Notes from Future Everything 2016 Manchester 01/04/16:
a way of making connections out of the School of Art and into (traditionally) unrelated fields that could potentially provide new and relevant sources of engagement for the study and practice of design and in my own case specifically thinking about illustration and animation. Morning session was headed as ‘Life’ and presented by three speakers, David Benqué from the RCA, Abi Glencross from Kings College and Andy Miah from Salford University; to look at the ways science and art/design can be connected to envisage our potential futures on this planet.
David Benqué: Design Interactions Resarch, Royal College of Art, London
Consulting Researcher – Microsoft Research, Cambridge UK
A member of the Design Interactions Research Department at the RCA talked about using design as a tool to ‘imagine’ not ‘describe’, using the World Fair of 1939 as an example of the way science fiction/fact was presented as a series of fantastical and often surreal dioramas, using large 3D models of the future to present an understandable ‘pictured’ vision.
This leading into his own work on Blueprints for the Unknown for STUDIOLAB a European platform for creative interactions between art and science. Focusing on Bio hacking/direct action/environmental activism via the Green Weatherman project. Overlying theme of using design to create new narratives that avoid the mainstream notions of science as either hype or dystopia. Thereby design envisioning the future before we get there as a way of testing ideas out and looking at the ethical and related concerns they raise.
David also raised ideas about the way the word design has replaced the word engineer in the description of these potential futures for science, i.e. the shift from the ‘genetic engineer’ to the idea of ‘design for life’ where the associations with hard edged (hard hat/white coat) ‘experiments’ is replaced by the idea of promising or designing ‘future products’ where the public we are more comfortable with notions of a designed product development than the many fictions we associate with the word experiment. In this instance the idea of design is linked with the familiarity of manipulating building blocks/or playing with Lego, thereby safe, recognisable and unthreatening. The role of design being to humanise or imagine the future that science based interventions may create and examine the ethical conflicts that inevitably emerge. The way design thinking (illustration/animation) can visualise the research activity/creating engaging none threatening outputs is interesting.
Abi Glencross: Cellular Agriculturist: PhD student studying cellular agriculture in the Tissue Engineering & Biphotonics department at King’s College London.
Presenting ideas around challenging notions of acceptability in food production, working with New Harvest backed Future Farm Lab in the USA to research applications of cellular agriculture, or if you prefer – growing meet in the laboratory.
We recoil at the idea of growing meat – without the need for an animal ‘host’ and yet we wilfully ignore (most of us) the true facts surrounding the existing meat production facilities which are essentially the industrialisation of animal management into anonymous sites and invisible factories. As it stands the disconnect masks issues around ethics/environmental harm/health that are as relevant as the issues we perceive around cellular agriculture. Example given around low grade pharma inputs to livestock that are being fed into the environment at huge scales through waste products.
The perception of science and the language of science matters, if we talk about installing bio reactors near our homes we react instinctively against the ‘science’ and to reference David Benqué the experiment of such an imposition, and yet a bio reactor is essentially a brewery. We have what is essentially a bio reactor in the kitchen in the form of a bread maker. One is perceived as a positive one a negative, the difference could be seen as the design element and use of design to wrap or envsiage the science. The way we communicate the science can be the difference between attracting of not attracting funding, again this raises interesting questions for illustrators/designers/animators, not least some of ethical dilemmas to resolve.
Life 2.0 Andy Miah: Chair in Science Communication & Future Media, in the School of Environment & Life Sciences, University of Salford
A device to think about change – can we modify ourselves to reduce our impact on the environment, think of this as ‘human offsetting’ like carbon offsetting. How can we activate change and embrace the idea of reverse engineering ourselves/ modifying the human and understanding that we are the changeable resource not the environment. We focus on deforestation and agri business to maximise output yet fail to address the fact that according to National Geographic stats in Feb 2106 we still as a world waste 50% of the fruit and vegetables we grow.
example of clothing that can regulate temperature to reduce the need for the environment to regulate temperature, i.e. designing this into fashion research/solar fabrics. It is a function of this that we will be also facing ethical questions around fundamentally changing human behaviour, for example controlling birth rates.