I’ve just come across a fascinating article by Tyler Pace on the Design Philosophy Politics website: ‘Digital life identity crisis: tales of security and sustainability’.
While the issue of sustainability is a pressing one and is now solidly embedded in contemporary design thinking, it is still rare to find an article such as this one, which carries over the issues into what we are still calling the ‘virtual world’. Pace’s comments make it clear that we are using an incorrect, and misleading, terminology. There’s no such thing as a virtual world, there’s just the world. Here’s some food for thought:
Linden Labs, producers of the popular social virtual world Second Life, expressed their consumption problems in 2006.
“We’re running out of power for the square feet of rack space that we’ve got machines in. We can’t for example use [blade] servers right now because they would simply require more electricity than you could get for the floor space they occupy.”
Identity information in Second Life is more complex than a traditional web application as “residents” of Second Life own clothing, chairs, cars and pretty much anything else you can imagine. All of this accessory information becomes part of the identity maintained by the Second Life servers, thereby requiring vast amounts of electricity. Popular technology blogger Nicholar Carr calculated that Second Life avatars consume as much electricity as the average Brazilian citizen.
On a parallel tack, I’ve received a very interesting call for papers sent out by the online journal Design Philosophy Papers, on the need for design history to address sustainability as a historical and historiographical issue. Full details below.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Design History Futures – Sustaining What?
to be edited by Karin Jaschke, Paul Denison and Tara Andrews
in association with Anne-Marie Willis
Modern lifestyles and material cultures made possible by design are now being seen as so deeply implicated in unsustainability that a re-writing of design history seems inevitable.
Conversely, a revitalised, critical design history could play a major role in providing an intellectual framework for new, redirective design practices.
How does awareness of sustainability and unsustainability affect design history?
What does this mean for specific areas of research: histories of product design, architecture, fashion, graphics, material and visual cultures, etc.?
What part has design history itself played in the development of unsustainability?
Submit 200 word abstracts by 12 Dec 2008 to:
Anne-Marie Willis, Editor, Design Philosophy Papers firstname.lastname@example.org
Design history has evolved over recent decades through engagement with matters of concern like class, gender and the postcolonial. In turn, critical design histories have contributed to new ways of understanding the world around us. Today, the matter of concern is sustainability: an issue that is almost too large in its implications to be grasped outright. It presents a challenge that is new in scope and kind. Design history cannot remain unaffected by this.
Design historians are well aware of the role design has played in making the modern world. Yet the modern lifestyles and material cultures made possible by design are now being seen as so deeply implicated in unsustainability that on these grounds alone a re-writing of design history seems inevitable. Modes of practice and thought, social and economic contexts, and the ideological premises of past design practice need to be addressed anew.
At the same time, this raises the question of design history’s own disciplinary past, present, and future. Design histories have used and perpetuated ways of thinking that have fed directly into current, unsustainable design practice, including notions of progress, newness, and obsolescence, ‘iconic design’, and the star-designer or ‘starchitect’. Historians of design thus need to consider the implications of their value-systems.
Climate change, resource depletion, and pollution will lead to major changes in modern lifestyles in the near future. Design has a major ethical and professional stake in this transition and the direction it will take.
We propose that a revitalised, critical design history could play a major role in providing an intellectual framework for new, redirective design practices. Thus we ask the following questions, and invite papers that address them:
• How does awareness of sustainability and unsustainability affect design history?
• What insights could be gained by re-reading design’s past through perspectives of sustainability and unsustainability?
• Could design history contribute to a more developed understanding of sustainability and unsustainability?
• Are there past writers who have already done this? Is their work relevant to today?
• Have we overlooked historical subjects that are of importance to the sustainability debate?
• What part has design history itself played in the development of unsustainability?
• Do we need radically new ways of thinking to understand the role that design has played in bringing about the present unsustainable state of the world?
• What does this mean for specific areas of research: histories of product design, architecture, fashion, graphics, material and visual cultures, etc.?
• Is there an ethical imperative for historians to reconsider their disciplinary approach with view to sustainability? Does this imperative undercut notions of impartiality?
• Where are the blind-spots in design historiography that may hinder a real rethinking of design history?
• What methods and approaches from other disciplines or traditions of thinking could offer ways of understanding our unsustainable past that might be relevant to the historical study of design?
Abstracts (200 words) due by: 12 Dec 2008
Select and invite full papers by: 19 Dec
First drafts of papers due by: 13 March 2009
Papers refereed by: 3 April
Final drafts due by: 24 April
Publication online by: 22 May
The International Herald Tribune has featured Barcelona’s shared-bike system, Bicing, as an example of a strong trend in major European cities to offer bicycles as an alternative method of public transport.
On my regular visits to Barcelona while I lived abroad, I noticed an increasing presence of bicycles on the streets, especially over the last four years or so. Since Bicing was launched in early 2007, they seem to have taken the town over. One reason, no doubt, is the increasing concern about sustainability and the urban environment (and Barcelona’s pleasant weather). But I suspect that another very strong asset of the system has to do with the flexibility it affords its subscribers to get hold of a bike at one end of town and leave it at the other. If you travel across the city from the Tibidabo mountain towards the sea, you’re on a lovely downhill ride. Trekking uphill the other way, however, is an entirely different matter. Luckily for Bicing-ers, the City Council has lots of trucks picking up bikes downtown and dropping them off again at the top of the hill. Woo-hoo!
In any case Bicing has been an extraordinary success, with 6,000 bikes on the road and heavy daily usage. It is supported by the latest technology which makes it extremely easy to use at the pick-up and drop-off points, and which offers real-time monitoring of existing bike stands and availability, allowing users to check online to see if there is a bike available at their nearest Bicing station.
And Bicing subscribers now have even more opportunities to be sustainable in the city, with special discounts and prices in the hybrid car-sharing venture Avancar.
Recycling and re-using ordinary everyday things to turn them into exquisite glamour-infused objects of art and design is a practice that has become increasingly mainstream, ever since it was showcased almost a decade ago now at the ICA’s Stealing Beauty exhibition in London, curated by Claire Catteral. I have been following the trend with great interest as it has seeped into the recesses of contemporary culture, as an easy conceptual shortcut to comment on the evils of our throwaway society, the excesses of consumerism, the beauty of anonymous objects and the need for sustainable practices.
This now hegemonic trend is about to be enshrined for good in the inaugural exhibition of New York’s new Museum of Arts and Design, Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary. (Sept 27, 2008 – Feb 15, 2009). Here’s the blurb:
The exhibition features work by 50 international established and emerging artists from all five continents who create objects and installations comprised of ordinary and everyday manufactured articles, most originally made for another functional purpose. The exhibition includes works by well known designers, Ingo Maurer, Tejo Remy, and the Campana Brothers as well as internationally acclaimed artists, such as Tara Donovan, Xu Bing, El Anatsui, and Do Ho Suh.
Highlights from the show include American artist Tara Donovan’s Bluffs, a group stalagmite shaped structures made of clear plastic buttons delicately placed one on top of the other. Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist creates a jacket made of military dog tags, portraying the way a solider is part of a larger troop.
Paul Villinski, an American, creates beautiful butterflies out of his old record collection, producing a “soundtrack” of his life. English artist Susie MacMurray used yellow rubber washing gloves, turned them inside out and stitched onto a calico form to create an imposing out-sized dress.
Other featured works are made from buttons, spools of thread, artificial hair, used high-heeled shoes, plastic spoons and forks, shopping bags, and 25-cent coins to mention only a few.
The exhibition surveys the rich artistic landscape of much contemporary art, in which hierarchies among art, craft, and design are disregarded. In addition, the exhibition examines the ways in which artists transform our world, respond to contemporary cultural paradigms, and comment on global consumerism.
I offer today for your entertainment, a few snapshots of the humble styrofoam cup on its journey of reincarnation as a lamp, which of course hasn’t made it any more sustainable, but is nevertheless turning it into an A-list celebrity of the creative re-use gang.
If you have come across other interesting examples of this, please send me a picture! bcnd [at] narotzky.com
Disechos 08 is kicking off in Valencia today, a week-long exploration of low-tech sustainable design, through exhibitions, workshops and panel discussions. Disechos 08 incorporates the work developed by design studio Flou Flou through their ongoing MAKEA project, which explores recycling ideas by co-ordinating the contribution of outsider or non-professional design.
In July 2008, participants of Makea Tu Vida (Makea your life) spent two days roaming through the streets of the Raval and Eixample districts of Barcelona. They re-arranged and marked all the discarded furniture and assorted objects they could find with the MAKEA ‘brand’, as a sign of the need to recycle and re-use objects and make the consumption cycle more sustainable. Check out some great pictures of their street installations here.