QUANTUM COMMONSENSE: NEW METAPHORS, CONCEPTS AND IMAGES? (Spring 2022, Fall 2023)
“Think about it,” the old man said. “Close your eyes again, and think it all through. A circle that has many centers but no circumference.” — Haruki Murakami, First Person Singular
In this class we will explore what ‘quantum commonsense’ might mean, and how it can be used to challenge a Newtonian Imaginary that currently shapes the “contours of the possible” limiting both collective and individual imagining.
The class will be practice-led and welcomes practitioners from all fields including creative and experimental writing, fine art and design, performance, and speculative forms of social theory. It will be structured around readings (fact and fiction), guest talks and group research. During the class, students will work either individually or in groups to develop a set of thought experiments in a variety of media.
WHO COMES AFTER THE HUMAN? (Spring 2022, Fall 2023)
With Prof. Dominic Pettman
This course is an intellectual and practical experiment, combining two relatively new discourses and methodologies: speculative forms of design practice and the posthumanities. The first incorporates poetics and conceptual nuance as the driving force in the practice of design, while the latter reboots the humanities for an age in which “the human” is no longer presumed to be strutting around the center of the cosmic stage. More specifically, this class will ask “who, or what, comes after the human?” in an age in which machines, artificial intelligence, viruses, animals, radioactive particles, plastics, climate catastrophes, hyperobjects, and other non-human elements, share an increasingly complex and entangled world. In doing so, it will essentially create a space in which students can audition just a sample of some of the different “subjects” or “agents” that co-determine our future, but have, until very recently, been sidelined or ignored completely. Such a task is all the more urgent, given the fact that “the human,” as deployed in the traditional humanities (or indeed in the world of design), has been definitively unmasked as a scandalously limited representative of the species (i.e., white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, affluent, universalist, and so on). This class thus seeks to show how design approaches can help thinkers from the humanities transcend their own blinkers, and vice versa, in the interests of better seeing the catalysts, and challenges, of what’s already problematically called the Anthropocene. In terms of format, it will be an experimental, hybrid lab-studio-classroom space, combining seminars, brainstorming sessions, charettes, and extended moments of writing and/or making.
DESIGNED REALITIES PARTS 1 & 2 (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023)
Futures are imagined for all sorts of reasons, from promotional scenarios in the tech industry to the imaginary worlds of science fiction cinema. Visual representation plays a central role, but the design languages used to present these imaginary worlds are often hackneyed and repetitive, limiting their ability to inspire and provoke genuinely new thinking about alternative realities.
Students will experiment with, and unpack the politics, meanings and assumptions behind the aesthetic representation of alternative worlds using variety of media: image, animation, photography, writing, drawing, objects, coding, performance, video, set design, sound, space, textiles, clothing…
The output will be a proposal for a ‘scene’ from an imagined world based on students’ ongoing interests and research. Using people, costume, environment, climate, objects, landscape, graphics, technology, and so on, the scene should hint at an alternative set of values, belief systems, politics and social relations to those currently prevailing in the West. It will be developed in more depth in the Spring semester through three iterative stages.
We will use a practice-led approach, which means thinking through doing, continuously testing ideas, experimenting with different materials and media (eg models, performance, image, text, video, radio, etc), iterating, and documenting your work as you go.
BETWEEN THE SILOS (Spring 2021)
With Prof. Victoria Hattam
Scholarship is often distinguished from creative work: real versus fiction. Yet imagination plays a role in scholarship, just as research plays a role in creative work. This seminar begins from the premise that fresh work is being created by refusing the arbitrary siloing of art and design on the one hand and social research on the other. How might we reconnect these polymorphous worlds that have been artificially separated through existing educational norms and institutional structures? How might we begin in “the middle,” as it were – rummaging in between the silos - in ways that allow us to draw on both imagination and empirical research? Throughout the term, students will be encouraged to push the boundaries of their work via a mix of short exercises and long term project development: crits, guest lectures, virtual studio visits, and exposure to a variety of readings (fiction and non) and other creative works all will be used to expand the research studio repertoire. Ideally, students should come to class with a project in mind that they wish to work on during the term; projects might include things begun in previous classes that you wish to deepen.
OBJECT POLITICS (Fall 2019)
With Prof. Victoria Hattam
This class will be taught by designers Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby (Designed Realities Studio) and political scientist Victoria Hattam (Politics). The course aims to deepen students’ ability to decode/read the politics of the material world currently taking shape around us, especially those parts being consciously designed. The class will consist of several interlinked activities: readings on the material culture theory and practices of making; faculty and student-led seminars focussed on ‘close reading’ selected (actual) objects; studio-based creative exercises; and visits to studios, museums, and industry labs to hear experts talk about different approaches to working with a range of objects and materialities in various contexts, eg digital, biotechnological, cultural, and so on.
CONCEPT WORK AND MATERIALIZATION (Fall 2018, Fall 2020)
With Prof. Janet Roitman
This class will be taught by Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby (Design) and Janet Roitman (Anthropology) as part of The New School’s Integrative PhD Fellowship Program. The seminar brings together two distinct but complementary modes of inquiry: 1) anthropological inquiry into forms of reasoning, and 2) design practice that focuses on experimentation with material forms. The premise of the collaboration is that both modes of inquiry entail “concept work,” or attention to the ways that concepts both shape material practice and can be given form through material practice. The seminar will be project-centric. Students will be encouraged to bring a topic or theme to the class, which they will explore through a combination of lenses and approaches from the social sciences and design (i.e. text-based inquiry and inquiry through materialization). The structure will consist of three phases, based on an open-ended syllabus, to be developed with the members of the seminar depending on research interests and project proposals.
DESIGNING DIPLOMACY (Winter 2018)
Gifts have long been a mainstay of diplomatic relations, often acting as a form of soft power promoting the values of the giver nation, or in the case of John Kerry’s gift of two large Idaho potatoes to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in 2014, they can serve other purposes…
In this five day intensive students from programmes across the New School will work in small groups to develop ‘diplomatic gifts’ for the twenty-first century — a time when traditional ideas of nationhood, citizenship, sovereignty and borders are being challenged.
The gift should simultaneously celebrate and bridge differences between nations and their populations, which in the context of this project, can move beyond a human- centric perspective to include different species, nonhuman living entities, and human-made nonliving entities. The project offers an opportunity to speculate on alternative forms of diplomacy through objects, activities, performances, events, interactions and relationships.
THE FIRST DESIGN BIENNALE OF EXPERIMENTAL MICRONATIONS (Fall 2017 / Spring 2018)
In Atlas of Countries that Don’t Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States, geographer Nick Middleton suggests that countries as we know them are not the only legitimate basis for ordering the planet. Atlantium for example is a non-territorial community of globally distributed citizens, and The Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland (KREV), consists of all territories including geographical, mental (eg dream states) and digital, making it the largest realm on Earth. And then there’s the Antartica, a landmass used only by scientists, tourists and penguins.
In this project we will develop proposals for a number of micronations which we will use as platforms for exploring new perspectives on citizenship, nationality, the sovereign state, and territory in relation to emerging technologies such as AI, biotechnology, block chain and so on.
Much design work is being done with specific communities, on precise issues within existing realities, but relatively little thought is being given to larger systemic issues and how to develop and propose ambitious alternatives. Whole new worlds are imagined by writers, film makers, and artists. Could we push this tendency a little further and use the results to spark different kinds of conversations about new ways of organizing society in the face of the major and inevitable changes facing humans.
As part of the project we will produce a ‘catalogue’ to capture the research, ideas, events, texts and design proposals it generates.
AUTOMATIC EVERYTHING (Spring 2017)
“Without an image of tomorrow, one is trapped by blind history, economics, and politics beyond our control. One is tied up in a web, in a net, with no way to struggle free. Only by having clear and vital images of many alternatives, good and bad, of where one can go, will we have any control over the way we may actually get there in a reality tomorrow will bring all too quickly.” — Samuel R. Delaney, Starboard Wine.
This project is an opportunity to explore other stories for AI. Automation as a dream has been with us for a long time, but now, finally, with AI, machine learning, neural networks and other related technologies we seem to be on the cusp of achieving unimagined levels of automation, at least in the West. But where are its limits? Should everything be automated, if not, what, and why? Which areas could genuinely benefit if automated, and besides automation, what other models might AI facilitate. And how can design help us find out?
At the heart of the project is an opportunity to: gain familiarity with a range of interconnected emerging technologies, the values driving their development, and their socio-political implications; use design as a form of critical thinking; experiment with different design approaches that embrace the ‘unreal’ in order to question and stretch the limits of the ‘real’; and to experiment with the aesthetics of materializing ideas.
DRIVERLESS DREAMS (Spring 2016)
In design, technology is often presented as ideologically neutral, but like most artefacts built by humans, each technology is informed by, and embodies specific beliefs, values and assumptions — a worldview.
In this studio students will work in teams to: ‘Reverse engineer’ some of the visions being put forward by industry and governments for autonomous/driverless vehicle technologies, uncovering and critiquing their underlying world views; Momentarily step outside existing economic, political and cultural realities to develop visions based on alternative values that resist the reductive seduction of dystopias and utopias; And finally, materialize their ideas in formats crafted for different audiences - policy makers, different publics, industry, design professionals, and so on.
The focus will not be on driverless vehicles as isolated objects, but on the social, cultural, political, and economic frameworks within which the technologies will function and how this is expressed through their physicality. Not only vehicles, but all sorts of objects may be considered.