KALINA SURMA MACD FALMOUTH
Design Research Journal
Curate and Build
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 with Ben Evan-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.
Theory Behind Curation
“Do you use ‘curate’ when ‘organise’ will do? Well, you shouldn’t” – Booth, 2012
Whilst many people would be inclined to believe that the role of a curator is straightforward and narrow, such as arranging work within a space, the curator is often also a researcher, commissioner, keeper, interpreter, producer, and collaborator. The multifaceted nature of this pursuit has led to the brith of the 'curatorial turn'; the rise of the creator as curator, with many artists and designers now opting to be actively engaged with the curation of their work and much of work to be designed as a full curatorial experience, such as Sagmeister's 'The Happy Show'. Work of this nature takes the journey through criticality, to reframing, and ultimately redefinition of the presented subject matter. To have a critical take on the data you are presented with, the moe of presentation must ultimately have a point of view.
Within Postproduction (2017), Coovadia discusses the importance that intertextuality (the citation of one text within another), pastiche (cannibalisation of styles from past to present), and parody (an immitation that mocks the original) have within curation, in summary;
"Since the early 90s, an ever increasing number of artworks have been created on the basis of pre-exiting works; more and more artists interpret, reproduce, re-exhibit, or use works made by other or available cultural products. This art of postproduction seems to respond to the proliferating chaos of global culture in the information age."
In Loving Memory of Work
by Craig Oldham
Curation doesn't always have to refer to a gallery or installation space; curation, by definition, refers to the action or process of selecting and organizing items in a collection. One example of this is 'In Loving Memory of Work: A Visual Record of UK Miners Strikes 1984-85', which acts as a people-centred visual collection of the creativity of working class people, from protest slogans to highlights of cultural moments. What appealed to me about this the most is the zeitgeist it captures, whilst simultaneously having a graphic edge due to the natural connection between design and activism.
Group Exhibtion Brief
The group challenge involves branding, curating, and publicising the exhibition itself. Each group will decide on a visual positioning that allows for the experience to be understood in the right way. Due to the openness of the brief, the core focus of this exercise will be identifying a common critical theme across all exhibits, which for a collection of 17 designers working independantly will be a real challenge. Necessary elements include:
A curatorial statement
Publicity for the opening + show
Engagement pre, during, and post show
Progress Update 15.02.23
The trajectory of my project has so far led me to exploring specific consumer areas in which colour is disappearing, with supporting statistics coming from the vehicle, fashion, and interior design industries. The evidence suggests that tones and neutrals are heavily trending in all of these areas, supporting the source analysis' (Science Museum Group) argument. Because of the wealth of data that contributes to this overall effect of Western desaturation, my project will likely take the form of presenting a complex data story rather than just one specific nugget of data. At this stage, I am beginning to look into the contextual and theoretical reasoning behind the disappearance of colour, and connecting it to the experience of the self and human condition.
Due to the great emphasis on research, I am really enjoying the project journey so far, however I am aware that I can very easily get lost and wrapped up at this stage - often, the momentum of the project can slow down here, as I am very capable of happily researching away into infinity. However, the realistic interim deadline is working as a positive 'stress-catalyst' in maintining my focus on dedicating a big portion of time to the making stage. Because of this, I am finding it easier to pace myself.
'How the World Works' Lecture
Old English weore, wore: “something done, discrete act performed by someone, action, proceeding, business: that which is made or manufactured, products of labour” also “physical labour, toil; skilled trade, craft, or occupation; opportunity of expending labour in some useful or remunerative way”.
The Greeks, like the Hebrews, regarded work as a curse. They believed that wisdom was directly proportional to how much leisure time one had - the Greek word for work was ponos, taken from the Latin panea, which means sorrow. Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle made clear that the division of labour was for the purpose that the majority laboured so that the minority might enjoy self-development and leisure. The emphasis on leisure has been revisited in Why Work? Arguments for the Leisure Society, described as a "provocative collection of essays and illustrations by writers and artists from the nineteenth century through to today, dissecting “work,” its form under capitalism, and the possibilities for an alternative society."
Our use of the seven-day week can be traced back to the astronomically gifted Babylonians and the decree of King Sargon l of Akkad around 2300 BCE. They venerated the number 7, and before telescopes the key celestial bodies numbered seven (the Sun, Moon, and the five planets visible to the naked eye). The seven-day week has become the established norm for the world. For the Romans, work was only done by slaves and only certain occupations were considered virtuous; farming, soldiering, politics, and business.
Lecture with Lizzie Ridout
Lizzie's practice focuses largely on the naunces of language and communication, manifested through an interest in material and process, with great emphasis on the research of both of these areas. During Lizzie's lecture, one project in particular stood out to me: Homeward Bound, collecting work from her fellowship at the British Library. The work is a publication containing many loose-leaf insights based on Lizzie's research into domestic objects and rituals, such as 'Victorian mourning jewellery, electric tablecloths, and ghosts of stockings'. It functions as an eclectic, yet interwoven, curated set which can be viewed in any order, and proposes subtley translated observations.
I find this work incredibly inspiring, as someone who fixates on research and enjoys finding connections between different elements - it is definitely an area of design practice that I didn't know existed, or didn't know how to 'label'. Similarly to my experience at the start of the course with Jyni Ong, Lizzie's presentation exhibited to me how design, research, and writing can viably interweave into one's practice without having to sacrifice one to focus entirely on the other.
Another one of Lizzie's projects which refreshed my perspective on design practice is Tanks and Tablecloths: Chapter Two. The project was a combined effort between Lizzie and her long-term collaborator, as a curatorial project for the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre. The aim of the project was to exhibit artefacts from the centre, relating to Plymouth's vast naval history; Plymouth was a key depot for wartime provisions, such as rations. The centre contained these items which had over time fallen into disrepair due to a lack of funding, now supported primarily by volunteers. This project reframed much of what we traditionally assosciate with war, and presented it in a humane and tangible way, allowing a broader audience to connect with the artefacts whilst also having informative value.
'Meaning and the Crowd' Lecture
Understanding crowd behaviour, although deriving mainly from sociology and psychology, has its relevance when curating for an exhibition as it encapsulates how an audience can be manipulated, positively or negatively. Several attributes are key to the theories behind crowd behaviour;
The Crowd always wants to grow
Within the Crowd there is equality
The Crowd loves density
The Crowd needs a direction
The Crowd is emotional
Freud suggested that the leader of the crowd acts like a hypnotist, temporarily suspending the Super Ego of the crowd and foregrounding the Id, making the crowd act on their emotional impulses more strongly and more immediately. Similarly, crowd behaviour also has its implications for criminality and conviction. Criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso believed criminality is inherited and criminals are by birth a distinct type, meaning the criminal can be identified through physical defects. He claimed that large projection of jaw, low sloping forehead, high cheekbones, and a flattened or upturned nose signifies the individual is genetically wired for criminality.
Lecture with Ben Evan-James, pt.2
Following up on our previous lecture with Ben, which aimed to inform us on different curatorial approaches in terms of the work itself, this lecture was beneficial from the perspective of curating the exhibition as a whole. Ben shared his insights on approaching curatorial statements, such as considering the audience from the perspective of the institution at which the exhibition is being held. This isn't something I had thought of before, and I am glad I was able to learn this at a relatively early stge in the process. The Curate and Build exhibition will be attended by a large body of students, and possibly locals and practicing Cornish artists. The venue, Gray's Wharf is a relatively intimate space, and this will definitely impact how the work is experiened.
Ben also highlighted several inexpensive ways of exhibiting or manipulating the space, such as the use of lighting (e.g. photographic gels), and modular building systems. Curation is ultimately an exercise in world-building, and is necessary to think about the gallery space over time. The exhibition can be as much of a research or negotiation exercise as a display; you have the opportunity for high audience participation in a gallery space as people are already voluntarily present; this approach is particularly intriguing for our data-led brief.
Progress Update 25.02.23
Following on from my data-based research, I have been focusing on reinforcing my project with more critically aligned 'why?'s', to suggest what factors may be contributing to the disappearance of colour. There is a strong link between the disappearing colour and various cultural and aspirational fall-outs from Capitalism; on one hand, minmalism and neutrality is hailed as being objectively tasteful, with surrounding vocabulary such as 'timeless' and 'understated', leaning into Capitalist aspirations of status and
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