More than Human Centred Design
Performance and Design Exhibition
Message from the Chairs
The importance of the “more than human” was thrust upon humans all around the globe rather quickly in 2020, making the relevance of the works presented throughout DIS2020 painfully clear. As the co-chairs of this exhibition, we watched country after country go into lockdown, naïvely hoping that somehow it wouldn’t affect the exhibition, or that a pandemic would be miraculously avoided. And how do you do justice to the amazing works chosen for this exhibition? Works whose physical presences have been meticulously created, works that invite us to touch them, to sit in a space with them in a state of contemplation, to work together with those around us, that want us to leave the exhibition in an altered state, somehow changed, seeing the world differently? As with everything, the answer seems to be a translation from the physical world to that mediated by digital video and audio, a reinterpretation of what it means to be with others. And so the exhibition is reinterpreted here in the form of video documentation. It is now more than an exhibition, it is an invitation to consider.
The works roughly group together under three themes, and many of the works straddle several. The first of these themes is a meditation upon time, and our role amidst changing environments and relationships with the non-human. This is more than now, and more than before, this is more than ever. Embracing Imperfection in the Age of Digital Reproduction amplifies the imperfections in our perfect systems, challenging us to consider the value of artefacts, both originals and reproductions, in a world where sometimes the copy appears even better than the real thing. We are presented with a world where both the copy and the original become objects each radiating a unique aura. Stymphalian Birds presents us with an intersection of the delicate history with the delicate present. The traditional practice of featherwork is combined with contemporary physical computing, imparting an experience where we may sense the world in ways similar to birds, wresting us from the slumber of the human way of seeing the world. Burglar Alarm dives into applied archaeology of electronics and textiles, recreating an electronic textile described in a patent from 1892. We are motivated to reconsider the dominant narratives of electronics, textiles, and progress.
There are over 2,000 operational satellites orbiting the earth. What is their experience? Are they ever lonely? The second of the exhibition themes is human–thing relations. This is more than human–non-human relations, this is an exploration of the lives and agencies of the things that we create. Ghosts in the Smart Home extends the notion of “smart” devices in the home to imbue the devices with sentience. The devices transform from emotionless robotic slaves to fully feeling lifeforms with anxieties and desires that we may recognise in ourselves. re|Traces of Search dives deeply into the processes that govern our most mundane actions, such as googling a pop star. What appears to be a routine action, akin to finding an entry in a book, is actually governed by a web of specifically engineered processes that each, in their own way, influences and affects the ways that we interact with information. By exploding the processes into a physical object, the installation allows us to perform the search like a musical instrument. We are invited to enter into a dialogue with the algorithm, who is usually our invisible mediator. Disobedient Antennas presents us with evocative engineering, where the clean lines of machine-made radio antennas are replaced with the folds and wrinkles of circular knitting. Gone also is the precision of tuning into a radio station, instead we are invited to listen with our bodies to the otherwise imperceptible electromagnetic soup we inhabit. Designing a Radio-Tuner-Thing challenges us to explore the point at which an object becomes a thing, that is, a thing with meaning to us. Explore the transition between the two states of meaning in the physical navigation of a two-dimensional space of radio transmissions. Latent Sheep Dreaming asks us what is at stake in a collaboration with an AI. In the playful interaction of drawings of sheep, we are invited to consider the greater implications of our partners, the machines that understand us, and those that don’t.
The third of these themes are the externalities of human systems. The term “externality” is borrowed from economics, and perhaps a better term would be a more honest one. We could call it “harm”, the harm that we wreak, even with the purest of intentions. Drum Roll presents an unsettling communication of menace. A rumbling that is felt as much as it is heard, foreboding of the near-constant threat of a nuclear accident. It is the drum roll before the crescendo of a meltdown. A Cloud, A Gathering, An Echo stages an intervention where we least expect it: free WiFi. Participants are unwittingly taken by the hand and coaxed into interactions with strangers, confronting us with the ways in which network cultures shape our supposedly organic interactions. Ministry of Multispecies Communications impels us to give a voice to the non-human species driven out by the human presence in the world. It challenges us to take a bird’s-eye view of the spaces that we inhabit, and to consider the other inhabitants of our shared home.
Although DIS2020 is an academic conference, the exhibition presents work from a range of academic and non-academic disciplines, in a range of formats. We do not hold dominion over knowledge, nor over the ways in which knowledge can be shared. The works here should give us pause. We are challenged to reconsider what we take for granted, what might be considered common sense and common narratives around the things we make, the harm we do, and the silent partners of our world.
—Sarah Fdili Alaoui, David NG McCallum, Oscar Tomico