[-empyre-] Hactivating Design

Renate Ferro rtf9 at cornell.edu
Sun Nov 22 09:14:38 EST 2009

Dear Kevin, Ricardo, Nick and Brooke,

I think we are okay to talk about this stuff online.  I'm hoping those in
Administrative posts will use our think tank as a way to enlighten
themselves about other alternatives.  For me option 4 is mighty tempting
but structurally within many Visual Arts departments seems impossible. 
Anyone else have any great ideas?  Renate

> Glad to see the HCI discussion come up here, and in the context of
> questions about Design in education. Perhaps I'm just pessimistic, but
> I don't think we have long before today's "New Media" programs are
> squeezed out of fine arts curricula by  HCI and its cousins in
> Industrial Design and Graphic Design. HCI is hard to distinguish for
> many an upper-level administrator from the Digital Media / New Media
> programs born in the last ten years. The confusion is understandable
> from a distance, as HCI borrows increasingly from New Media and
> Computer Arts for methods, media, and even critical language - all to
> the consumerist ends outlined by Nick.
> It's easy for students to distinguish between the two, however, given
> the easy product tie-ins of HCI and other design education. Much
> current design education is, as Nick implies, essentially an exercise
> in meta-shopping. (Who's a better shopper than the one who hangs
> around the factory line?) I fully expect that the sort of hires that
> resulted in our current, even mildly-critical digital arts programs
> will not come again, except perhaps for in the most elite and high-
> price-tag programs of the world.
> So what are we to do, if we care about exercising a role as educators
> and researchers beyond the provision of politicized recess for
> students who won't need to work for a living after school?
> 1 - Make hay (or raise Cain?) while the sun shines - this seems to be
> the bang.lab approach, as far as I can tell ( I can't imagine that
> Calit2 will support these projects for long-term? If so, then great!)
> T.A.Z., tactics over strategies, all that temporary stuff is always
> possible, and maybe the only way. (I also think here of Wodizcko,
> trained as an Industrial Designer, but taking Papandek's ideas and
> moving right out of that field in the 60s/70s.)
> 2 - Prepare for the inevitable change in our institutional waters, by
> acquainting ourselves with the methods of our future partners/bosses/
> overlords, making ready to live in their world as critical members who
> ask tough, informed questions.
> 3 - Identify our current work as "preservable," something to be
> protected in the name of knowledge, like the older arts of traditional
> glass and ceramics.
> 4 - Depart from the arts and sciences altogether, to identify
> ourselves with media studies in the humanities. (Christiane, can you
> speak to this option?) Bank on the whole "practice-based research"
> trend, keeping a wary eye on the Social Sciences as possible,
> occasional, collaborator.
> I'm trying a little bit of all these things myself, with increasing
> hope for option #4. In addition to skepticism about the consumerist
> ends of design and arts education, I'm also looking to steer clear of
> the technocratic, ahistorical progress machine of modern science
> (sustainability as economic catalyst).
> Any thoughts? Maybe a public listserv isn't the safest place to have
> this conversation?
> Kevin Hamilton
> On Nov 20, 2009, at 2:38 PM, nicholas knouf wrote:
>> Brooke, Ricardo, and everyone,
>> Thanks for your interesting points regarding notions of design,
>> designing, and designers.  This has also been on my mind recently,
>> especially as a result of my position within a traditional
>> human-computer interaction program.  Here there is no questioning the
>> role of the designer: the designer is to be subservient to the "needs"
>> of the "user", where the user is defined as that constructed by
>> corporations and the market.  Researchers actively seek out
>> relationships with corporate sponsors and corporate research labs.
>> As a
>> result, there is no discussion regarding broader societal issues,
>> excepting where they intersect with present corporate priorities, as
>> in
>> the rhetoric of "sustainability"---and of course there the limits of
>> the
>> conversation are already set, again by the market.
>> This situation caused me to write a polemical paper for the main
>> conference in HCI, ACM SIGCHI, called "HCI for the Real World"
>> (http://zeitkunst.org/publications/hci-real-world).  In it, and this
>> is
>> the main point of my post, I draw heavily on on the work of Victor
>> Papanek, an industrial designer who wrote, for me, a very influential
>> book originally published in 1970 entitled _Design for the Real
>> World_.
>> He focuses on the role of the designer, not only in the composition of
>> the products made, but prior to that, in the very selection of
>> projects
>> to work on:
>> "...I must agree that the designer bears a responsibility for the way
>> the products he designs are received at the market place. But this is
>> still a narrow and parochial view. The designer’s responsibility
>> must go
>> far beyond these considerations. His social and moral judgment must be
>> brought into place long before he begins to design, since he has to
>> make
>> a judgment, and a prior judgment at that, as to whether the products
>> he
>> is asked to design or redesign merit his attention at all. In other
>> words, will his design be on the side of the social good or not" (66).
>> This is one of the key, but unasked, questions within HCI.  There is a
>> general agreement on the relationship of HCI to corporations, the
>> market, and "users", yet there is no questioning of the very
>> assumptions
>> that underlie that agreement, and thus what are the important problems
>> that students and faculty spend their time on.  Of course there are
>> complicated interrelationships here between funding agencies,
>> professional societies, methods of reward, the system of publication
>> (in
>> HCI, emphasis on yearly conference papers versus less-frequent, but
>> more
>> in-depth, journal articles or monographs), and so on.  Yet these are
>> the
>> very conditions that should be at the forefront of debate,
>> especially in
>> a "discipline" that is relatively young like HCI---but they are not.
>> Returning to someone like Papanek, writing a similar polemic for
>> industrial design and at the height of an earlier "ecological"
>> movement,
>> is key to foreground the continuities between different aspects of
>> design, different time periods...and to suggest transdisciplinary
>> connections.  Design can be more than ICT for development, more than
>> "sustainable consumerism", but only if designers take responsibility
>> for
>> their choices of what to research and what to design (and where they
>> can
>> have a decent amount of control over that choice, such as in the
>> academy), and if they instill in their students a similar ethic.
>> Designers in academia would have to push against the notion that they
>> have to teach their students "marketable skills".  (And, I would
>> argue,
>> that if the designers really wanted to teach skills that would improve
>> the "bottom line" of companies they would allow for much more creative
>> activity on the part of their student-designers, but that is the topic
>> for a longer post on the interrelationship of interrelationship of
>> contemporary "cognitive capitalism" and modern technological
>> development.)  Undertaking projects such as Brooke's "hactivating
>> design" and "undesigning" and Ricardo's "garageScience" opens up
>> spaces
>> to address these questions and suggest possible alternatives.
>> Nevertheless, I want to additionally point to the ways in which
>> Papanek's project is an explicit critique and condemnation of
>> contemporary (both then and now) processes of consumerist capitalism.
>> Thus this approach is not to encourage design to necessarily create
>> new,
>> more "hackable" "products", but rather to question the very system of
>> consumption and the manufacture of desire that creates a system of
>> "products".  This is the potentially radical implications of following
>> in the wake of Papanek: of using design not to create a "more just"
>> capitalism, but rather to create the conditions of possibility of real
>> alternatives through an engagement and reconfiguration of our material
>> world, of understanding how design methodology can construct different
>> ontological realities (following the work of someone like John Law in
>> _After Method_) with different political implications.
>> nick
>> Ricardo Dominguez wrote:
>>> Hola all and Brooke,
>>> I really enjoyed "undesigning" poster Brooke and it would be really
>>> great
>>> to slip into classrooms from pre-k to post-grad spaces. (I will
>>> work on
>>> that.)
>>> I do think that the tactical re-engineering is an important gesture
>>> and
>>> one that has been important in my thinking since I first encountered
>>> the community research initiatives that ACT UP/SF - Golden Gate
>>> established
>>> in late 80's as a response to the viral politics of therapeutic
>>> state at
>>> the time.
>>> And by creating a "hactivating design" gesture of smashing popular
>>> toothpaste with the politics of the question that can become viral
>>> - which
>>> at the core of its performative matrix is that anyone can do it.
>>> Now that
>>> I have a young son everything becomes amplified in terms of
>>> toxicities at
>>> all levels. We are encountering particle capitalism(s) clouds at
>>> every
>>> scale of being. Which, is an important theme for the *particle
>>> group* as
>>> well (http://pitmm.net).
>>> As, part of video mediation on Open Fabrication systems, the
>>> attempted to
>>> bring together EDT/*particle group* and the other gestures that
>>> criss-crossed each other under the sign of “science of the oppressed”
>>> (which I came to understand came from Monique Wittig – really
>>> fantastico)
>>> - here is a section of the text that I thought might fall into the
>>> sphere
>>> of “hactivating design”:
>>> [science of the oppressed and garageScience]
>>> We can imagine Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, Chela
>>> Sandoval’s
>>> Methodology of the Oppressed, Critical Art Ensemble’s tactical
>>> science,
>>> Natalie Jeremijenko public experiments and what the Electronic
>>> Disturbance
>>> Theater has framed today as the “science of the oppressed” – each
>>> of these
>>> parts of a wide area call for a re-framed relationalilty between
>>> spectator, poesis, praxis, experimentation and Sandoval’s
>>> differential
>>> consciousness of the “la conciencia de la metiza”.  Each gesture
>>> diagrams
>>> alternative social forms of life and art that fall between the
>>> known and
>>> unknown, between fiction and the real, between clean science and
>>> dirty
>>> science – each a part of a long history of an epistemology of social
>>> production which privileges the standpoint of the proletariat, the
>>> multitude, the open hacks of the DIY moments, and of autonomous
>>> investigators who stage test zones of cognitive styles-as/and out
>>> of –
>>> concrete practices as speculation and speculation as concrete
>>> practices –
>>> at the speed of dreams.
>>> What the artivist adds to this circuit is the ability to stage
>>> potential
>>> rehearsals for the now-and-future community laboratories, for the
>>> nanoGarages to come, for the current empirical speculations of new
>>> ecologies of social formations that can create a space for the
>>> agency of
>>> actor-spectators – that can route around the neoliberal walls of
>>> “venture
>>> science” as only protocol for “scientific” research and instead
>>> offer a
>>> counter-frame/unframe of a science for and by the people. As Boal
>>> stated,
>>> “we must move towards a rehearsal-theater and away from a
>>> spectacle-theater.” The “science of the oppressed” for EDT is type of
>>> “rehearsal-lab” that imagines community laboratories blooming from
>>> the
>>> always/already “lowrider” robotics of East L.A., from the Zapatista
>>> “Open
>>> Seed” an assemblage Open Wetware lab(s) – each garage a “rehearsal-
>>> lab”
>>> for new agency(s) defined by the people/the citizen/the nomad to
>>> “resume
>>> their protgonistic function” between/within/without art and science.
>>> The whole video is here:
>>> http://medialab-prado.es/article/nanogarajes_especulaciones_sobre_fabbing_abierto
>>> Also, some other thoughts on these themes by *particle group*'s
>>> Nanosférica presentation:
>>> http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/particle-group-intro
>>> nano nano,
>>> Ricardo
>>>> These are some of the specifics I am dealing with, but I am
>>>> interested in
>>>> this general premise: if design is about intention and if we want to
>>>> create
>>>> change through design then we have to design with a broader set of
>>>> objectives in mind. Reverse engineering our everyday products is a
>>>> good
>>>> starting point. And when I rebuild with broader objectives as I
>>>> define
>>>> them,
>>>> financial considerations are part of the equation but not top of
>>>> the list
>>>> or
>>>> the lead imperative as with mega-corporations that are designing
>>>> popular
>>>> toothpastes.
>>>> I came across this paper a few weeks back by Scott Burnham called
>>>> "Finding
>>>> the Truth in Systems: In Praise of Design Hacking" that is quite
>>>> relevant
>>>> to
>>>> this discussion (http://scottburnham.com/?p=521).
>>>> A brief sample from that paper:
>>>>    * Hacking creates new engagements between the product and the
>>>> consumer
>>>>    * Hacking mandates relevance and necessity in design
>>>>    * Hacking is resourceful
>>>>    * Hacking creates abundance from limited resources
>>>>    * Hacking finds the truth in systems
>>>> And, I leave you with a short essay of mine (this is actually text
>>>> from a
>>>> poster you can download here: http://undesigning.org/cmos.html)
>>>> for those
>>>> who want to read more.
>>>> Best, Brooke
>>>> Our Chemically Modified Organisms (CMOs)
>>>> Industrial chemistry is a 20th century phenomenon. During World
>>>> War I,
>>>> military demand for war gas was a great boon for the burgeoning
>>>> industry.
>>>> But, in 1925, with the signing of the Geneva Protocol that banned
>>>> chemical
>>>> warfare, industry had to look for other markets. The production of
>>>> nerve
>>>> gas
>>>> (a phosphorous-containing chemical) gave way to a new line of
>>>> insecticides
>>>> and the chlorine used in weapons such as phosgene and mustard gas
>>>> became
>>>> feedstock for newly designed solvents, PCBs and, eventually,
>>>> plastics.
>>>> The chemical industry really took off after World War II. In the
>>>> United
>>>> States, synthetic organic chemical production has grown more than
>>>> thirty-fold since 1940. Today industry produces billions of tons of
>>>> chemicals per year of approximately 90,000 substances. These man-
>>>> made
>>>> chemicals are the foundation of our built environment. They form our
>>>> plastics, cosmetics, household cleaners, pharmaceuticals, resins,
>>>> pesticides, food packaging, paper, clothing, flame-retardants,
>>>> electronics,
>>>> solvents, paint, automobile parts, mattresses, lumber, pigments,
>>>> refrigeration, detergents, PVC, silicone, dry cleaning,
>>>> disinfectants,
>>>> lubricants  the list is truly endless.
>>>> Many of these chemicals and the byproducts produced during their
>>>> life
>>>> cycle
>>>> are stable and persist in the environment. These chemicals also
>>>> bio-accumulate, meaning they increase in concentration as they
>>>> move up the
>>>> food chain. Chemicals can travel great distances on currents of
>>>> wind and
>>>> water, making remote regions like the Arctic just as susceptible to
>>>> degradation.
>>>> New research demonstrates that some of these pollutants, even at
>>>> very low
>>>> doses, can cause serious health problems. Previously it was
>>>> thought that
>>>> decreasing the concentration of a substance would mitigate its
>>>> impact.
>>>> Dilution is no longer seen as the pollution solution. Timing of
>>>> exposure
>>>> is
>>>> crucial and sensitivity is particularly high when exposure occurs
>>>> in utero
>>>> or early development.
>>>> For many years, cancer was the primary health concern. Today,
>>>> laboratory
>>>> studies and wildlife observations demonstrate that chemical
>>>> dangers are
>>>> extensive. Chemical exposures disrupt endocrine, reproductive,
>>>> immune and
>>>> nervous systems as well as contribute to cancer and other diseases.
>>>> In its first scientific statement published in 2009, The Endrocrine
>>>> Society
>>>> -- an international body with 14,000 members founded in 1916 --
>>>> stated:
>>>> "Results from animal models, human clinical observations, and
>>>> epidemiological studies converge to implicate EDCs [endocrine-
>>>> disrupting
>>>> chemicals] as a significant concern to public health."
>>>> The United States government does not require manufacturers to
>>>> prove a
>>>> chemical is safe before use and companies generally do not
>>>> voluntarily do
>>>> so. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only required
>>>> testing
>>>> for some 200 of the 90,000 chemicals already in circulation. In
>>>> response,
>>>> many groups and concerned citizens are promoting the precautionary
>>>> principle, which states that the manufacture of certain products
>>>> should
>>>> cease even when there are only hypothetical and untested risks. This
>>>> places
>>>> the burden of proof on the industry to show that a substance is safe
>>>> rather
>>>> than on society to demonstrate there is a specific risk.
>>>> Some scientists are creating new frameworks, citing the failure of
>>>> the
>>>> scientific method alone to sufficiently protect human health and
>>>> ecological
>>>> effects. Funtowicz and Ravetz, for example, have introduced
>>>> postnormal
>>>> science, which is useful when facts are uncertain, the stakes are
>>>> high and
>>>> decisions are urgent. These scientists encourage dialogue and
>>>> participation
>>>> with a full range of stakeholders since scientific objectivity
>>>> cannot
>>>> provide all that is needed for decision-making on high, risk issues.
>>>> _______________________________________________
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Renate Ferro
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Art
Cornell University, Tjaden Hall
Ithaca, NY  14853

Email:   <rtf9 at cornell.edu>
Website:  http://www.renateferro.net

Co-moderator of _empyre soft skinned space

Art Editor, diacritics

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