to – All Eyes, a bot that continuously searches, ‘sees’ and aggregates eyes from online images, as well as a curated selection of eyes that it has found. The software downloads images tagged with metadata such as ‘selfie’, ‘portrait’ and ‘face’, and uses computer vision to detect the presence of faces, cropping the image around the most notable eye. The project is intended to be both an empirical exercise and representation of automated online gazing/surveillance, using the eye as both a target and a metaphor. It also attempts to reveal the role of ubiquitous digital photography as an informant and supplier of data for third party use.

Another work-in-progress project is Echo Youth, which is currently under review by Apple for release on the AppStore. Drawing on a workshop with children that resulted in an exhibition at Somerset House, Matthew imagined how young people would lead future climate change campaigns, creating posters and placards and placing them in augmented reality – a form of real life activism fused with mixed reality spaces.


Eva Rucki (Troika)

Our third speaker, Eva Rucki from the London based art collective Troika, took the opportunity in her talk to mostly focus on immersive installations completed by the collective over the last few years. The group is concerned with creating experiences that explore alternative realities and lead the viewer or participant through, at times, ambiguous narratives. Installations Troika create invite visitors to become the main protagonists, with the collective only intervening to decide what falls within the perception of the viewer, and what is placed outside of it. All of their works are made in their London studio, by the collective, since the feedback loop connecting physical making back to conception is important to their practice.

Speaking about their early work, Electroprobe Installation #5 that was originally part of Sebastian’s thesis project, Eva discussed the inner lives of found objects. The project seeks to tell the untold stories of objects through sonification. As you walk around the installation, one discovers the “small talk” objects make. Over the years the project went through different forms and formats. Earlier this year they created a version of the installations for an exhibition in South Korea that was comprised of a physical loop using a rotating mic that would pass alongside locally found objects and sonify them in the process. It explores the perception and senses that allow you to perceive the internal lives of a selection of (primarly) obsolete objects.

Eva also introduced Limits of a Known Territory, a project that is not so much about extending the senses but more about acting as a filter. The team flooded the exhibition space and invited visitors to explore the installation, which included water drops that altered visitors perception of time by altering their movement using fluctuating light. The installation attempts to offer an alternate reality, changing what is real and what is not. It does not include any sound, removing any sense of rhythm and time. Stepping stones were used to slow down visitors as they navigate, making the floor appear bottomless.

A recent project Borrowed Light, explores the idea of a “infinite sunrise/sunset” captured in a single view and made possible with technology. Currently installed at the Barbican, considered by some as a “utopian dream”, Eva talks about it as a dream location for the project. Borrowed Light is comprised of a 24m photographic slide film (12m in height) that slowly rotates using rollers located at the top and bottom. Film that us used to record reality is now used to create a new type of reality, a colour shift as the two layers of the film overlap resulting in a form of a monumental objects that posses ephemeral qualities. A colour field emerges from the combination of the two overlapping gradients and the spatial arrangement of the two films extends the two dimensional photographic medium into a three dimensional colour shifting object. A related, but small scale installation Time seen as red green blue aims to create an uncertain structure that is static but as the visitors move around it – it changes. The end aim is to make a larger scale of this installation, inviting users into this ever changing, shifting environment. Similarly Segment of a sunrise, all comment upon our perception of the world as mediated by technology.

As in the aforementioned projects, Troika persistently ask the viewer to question what is possible and what is not. Interested in the general belief that light can’t be bent and always travels in a straight line, Arcades is a site-specific installation that uses multiple pillars of curved light to create an illusion of one architectural space transplanted into another. Each pillar is met by a fresnel lens, which refracts the rays, bending the beams of light hyperbolically to form the arches of gothic architecture. The project encourages an analysis of our relationship with the metaphysical in a world increasingly governed by practical, rational and scientific principles. Similarly, and inspired by Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland, this particular piece is an exploration how opposing geometrical shapes could converge into a single 3D object. Dark Matter is a piece constructed with the space around it, i.e. it is important how to negotiate that sculpture spatially – three different viewpoints coexist. The volume displays a shifting reality for the viewer, showing distinct geometrical shapes at different vantage points – a square, a hexagon and a circle. In the same family of artworks is Squaring the Circle, constructed from steel and wrapped in a dense black flock flannel that absorbs light, the installation simultaneously displays the form of a square and a circle. It is both resolutely simple and intriguingly complex.

Confronted with the sculpture, viewers have their logical and visual sensibilities challenged. As such, the sculpture points towards a possible unity of seemingly antithetical forms, which escape traditional dualistic interpretations of reality. Similarly, a development from Squaring the Circle, Polar Spectrum deploys a similar concept but with intention to create a frame, possibly in a landscape.

Inspired by maps, and the subjective representation of the world, Eva spoke about the team’s journey to find a way to create a map that has no specific north or south but its specific to viewers position, ie true subjective view of the world. The result was Continental Drift, where the centre of the map is continually changing. The work consists of a rotating faceted globe which projects an ever-evolving world map of over 10m onto the ceiling. The map continuously shifts, stretches and rearranges itself; its landmass neither static nor organised in an established cartographic format.

Ava, 2016

Some of their work deals with how technology impacts our life, govern by algorithms, gave life to the series of works, almost going back to the early days of computing, and using dice to reconstruct cellular automata, trying to explore whether there is an underlying system to life. ‘Calculating the universe’ a series of images each constructed from thousands of black and white dice. The die reenact a very simple binary computer program or algorithm, typically used to model complex systems. Dice being a symbol of faith increasingly being taken over by algorithms. Most recently this interest resulted in Virtual Failure, a tapestry-like construction made of tens of thousands of coloured dice generated, line by line, by manually emulating the rules of a simple computer binary program. Ava is Troika’s first sculptural manifestation of their exploration of algorithms. In this artwork the physical result of emergence and self organisation is brought about by ‘growing’ a sculpture through the use of a computer algorithm that imitates the emergence of life by which complexity which arises from the simplest of things. This concept has been carried over to a number of other artworks including Labyrinth of a straight line which is created by applying copper and high tech tape to canvas and is created by manually re-enacting a binary recursive computer program.

Eva concluded her talk taking through a number of other recent projects including All Colours White where the natural and the digital collide. The artwork consists of a mechanism which projects red, blue and green light onto a canvas structure. The projection is a constant loop of 12 minutes. Initially distinct, the colours gradually bleed into each other, creating an intricate spectrum until their collective amalgamation results in pure white light. What we see here is in physicality is always the same but it is our perception and understanding that changes.


Our last speaker for the evening was Theodore Spyropoulos from Minimaforms and AADRL. Theo spoke about the subject of behaviour that enables the conversation and breaks that caricature of how we relate to the world, to the machines and to each other. Resonating with the topics of art and design research mentioned earlier, Theo talked about Bau magazine’s credo that “All is Architecture” that was a provocation to architects of the 1960s and ’70s and resonated with an optimism to see beyond the specialisations in the profession – towards something much bigger.

Theodore Spyropoulos

When Theo speaks about architecture, he means environment, space, time and constructing an attitude and interface, research based experiments, and trying to see a world within worlds. Taking Marshall McLuhan’s quote of “If you are interested in the future … look to the present, as we live in the past” the work they create is much inspired by people like Nicholas Negroponte whose work at the Architecture Machine Lab, to look at how CAD systems would influence the role of the architect, 10 years later would lead to the creation of the MIT Media Lab. The books such as Continuing Experiment by James Gowan, a collation of essays that spoke about the work in the AA, as well as A continuous project altered daily by Robert Morris are foundations of their practice, which imagines design as continuous experiment, but also nurturing conversation that provokes the orthodoxies of how we construct spaces for others.

“A true architecture of our time will have to redefine itself and expand its means. Many areas outside of traditional building will enter the realm of architecture as architecture and ‘architects’ will have to enter new fields. All are architects. Everything is architecture”

Hanna Hollein, ‘Alles ist Architektur’
Swarm Body is a speculation of a continuously transformable world without boundaries. What if there were no physical limits between our clothing, furniture and buildings? What if our bodies’ orchestrated swarms of synthetic soft robotic creatures that evolved with us… clothed us, sheltered us and communicated with us? What if these creatures monitored our health, harvested energy and expressed our emotions? Swarm Body is a conceptual sketch towards a human machine ecology.

The work sets out questions about architecture beyond physical form and beyond subjects of the finite and the fixed regardless of how dynamic or spatial it actually is. Minimaforms was set up as a space for Theo and his brother Stephen to experiment, conceptualising the idea that everything is dynamic and evolving, drawing on the concepts in science and catastrophism theory. For them, regardless of whether it is an interface or a robot, they are concerned with behaviour and addressing technology as not something sitting outside of us but it actually is us, as a very human thing.

The other work, or the other side of Theo’s life, is the the Design Research Laboratory (DRL) at the Architectural Association, a space with students coming from all corners of the world to study and work in a self-organised ways. It has been an experiment for more than 20 years working as a shared and collective platform where is not attributed to a single person rather always built upon a frameworks that allows everyone to experiment and disseminate findings and “upgrade” the conversation. The research is grounded in protoyping and learning through making is integral – it doesn’t matter if it is building zeppelins, continuing the lineage of Buckminster Fuller, or building robots.

The focus is always on looking at ways of constructing space, without necessarily having a blueprint but exploring things that have capacity to interact with other things and by doing so create space. At times they become intelligent creatures, and use computation to optimise space, understand themselves and their capacity in the environment. Looking at unitarian models that take social clues and elective strategies in nature without concern for biomimicry or how things look but rather in how things behave and how they communicate with each other.

As designers, Theo believes, we have an opportunity to offer a different way thinking about the world, imagining and developing strategies that could be transposed to and from the current paths for technology. And as things continue to accelerate, the speed will further problematise things. Popular outlets like CNNMoney now feature robots and designer babies, or the modification of food or the way things should appear, as if the natural world seems to foreign and alien, suggesting that we have to make things in a sort of perfect way. He reminds us that in the 60s and 70s there was rallying around a social belief in a greater good. As Cedric Price once put it: “Technology is the answer, but what was the question?

The work that Theo does with his brother or at the DRL explores the lifelike qualities that dynamic systems can emulate. The systems are fundamentally artificial, and working on them doesn’t mean they are trying to play god or reconstruct the world. They start with simple questions about ‘how can things interact with other things?’, then ‘how can we design a system that possesses certain behavioural attributes?’ Developing prototypes and allowing these objects to exist in the world allows other people to see things in that world, and just like a good piece of literature might be evocative and stimulate the imagination, design and prototypes opens up a boundless territory for others to engage with.

Emotive City — Minimaforms

Theo also spoke about how technologies can be re-appropriated to give us a window into ourselves. It is what happens when you enable curiosity, and where design actually finds a way to negotiate a terrain which is not about technological hurdles but more about how one can construct a different way to see the problem.

“Its going to be harder to distinguish: what is alive and what is a machine….. And that boundary may start to become meaningless.”

Rodney Brooks, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, 1997

Enabling is a very important word for both Theo and Steven, shedding away habitual relationships and allowing people to be curious and develop a different kind of understanding and connection with novel situations.

Theo also shared what Minimaforms are currently working on: a new version of Emotive Room for a gallery in New York and an installation titled Oven in the World for Somerset House – a title borrowed from Heinz van Forest that utilizes 1,500 spherical globes to create an optic lattice that manipulates viewers’ perception.


We believe that Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen’s reflexive assemblies and scenarios, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez’ algorithmic provocations, Troika’s perception engineering, and Minimaforms expanded architectures are exemplars of design practice as research. We relished in the opportunity to bring together such an eclectic cast of practitioners, and get them in dialogue with the next generation of designers at UAL. Whereas this article highlights some of the issues and projects our speakers shared with us, it is only a small fraction of what was said. Since we consdier Document 1. the start of a conversation rather than the end of one, do feel free to comment below on some of the matters raised. For the full talks, please see the video embedded below.

Once again we would like to thank UAL Creative Computing Institute for giving us an opportunity to present Document 1. For more information and future Document #. events, see below.

Document #. | UAL Creative Computing Institute

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