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Spinoza in a T-Shirt – The New Inquiry
"This is the social and ethical function of design standardization: to assign and put bodies in their “proper” place. Standardized design creates violent relations between bodies and environments. The intensity of violence the standard body brings to bear on an individual’s body is measured in that body’s difference and distance from the standard. A chair that is too high, a beam too low, a corridor too narrow acts on the body forcefully and with a force that is unevenly distributed. Bodies that are farther from the standard body bear the weight of these forces more heavily than those that are closer to the arbitrary standard. But to resolve this design problem does not mean that we need a more-inclusive approach to design. The very idea of inclusion, of opening up and expanding the conceptual parameters of human bodies, depends for its logic and operation on the existence of parameters in the first place. In other words, a more inclusive approach to design remains fundamentally exclusive in its logic.

If Spinoza’s critical question points us toward an understanding of what standardized design does wrong, it also indicates how to get it right. The works of fashion designer Rei Kawakubo and of the artists-architects Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins are the result of materialist practices that reflect the Spinozist principle of not knowing what a body is. Their approach to design is based not so much on what the designers claim to know about the body, but instead on what they ignore. Their approaches refuse predetermined conceptualizations of what a body is and what a body can do. For instance, Kawakubo’s “bumpy” dresses (from the highly celebrated “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body” Comme Des Garcons Spring/Summer 1997 collection) form a cloth+body assemblage that challenges preconceived ideas of the body and of beauty. At a larger scale, Arakawa and Gins’ Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo and Yoro Park in Gifu prefecture deny any predetermined category of the body in favor of a profound ignorance of what makes a body a body at all.

These designs can have profound sociopolitical effects. Momoyo Homma (the director of the architects’ Tokyo office) relates how her mother, who normally cannot walk without her cane, had no problems navigating the bumpy floor of the Mitaka Lofts. Homma’s mother’s experience does not mean that the Mitaka Lofts are a miraculous instrument that would resuscitate a septuagenarian’s ability to walk without a cane. It reveals that her body only needs a cane in environments designed for bodies that differ substantially from hers.

The cane, itself a designed object, is a clear marker of the differential (often antagonistic) relations that design produces between bodies and spaces/places, and between non-standard and standard bodies. As a prosthesis, the cane’s purpose is to “correct” the non-standard body so that its functions reflect as closely as possible a fidelity with the “normal” body. Arakawa and Gins’ architecture offers an environment where the non-standard body does not need a “corrective,” since the environment’s design is not structured around what they think a body is.

Spinoza’s question—what can a body do?—insists that we set aside preconceived and normative notions of what a body is. Arakawa and Gins’ architecture suggests a slight but significant revision: Rather than conceptualizing bodies from the position of not knowing what they are, we should begin from the position that we don’t know what bodies are not. The double-negative allows a crucial correction to the Spinozist account of the body.

Spinoza’s question delays conceptualizations of the body, but it still doesn’t do away with normative formulations of the body. Affirming an ignorance of something presupposes that what is ignored could be actually known. “We don’t know what a body is” implicitly suggests that a holistic knowledge of what a body is actually exists—we just don’t presume to know it (yet).

The position of “not presuming” is too close to the liberal stance of having tolerance for difference—a position of liberal multiculturalism we find suspicious. The problem with liberal tolerance is that it already assumes and takes up a position of power. The designer is in the privileged position of being tolerant of another, and of designating who is deserving of tolerance. Whether the presumption is to know or not know the body, it is either way an act of the designer’s agency since knowing/unknowing the body is realized exclusively in the design of the garment, room, chair, table, etc. The power of the designer remains intact either way.

Alternatively, to not know what a body isn’t does more than suspend or delay normalizing conceptualizations of the body. It refuses such total claims of body knowledge at all. Just as the double-negative construction becomes affirmative, not knowing what a body isn’t affirms all bodies by doing away with the ideal of the normative body altogether. To not know what a body isn’t means that the idea of the body is infinitely open, rather than just momentarily open. To not know what a body isn’t means that all bodies are equally valid modes and forms of embodiment. Nothing is “not a body” and so everything is a body. This is not a philosophical issue but a political problem. What is a body? What is a human body? These are philosophical treatises that do not address our concern with how built environments empower some bodies and disempower others according to a set of “universal” design presumptions and methods.

By shifting our focus from what a body is to what a body can do, we can begin to explore the political—sometimes violent—relations of bodies, objects, and environments that are produced and maintained through standard design practices and knowledge. How might a collaborative relation of body and environment create the potential for a more non-hierarchical architecture? How might it build one that frees all bodies from the abstract concept of a “normal” body?

As impressive and seductive as the designers named above are, they are not politically egalitarian even though their designs may be aesthetically radical. Kawakubo, Gins, and Arakawa’s built environments are among a highly rarified class of design, out of reach to all but a select few inhabitants/consumers. Although their design approaches are unconventional, they don’t disrupt the hierarchical relations that structure dominant paradigms of design. In fact, their work is greatly celebrated in establishment fashion and architecture design circles.

A design process and philosophy that doesn’t know what a body isn’t can be found in a decidedly more mundane built environment. The jersey knit cotton T-shirt—a product found across the entire price point spectrum—is accessible and inhabitable by a great number of people. Jersey knit cotton is one of the cheaper fabrics, pliable to a broad range of bodies. Jersey knit cotton T-shirts really don’t know what a body isn’t—to this T-shirt, all bodies are T-shirt-able, all bodies can inhabit the space of a T-shirt, though how they inhabit it will be largely determined by the individual body. How the t-shirt pulls or hangs loose (and by how much) will certainly vary across bodies and across time. Indeed, the T-shirt’s stretchy jersey knit cotton materializes precisely this principle of contingency.

Julie Wilkins’ designs are aimed at “extending the grammar of the T-shirt.” Stretching the T-shirt to new proportions, her Future Classics Dress collections (made entirely of jersey knit fabrics, though not necessarily knit from cotton) are even more adaptable and modifiable than the classic T-shirt, which is somewhat limited by its fundamental T shape. (“Somewhat limited,” because its T shape has not precluded the vast number and variety of bodies that do not conform to the T-shape from wearing T-shirts.) Wilkins’ design approach is unlike those that make up traditional tables, chairs, windows, and clothing that are designed and fabricated around standard body dimensions. Wilkins’ designs create built environments that are pliant, dynamic, modular, and mobile.

Wilkins’ Future Classics Dress designs are modifiable by and adaptable to an unspecified range of bodies; they are conditional architectures. As demonstrated on their website, one garment can be worn in many ways, on many bodies. How users inhabit the clothes depends on them as much as on the designer. Choosing how to wear a Future Classics garment can be an involved process. While the Future Classics Dress collections don’t give individuals total autonomy, they allow bodies more freedom than we’ve seen before."



"The idealized relationship of bodies and designed grounds is a predictive geometric one. It is widely accepted that a surface directly perpendicular to the body provides the best environment for bodies to function. As a result, the surfaces of designed grounds are overwhelmingly flat, and non-flat floors are marked as problems to be fixed. Yet even a cursory glance at any playground and its many and differently uneven grounds—“terrains” is a better word—trouble this taken-for-granted logic.

Children tend to have a particularly acute relation to their physical environment. Their small and unpracticed bodies almost never fit the overwhelmingly hard, flat surfaces of mainstream environments. In this way, all young children can be understood as having non-standard bodies. Their “unfitness” is measured in relation to normatively designed built environments. The image of any young child climbing a set of stairs illustrates the kind of unfitness we mean. By contrast, the playground’s dense rubbery foam floors, its flexible pathways (e.g, chain-linked bridges), and its integration of Parent and Virilio’s Oblique Function of various slopes and elevations, are surfaces that children’s bodies navigate capably, oftentimes with a level of ease that escapes adults… [more]
spinoza  design  arakawa  madelinegins  body  bodies  normal  normalization  standardization  variation  architecture  fashion  politics  inclusion  tolerance  inclusivity  adaptability  léopoldlambert  minh-hatpham  henrydreyfuss  reikawakubo  juliewilkins  paulvirilio  claudeparent  theobliquefunction  futureclassicsdress  modification  stretch  give  glvo  uniformproject  audiencesofone  philosophy  standards  canon  canes  ability  abilities  disability  variability  ablerism  ethics  textiles  personaluniforms  fabrics  clothing  clothes  inlcusivity  disabilities 
july 2015 by robertogreco
jaggeree /Blog : : User centric design and real stories in hobbies
“We should own less but with more value – Things we own need to perform better for us”– Assa Ashuach

"The stories that anyone apart from an experienced practitioner could tell are only ones of failure and disappointment, not a way to encourage more people into the hobby."

"There seem to be a group of people missing currently in the world of making kits for hobbies; the “user”. All too often the kits I encounter are designed for the manufacturer not the customer. We’d like through the project we’re starting to fix that.

The other thing we’re going to try and fix is designing for more than one. I want to build kits which are designed all around the experience of the customer and for them to tell a friend/peers/others what they’ve done. It is all about, to use a phrase from Matt Locke, about designing for at least two."
storytelling  stories  modification  needs  wants  possessions  value  qualityoverquantity  modelmaking  3dprinting  sharing  experience  designingfortwo  hobbies  design  user-centered  users  user  2012  tomarmitage  mattlocke 
september 2012 by robertogreco
Center for PostNatural History
"The Center for PostNatural History is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge relating to the complex interplay between culture, nature and biotechnology. The PostNatural  refers to living organisms that have been altered through processes such as selective breeding or  genetic engineering. The mission of the Center for PostNatural History is to acquire, interpret and provide access to a collection of living, preserved and documented organisms of postnatural origin.

The Center for PostNatural History addresses this goal through three primary initiatives:

The maintenance of a unique catalog of living, preserved and documented specimens of postnatural origin.

The production of traveling exhibitions that address the PostNatural through thematic and regional perspectives.

The establishment of a permanent exhibition and research facility for PostNatural studies."

[via: http://www.we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2011/04/richard-pell-director-of-the-c.php ]
future  biology  genetics  museum  richardpell  centerforpostnaturalhistory  history  postnaturalhistory  pittsburgh  geneticengineering  selectivebreeding  life  interviews  cloning  modification  mutation  plants  animals  biotechnology  biotech  culture  nature  postnatural  anthropocene 
april 2011 by robertogreco
Interview with Richard Pell, Director of the Center for PostNatural History - we make money not art
"If you want to see a penguin, you go to the zoo. If you're curious about dinosaurs and dodos, any natural history museum will enlighten you. But where do you go if you want to learn about spider silk-producing goats, anti-malarial mosquitoes, fluorescent zebrafish or the terminator gene?

Right now, you can only rely on good old internet. But in June, the Center for PostNatural History will finally open its doors to anyone interested in genetically engineered life forms. This public outreach organization is dedicated to collecting, documenting and exhibiting life forms that have been intentionally altered by people through processes such as selective breeding and genetic engineering."
future  biology  genetics  museum  wmmna  richardpell  centerforpostnaturalhistory  history  postnaturalhistory  2011  pittsburgh  geneticengineering  selectivebreeding  life  interviews  cloning  modification  mutation  plants  animals  anthropocene 
april 2011 by robertogreco
russell davies: winky dink and you
"The price & delicacy of screens means we've learned to treat them w/ enormous reverence & care. We polish them. Keep them in cases. Don't draw on them.

I wonder if this reverence was what led to…horrified reactions when I painted my macbook w/ blackboard paint.

But that's going to have to change…We're going to be carrying them around, pawing & dabbing them w/ our fingers too much to keep treating them that delicately. I bet that means we'll get new aesthetics for screens & their boxes. More tolerant of damage & dirt. & if it doesn't happen w/ glowing rectangles it'll definitely happen when we get E Ink everywhere…Scuffed & patinaed screens.

I remember wondering the same about cars - whether the industry would develop a less shiny aesthetic…it's starting to happen. There are a couple of cars round us with an aftermarket matte black finish. They look brilliant, sinister & subtle. It's a high-end, expensive thing…but I bet it migrates through modding scene & into mainstream."
russelldavies  modification  post-digital  apple  screens  stickers  interaction  design  cars  mattepaint  eink  patina  beausage  aesthetics  delicate  glowingrectangles 
november 2010 by robertogreco
The Way We Live Now - Home-Schooling for the Techno-Literate - NYTimes.com ["Here is the kind of literacy that we tried to impart:…"]
"Every new tech will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs. • Technologies improve so fast you should postpone getting anything you need until last second. Get comfortable w/ fact that anything you buy is already obsolete. • Before you can master device, program or invention, it will be superseded; you will always be beginner. Get good at it. • Be suspicious of any tech that requires walls. If you can fix, modify or hack it, that is a good sign. • The proper response to a stupid tech is to make a better one, just as proper response to stupid idea is not to outlaw it but to replace it w/ better idea. • Every tech is biased by its embedded defaults: what does it assume? • Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for…crucial question: what happens when everyone has one? • The older the tech, the more likely it will continue to be useful. • Find minimum amount of tech that will maximize your options."
teaching  parenting  literacy  learning  education  technology  kevinkelly  glvo  tcsnmy  obsolescence  homeschool  schools  criticalthinking  utility  unschooling  lcproject  abuse  costs  hackability  modification  fixability  invention  homework  stress  self-directedlearning  autodidacts  learningtolearn 
september 2010 by robertogreco

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