UNNAMED DESIGN: Proposals for the 2011 Gwangju Biennale
In Asia, the notion of design is newer. Its status remains unclear and its limits are undefined. We propose that the BienAs humankind enters the second decade of a new century, it nale seizes this lack of clarity as source of strength. Where is increasingly obvious that the standard means of describing in the West design is a often tool for exclusion, in Gwangju our world are no longer adequate. The words and values en- it can be inclusive, accepting contributors from across cultures and classes. Rather than proposing a single template grained in our books and magazines, in film and online, are unable to accurately describe the forces shaping our lives. If for the world to follow, at the Biennale design can become a codeword for the invention of new forms of difference – new we are to make the most of the present and think more inslang, new relationships, new hairstyles, new religions. telligently about the future, we first need to refresh our language. To begin this process, we propose a radical reevaluaAs its name suggests, Unnamed Design will challenge the tion of “design”. myth of the designer. The exhibition will background issues of authorship in order to focus on effects - the ways in In Europe, the idea of design is well established but poorly which design alters perceptions, reinvents, and reveals hidunderstood. Over the past century it has been repeatedly altered to reflect changes in the political climate, elite prefer- den truths. It will expand the boundaries of design to include fields such as bioengineering, virtual communication, permaences, or popular mood. In its current form, design projects culture, pre-modern technology, and performance-enhancing the values of the free market. It is a vague amalgamation of drugs. It will reject marketability as the primary means of clothes, home furnishings, personal hygiene, art, antiques, evaluation and acceptance as the ideal audience response. and music videos. It is western-centric, commodity-driven, and wealth-dependent. It is hugely influential and much copied, but it somehow loses depth with each incarnation. - Ai Weiwei, Brendan McGetrick, Inserk Yang
UNNAMED DESIGN: First Thoughts
Our ideas for the Gwangju Design Biennale are based on the observation that our current concept of design is too narrow to capture the many forms of creativity and invention available around the world. This image shows a random assortment of artifacts that we feel embodies the prevailing understanding of design. Most of them of commodities or brand expressions. This is a very ungenerous definition of design, but it is the prevailing definition at the moment. In order to maximize its potential, the Biennale should become a platform for highlighting aspects of creativity that are outside of the conventional definition of design. What follows is a provisional collection of examples of non-conventional design.
One of the primary methods that we’d like to use in the Unnamed Design exhibition is deconstruction - breaking apart a finished object to understand the decisions and considerations that produced it. By conducting a kind of dissection of a design object or process, we reveal individual components which, removed from the whole can have their own value and can produce their own kinds of inspiration.
Volkswagen Gulf dissassembled into its component parts (Photo: AVI_ABRAMS)
The notion of deconstructing an common object has been explored by a number of artists, in this case Damian Ortega’s “A Cosmic Thing.” This is a very literal application of deconstruction but there are other methods to expose the inner life of an object.
Damián Ortega - “A Cosmic Thing” (2008)
One method is to define the formula from which a seemingly original design is derived. This image comes from the Graphic Standards Manual for USAid, the American development organization. It represents a critical component of contemporary design - the brand manual - the set of aesthetic and philosophical priorities that designers are instructed to follow in order to ensure consistency for their client’s brand. The brand manual makes explicit the fact that design is frequently not a pure creative process; it’s a highly regulated, top-down activity in which business often has the first and last word.
Excerpt of USAid Graphic Standards Manual (2005)
It’s also important to recognize that this sort of formulaic design thinking is not new, and it extends to all forms of design, including supposedly carefree work such as children’s cartoons. This image shows instructions for Disney animators on how to make a character cute by emphasizing certain features. We think it is a very articulate reminder that design is ultimately a form of fabrication.
Instructions for Disney animators on how to make a character cute (Illustration: Preston Blair)
Deconstruction has even been applied to the animal world. In this illustration, a hen is broken down according to its inputs and outputs, with the implication being that only a balance of the two produces a sustainable design.
“Products and behaviors of a hen”, taken from Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison
The deconstructed hen was originally released into the world by Bill Mollison, a scientist and naturalist, who is considered the father of Permaculture, a form of horticultural design that emphasizes integration and mutual reinforcement. In this illustration, taken from a beginner’s guide to Permaculture, the production a cup of tea is broken down to demonstrate how a well-designed permaculture process is superior to the dominant industrial techniques. This is a critical form of design that offers a bridge to the earlier forms of intelligence and strategies for the future.
“Industrial vs Permaculture Tea”, taken from Permaculture: A Beginners Guide by Graham Burnett
Designing a process does not end with the plant and animal world, of course. It extends to human behavior, perhaps nowhere more than in mass industrial production. This is a photo taken in the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen where recently more than a dozen workers killed themselves. This factory has 200,000 people working at it. At a scale that large there needs to be a highly developed and strictly enforced choreography of actions. You need to program a worker’s time almost to the minute in order to produce the millions of iPads and iPhones that we take so much pleasure from. We consider that manipulation of human energy an important and brutal form of design, as well a revealing underside to Apple.
Workers assembling electronics at a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China (Photo: AP)
Another hugely influential, barely recognized form of the design is computational design. This is an illustration of an algorithm, a finite set of commands that is used solve a problem, in this case a search engine request. This is not considered design and it is not pretty to look at. Nevertheless, these sorts of mathematical designs have changed our world - not only through online search but through creating the ultra high speed trading systems that partly produced the financial crisis.
Algorithim for online searches (Image: Maxim Integrated Products
These seemingly innocuous lines of code define larger and larger parts of our world, particularly through the development of virtuality and the design of immaterial environments. This image shows Milo, a virtual human developed by Microsoft to respond to human actions and emotions. These are just stills but you can see that Milo receives the piece of paper that the TV presenter hands him and then possesses a copy of it in his world. It’s essentially a collapse of the line between physical and virtual and a redesign of how we interact with machines.
A presenter interacts with “Milo” a virtual human developed by Microsoft that responds to human emotions, body movements and voice. (Photo: BBC)
It is easy to get excited about the virtual and the possibilities of a wholly designable space, but it’s shortsighted to talk about those issues without also acknowledging the elaborate physical infrastructure on which all of the so-called virtual is based. This is an image of a Google server. It is fairly illegible to the untrained eye, but it represents enormous progress in our capacity to process and store information. This unglamorous piece of hardware design has changed how we live.
Google’s server design, as of April 2009 (Photo: Stephen Shankland/CNET)
Another dimension of design that we consider fascinating is the capacity of design to radically change how we view objects. This is a prototype for a camera for the blind that Samsung is developing. It asks a critical question: What is a camera if you remove the element that seems most essential to its function - the image?
Samsung “Touch Sight” camera for the blind
That notion of removing the defining element of a product in order to expand its potential is perhaps nowhere better represented than in the braille edition of Playboy magazine.
Playboy Magazine braille edition
Another point that we would like to make in this Biennale is that design is not dependent on technology or money. Design is ultimately dependent only on imagination and resourcefulness. This is a good example of that - a basketball that was turned into a bucket by a farmer in rural China. It is a masterpiece of design in the sense that it addresses a need by looking at a conventional item in an unconventional way. And it implicitly challenges everyone else to do that same.
Basketball reformated as a bucket by a farmer in Anhui Province, China (Photo: Jiang Jun)
This is a similar idea - an enormous robot constructed out of disused industrial parts and truck parts. It’s posted at the border of Odessa in the Ukraine.
A giant robot constructed from junk cars and industrial equipment outside of Odessa, Ukraine
Here is an other example of rural Chinese design. This is a mansion constructed by a farmer. It is somewhat comical to look at - basically just a collage of architectural motifs from different cultures and time periods - Greek columns, Dutch gables, bay windows, etc. This is in some ways a very brutal expression of post-modern design but it is also an important demonstration of the improving material conditions for millions of Chinese peasants.
Illustration of housing for affluent peasants in Zhejiang Province (Image: Urban China Magazine)
We’re also trying to find instances in which people have taken advantage of things that are not typically considered design opportunities. This is a manhole cover in Japan. The manhole cover is generally considered a very basic, default part of the city. You only really notice them when they’re missing. But to some municipal workers out there they are a canvas and an opportunity to express civic pride.
Decorative manhole cover in Osaka, Japan
Another issue that we intend to expose at the Biennale is military design. Like computer hardware, military hardware receives enormous amounts of creative and financial investment. There is a huge amount of imagination, innovation, and ingenuity that goes into the creation of weapons of mass destruction. That’s been the case for centuries, but very little of it is ever recognized as design, at least until it is transformed into consumer goods.
The Stealth Bomber (Photo: Blake Mallery)
Military design is not limited to Stealth Bombers, of course. This is an IED, the improvized weapon that is commonly used by insurgents in Iraq.
A model of a Improvized Explosive Device (IED) (Photo: Wired Magazine)
But if we are going to speak about weapons, then it’s also necessary to address their effects. This is a photo of George Bush meeting an injured American soldier. This man has had half of his body blown off and partially replaced by prosthetic limbs. This is a design field that we would like to show, as part of a category that we’re calling “Human Extension” that includes plastic surgery, herbal medicine, and performance enhancing drugs.
George W Bush meets an injured soldier at Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 8, 2007 (Photo: Reuters)
We are not interested in focussing only on the more advanced or expensive designs. Often the most impressive design approaches are applied in situations of deprivation. This is a prosthetic device designed for people in the slums of India.
Boy with low-cost prosthetic leg in Mumbai, India (Photo: AP)
Expanding the conventional definition of design is not just a way to include a wider range of projects; it’s also a way to include a wider range of cultures. “Design” today is often limited to a the products of few countries, mostly in Europe. This is a tremendous shame, because every culture has its own mechanisms for creativity and its own fascinations. In Africa, for example, hair is a medium of design.
A tribeswoman from Senegal, 1960s
Just as a stylist designs a beautiful hairstyle is an enhancement of the human form, chemists today design drugs that enhance the powers of the human body. These are vials of Human Growth Hormone, a protein used by professional athletes to help build muscle. Not only is it a complex chemical design, but it is an essential tool in the design of a bigger, stronger, faster human being.
Vials of Human Growth Hormone (Photo: New York Times)
Similarly, there is a very radical form of design currently taking place in bioengineering. This is an image of a Macaque that was made to glow in the dark by introducing a fluorescent hormone into its embryo. This experiment raises scientific, ethical, and even aesthetic issues, none of which are considered in the current design discourse.
Flourescent Rhesus Macaque Monkey - A green fluorescent protein was introduced into the DNA of a macadque egg via virus (Photo: Emory University)
Another form of design intervention that we want to explore is global tourism. There are countries that derive 90 percent of their GDP from tourism, and in that case we have to acknowledge that foreign tourists are having a strong influence on the physical appearance of the places they visit, as cities are increasingly built, planned, and changed under the gaze of, and in expectation of a reaction from, outsiders.
A tourist group photographs monks in Luang Prabang, Laos (Photo: New York Times)
The tourist fantasy extends from the physical to the virtual via immersive environments that allow visitors to experience their dreams and nightmares. This is a virtual reality theater that is often used by Duke University’s nursing school to treat patients with severe phobias.
A student uses the DiVE (Duke immersion Virtual Env ironment, a 6-sided CAVE-like virtual reality theater (Image: Duke University)
With more and more convincing tools for fantasy, we run the risk of becoming overwhelmed and possibly lost within our imaginations. This possibility is shown clearly in the phenomenon known as 2-D Loving. It’s an extension of Japanese otaku culture where men take body pillows as mates. They cover the pillow in a case printed with their favorite anime character who they then treat as a girlfriend or wife. It is ultimately a fetish, but one that demonstrates an incredible intimacy with objects - the idea that one can imagine an inert object as having feelings and being capable for reciprocating love. It may be the sincerest possible compliment one can pay to design.
Nisan, a ‘2-D Lover’, with his pillow-girlfriend Nemutan (Photo: Masato Seto)
We live in a culture overwhelmed with data. At this point, we never lack information but we lack adequate means for processing and navigating it. Information visualization tries to address these needs by indicating relative importance, connections, and effects in ways that raw data cannot. It is an emerging design field that draws from many others, including map-making, translation, diagraming, and typography.
The visualization of text similarities in an essay by Gerhard Buurman (Image: Munterbund/Infoesthetics)
We also want to acknowledge the role of weather in changing the look and function of a place. Overnight the design of a city can be undone, as we’ve seen over and over again recently. These kinds of natural interventions not only change existing designs and inspire new designs but produce their own temporary designs, as in the case of this ice storm in Switzerland.
A street in Geneva, Switzerland following an ice storm (Photo: BBC)
At the same time, the transformative power of weather in inspiring a radical form of design known as geoengineering. Geoengineering is a field of study that seeks to deliberately manipulate the Earth’s climate to counteract the effects of global warming. It takes many forms - from planting artificial trees to shooting mirrors into space to fertilizing the oceans. Since we are unlikely to ever form a global consensus on what to do about climate change, we should acknowledge these interventions will probably be undertaken unilaterally. This implies a very significant form of design - not only in the machines that will allow it to happen but in the planetary effects that their creators imagine.
Nine leading geoengineering strategies (Image: New Scientist)
Related is the impact we’ve already had on our atmosphere, in this case through the satellites we’ve launched. Space exploration is often acknowledged for its design qualities, but in this case what we want to highlight is the legacy of space travel. This diagram shows not only the functioning satellites that orbit the earth but also the non-functioning ones and the millions of pieces of space junk that surround our planet and form kind of man-made Saturn ring.
Chart of functional satellites, non-functioning satellites, and space debris according to their place of origin (Image: Michael Paukner)
Essentially this and the image before capture our approach for the Gwangju Design Biennale. We want to expand the definition of design to include everything from satellites and eggs. By doing this we want to enlarge the conversation about design and the number of participants in it. That’s our primary goal and motivation. Thank you.
Barack Obama etched on an egg by Kang Yongguo (Photo: China Daily)
Gwangju Design Biennale: Unnamed Design Theme Ai Weiwei, Director (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org) Brendan McGetrick, Curator (Contact: email@example.com) Inserk Yang, Project Manager (Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)