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Week One

The Curate and Build Brief

The Curate and Build module has a balanced element of personal design and curatorial work as well as group organisation, with both being skills that I enjoy exploring and that often pull out my strengths. The core of the project is designing for an interactive exhibition, focusing on showing a node of contemporary data, releveant to the human condition. Theory and critical research continue to be essential in this process, which is something that I personally enjoy prioritising in my process. 

I'm really looking forward to starting this module, possibly the most out of all of the briefs we have been presented so far. The data topics I am immediately drawn to involve gender and masculinity, particularly with the recent algorithmic phenomenon of the likes of Andrew Tate, Jordan Peterson, and Ben Shapiro being at the forefront of our social media commentary on 'traditional male values'. On the other hand, I also recently stumbled upon the statistical observation that colour is fading from the Western world, and the way this is reflected in the design of buildings, clothing, user goods, and other sectors. This is particularly an area that I find interesting from the perspective of the human condition, as the reduction of colour reflects our priorities, values - not only the current state of visual style in the West. 

Lecture by Ben James

Ben works as a designer, filmmaker, and curator with a particular focus on the ways in which data is in fact subjective, rather than the objective and untouchable status we normally attach to qualitative and quantitative data. During the lecture, he presented this through the context of maps, highlighting the fact that the cartographer consciously chooses which elements are essential enough to include within his area representation. This often has colonial implications, particularly in the case where cartographers illustrate land outside of their own territory. 


Ben also highlighted his work alongside Lauren Lee McCarthy on the 'Surrogate' project, McCarthy's investigation into the practice of surrogacy and the implications this has on surveillance, bodily autonomy, and motherhood. 


Lauren interviewed those who were seeking surrogates on what a ‘perfect’ surrogate would be and behave like. She began to design an app/service, which harvests daily data on her activity, from the time she wakes up to what she does and eats throughout the day. She asked her participants what they would do with this data, and was surprised to find that people were incredibly comfortable with the idea of taking ultimate control of Lauren’s body and dictating how she functions on the day-to-day.


How much control should we have over a birthing person’s body? How does the industrial obsession with control contrast and clash with the body’s natural functioning and desires?


The findings gathered from ‘Surrogate’ were used to create a spatial exhibition, showing a hyper-real interpretation of the space this ‘birther’ would live in, divided into personal and public spaces. In the house, spaces of intimacy were established, with a film exploring Lauren trying on different pregnancy devices, aiming to show a sense of isolation and risk. On the outside, films are shown of Lauren speaking to friends, exploring discussions about how they would react to knowing what she had eaten in the day/how much exercise she has had/what substances she has interacted with. At which point does data break down when interacting with the biological processes of our body? Throughout the project, the data isn’t presented as objective, it is viewed from the lens of Lauren’s experience – you can use data as a means of exploring something that is important to you.

The Happy Show

by Stefan Sagmeister

Sagmeister's 'The Happy Show' is an exhibiton exploring the state of human life satisfaction through media such as sculpture and installation. The show involved high viewer participation, such as through re-invigorated methods of informally harvesting data - for example, viewers were engouraged to take a gumball from machine labelled 1 to 10, based on how happy they are. 

Throughout the exhibition, Sagmeister combined concrete statistics, such as those exploring marital satisfaction, alongside more personal and subjective approaches to responding to happiness. One example of this is through the staircase installation, one side of which reads "do not expect" whilst the other reads "people to change". When viewed seperately, these statements have very different meanings, than when the viewer interacts with the staricase by walking from the top to the bottom and vice versa. 

For me, this mode of presentation combines the human element of data into its reception - people are far more impacted by information when they feel it impacts them or likewise they can impact it.

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