Thesis | Reflections on Design Brief Feedback & Considerations Moving Forward

Last week we participated in an interesting workshop technique where we were asked to print out the design briefs we had created and bring them into class for feedback. Each student received a paper copy of each and listened while the author read the brief out loud in full, highlighting words/concepts/ideas they thought were key to the project and leaving notes and suggestions about considerations that should be made or resources explored.

Below is the main feedback that I received on my brief for D’Art and my reflections on how to best incorporate this feedback into the design of my prototypes next week and final forms moving forward.

I was actually asked to create a new design brief that specifically discussed one aspect of my project, D’Light, so I am also including this updated version here.

Feedback

Top Highlighted Words/Phrases:

  • “New concepts of value, exchange and collaboration.”
  • “Potential for new understandings of value, currency, ownership and exchange)
  • “The digital world has come to reflect traditional power structures rather than disrupting them.”
  • “More equitable outcomes of our social and economic future.” (although one commenter notes maybe focus more on economic futures than social…)
  • “Can help rework people’s understanding exchange, value, contribution and investment.”
  • “Centralized and capitalist paradigms and the resulting difficulty to imagine decentralized futures and systems.”
  • Provoke users imagination

Feedback, Suggestions & Resources

  • Explore how we can invest experience and artifacts with value. What does value mean in this context?
  • Look into the connection between decentralization and the blockchain with work by new media artists, specifically those influenced by the Dada art movement
  • Dig deeper into the political ideologies aspect of the blockchain, can it be used as a revolution or a tool for enslavement?
  • How can I take the individual components of the work and use it to better connect to the more abstract system-level goals?
  • Many reviewers particularly like the name “D’Light”
  • The process described by the more academic beginning of the design statement sounds more dynamic. Consider making a moving sculpture or installation to reflect this.
  • I must consider how to interrogate my primary goals in less abstract terms. What are concrete examples and needs?
  • Asked to create a separate design brief just for the D’Light side of the project since it has more potential representationally than ReSettlers.
  • Is speculative design still the right framing for this work? Is it speculative in its design, did it include speculative design methodologies in its conception etc.

Ways to Address Pressing Feedback

The majority of feedback on my initial design brief centers on the need to take the more abstract ideas and desires my thesis articulates and to realize them in a concrete form. Many reviewers highlighted my goal of realizing and representing the potential for decentralizing technologies, like the blockchain to open up new understandings of value, currency, ownership and exchange. So the question remains how to articulate this central goal in the right form, conveying the right messages, and in my mind, opening critical provocations about our existing economic beliefs and myths – without forcing a particularly good or bad provocation upon the user.

In order to address this feedback, I plan to think carefully about the aesthetics of my final forms, trying to understand what precedents might existing for conveying similar ideas around decentralization and collaboration. I was recommended to look into the goals of the Dada movement and its evolutions in new media art as one possible avenue to draw inspiration from. Are there aesthetic heuristics (around decentralization, empowering individual creativity, collaborative artwork etc.) that I can borrow from these movements to help situate my work in a new overlapping community of artistic practice that I have not explored enough of (having focused so much on speculative design examples)?

I have done some very quick research on Dada since the review, and some of its core values do indeed seem to echo and inform my own research and design goals around decentralization, namely the movements desire to reject the “…logic, reason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society…”. While the art of the movement spanned several traditional and mixed mediums, the focus of many artists expressed their discontent with nationalism and centralism. This is very much a similar idea behind my work, and perhaps I can borrow from some of the themes and history of Dada-style art, specifically:

hausmann-3
“ABCD” by Raolul Hausmann (1920) Collage – an example of Dada collage or poster poem.
  • Its orientation as the first conceptual art movement where the focus of artists wasn’t on making aesthetically pleasing objects, but those that uproot bourgeois sensibilities and generated questions about the artist and the purpose of art
  • The idea that “dada is anti-dada” meaning that in opposing bourgeois culture they remained very critical of their own role as a movement.
  • Incorporating chance into the creation of works of art, at the time, going against all the traditions of art production. This was a way to challenge artistic norms and to question the role of the artist in the artistic practice.
  • Focus on readymade objects, everyday objects that could be bought and presented as art with little manipulation by the artist, forcing the idea about artistic creativity and the definition of art and its purpose in society.
nam-june-paik-tv-cello-1971
“TV-Cello” by Nam June Paik (1982)

Further studying Dadaism, I found that there is actually also a Neo-Dadaist movement which has similar themes, but more adapted for electronic and digital art.

  • Neo-Dada artists provoke more through covert strategies (since it came about during the cold-war). To do this, it simultaneously mocked and celebrated consumer culture, trying to unite the opposing conventions of abstration and realism, and breaking down boundaries between media with experimanetation with assemblage, performance, and other hybrid fusions.
  • Often encouraged viewers to look beyond traditional aesthetic standards and interpret the artwork through getting them to think critically. To do this, they worked in contradictions, absurd juxtapositions, coded narratives, and other mixed signals.
  • Adhered to Marcel Duchamp’s premise that works of art are only intermediaries in a process that the artist begin and the viewer completes. This was a long dormant framework and provided the foundation for many other contemporary art movements afterwards.
  • Neo-Dada artists also encouraged a shift toward the viewer as part of a work, the notion that the viewer’s interpretation of the work, rather than the artists intent, determined its ultimate meaning. They did this by using found objects, chance, and mass-media to eliminate the significance of the artist and reorient the focus on the viewer’s reading of the piece.

When making my testable forms for next week’s prototypes, I want to try to think about both of these movements and the frameworks represented by them, focusing on the question what is the role of an “artist” that designs a system for others to express their own art? How can I think about my work building an interactive LED sculpture using decentralised networks and blockchain systems as a critique of typical capitalist culture, and what types of materials, aesthetics, and symbols can be incorporated into these forms that convey this? I am curious if I can look at examples of historic art movements like this – which I know little about – and those that were informed by it, trying to understand what a good connection could be and how they can and should inform my work in a longer chain of artistic practice that seeks to “de-center” and “de-stabilize” the idea of art in different scales and settings.

It was also noted in my feedback that I need to help connect the blockchain and decentralization to my art more intimately and answer why decentralization is important, what the blockchain means to decentralization and why it should be used (or understood metaphorically) through my designs, but more importantly, how my art can specifically be used to rework people’s understanding exchange, value, contribution and investment through interacting with it and participating in its systems. In order to address this, I plan to be very specific about the idea of exchange, value, contribution and investment, and which I really want to convey in my work. Several reviewers highlighted “value” and “exchange” more-so than the other two. While the blockchain protocol can indeed rework understandings of all four of these elements, maybe it is better to try to pick more specific goals, and work towards expressing those first, testing whether or not my critical provocation is successful in addressing individual aspects of my thesis questions as well as tying into my more systems-level critique of capitalist economic paradigms.

Finally, I attended the ISEA 2016 conference in Hong Kong last May and remembered that one theme was Cryptofinance. Upon going back to their material, I realized that the festival’s summary of the role exploration of cryptofinance through electronic art was a great place to seek further inspiration and clarification of my goals.

“Regardless of ideological labels, after most revolutions, oligarchies homeostatically reclaim power. Currently the international art-market propagates core values through branded artists, mega-galleries, investor collecting, superstar art-fairs, illicit flows, freeports and tax-havens; recently the peripheries are in flux: gift-economy gatherings, crowd-sourced startups, high-frequency-traders, crypto-currencies, and data-driven virtual trade. What do digitally-networked transactions, diffusion, exchange and value imply for aesthetic/conceptual interventions? How do emergent economic digital forms (blockchains, micropayments, etc.), de/re-stabilize ancient inequity? How can mediated art expose the anatomy of financial power inherent in data flows?” – ISEA Themes 2016

 

What specifically resonated for me was the idea that after most revolutions (since I keep harping on the failure of the digital revolution) oligarchical societies homeostatically reclaim power, but the peripheries remain in flux. In the sense of crypto-finance, these peripheries are what interests me, these accidental, overlapping, and rough concepts for new digitally networked transactions, diffusion, exchange and value. The ISEA staff ask what these new emerging technologies and resulting emergent economic digital forms do to de/re-stabilize ancient inequity. I think this is extremely powerful since once the overarching realizations of my research has been that technology that is inherently decentralizing, such as the blockchain protocol, in that it can be implemented in such ways that reclaim power at the expense of other peripheral forms of economic exchange (time-banks, collaborative commons, gift economics etc.) if normalized. While the blockchain can indeed be a revolution, it can also sow the seeds of embedded digital systems of further inequity and oppression.

One of the key philosophies of my design practice has always been to venerate technology for the new possibilities it opens, but never ever to forget that bright lights cast long shadows, and that system and technology is inherently neutral, even when its design seems to predicate certain usages, it is the people implementing it, setting its U/X heuristics, its use-cases, and its best practices, rather defining the definitions of its success, that truly determine the futures made possible by its adoption.

I also found some workshops from the conference that introduced other artists and concepts that jive with these ideas, specifically one workshop, “Open-sourcing Re-Programmed Art” by Serena Cangiano, a researcher at Laboratory of visual culture/Interaction design lab of SUPSI, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland.

This workshop, and the artist, look at the idea of “programmed art”, a definition given to the body of works by a group of Italian artists active in the 50’s and 60’s. Much of this work pioneered the introduction of technology and an algorithmic approach in the process of artistic production. But more interestingly, they focused on artworks embedded in the utopia of interactive democratic art made for everyone and open to everyone’s participation. The goal of the artist in this workshop was to build open-source kinetic artifacts that could translate the main principles of “programmed art” into the codes of contemporary culture, focusing on the more modern ideas of peer production, open-source hardware, software, and digital fabrication techniques. This is very much what I seek to with my own art, so perhaps there are ways I can similarly convey older decentralizing dreams, ideals – utopias if you will – through the lens of emerging tech systems in a similar way. (http://www.reprogrammed-art.cc/).

Moving forward, I am excited to start to bring more of an “artistic practice” into the work, and I realize now that there is a history and body of work that I haven’t really explored that can help me as I actually start creating artwork – or maybe even anti-art. 😛

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