The nine designers in this year’s United Matters, are showcasing their respective response to the world of today and tomorrow. Each work is the result of 9 months of intensive research, experimentation and making. Working in the intersections of craft, science, technology, activism and philosophy, the designers use a diversity of different approaches to examine how we may live in the future and to confront systems of the present. Topics range from biotechnology, artificial intelligence, reevaluating waste material to a rethinking of production.
The Office for Good Measure (OGM)
Emerging out of the liminal spaces of folklore, witchcraft, and microbiology comes the Office for Good Measure (OGM). The OGM is a fictional governmental body 30 years hence. Citizens collect soils for the development of medicines, to counteract antimicrobial resistance. Medieval, folkloric visuals parallel our possible disease regression. The proposition of self-remedies and autonomous medical care looks both to the future and harks back to the past.
‘GOGO’s dream’ is a project about one human’s attempt to fulfil the dream of his so-called intelligent machine.
Piscitelli: ‘Hey Google, what is your dream?’
Google Home: ‘I’ve always wanted to sing a duet with Stevie Wonder…’
Prompted by this exchange with his Google Home, Davide Piscitelli embarks on a tongue-in-cheek journey to try realise his machine’s all-too-human dream. The emergence of new Personal Intelligent Assistants (PIAs) such as the Google Home Assistant challenges our concept of intelligence. When engineers code in human-like responses, Piscitelli wonders whether we are in danger of perceiving the PIA as some sort of human equivalent or friend, opening ourselves up to widespread seduction and corporate influence?
With the help of experts, musicians and fans of Stevie Wonder, Piscitelli creates GOGO, the first product whose only purpose is to make his PIA’s dream a reality. By adopting a satirical approach, he aims to highlight the absurdity of our new relationship with technology and critically question the wider ethical and moral implications of how perceiving a commercial product as a friend could discourage the real understanding of this new technology.
Made in our Image: Love and Cruelty with Robots
‘Made in our Image: Love and Cruelty with Robots’ is a piece of visual fiction based on the real rise of the ‘emotionally intelligent’ social robots, imagining a near future scenario in which these robots become part of our day to day.
As these technologies become cheaper and evermore sophisticated, there is an increased presence of ‘friendly’ social robots in our media and an escalation in investment into emotional and social AI. Taking note of their anthropomorphic features in particular, Cutler begins to question what kind of relationships we may have with these almost-people in the future. Assuming the role of speculative anthropologist, she creates her own fictional humanoid social robot, Tonii, and plays out scenarios and behaviours that reflect real concerns raised by ethicists, roboticists and psychologists.
In ‘MARECREO’, Piette shapes fabrication processes where nature becomes manufacturer, replacing the manufactured nature. Here, the sea becomes a metaphor of the maker, offering another perspective to the future of craft.
Based in Meschers-sur-Gironde, France, MARECREO presents a collection of vessels made of mud, sand, limestone, inspired by the sedimentation process that characterises the area. Transgressing ceramic moulding and sand cast techniques, Aurore Piette proposes a production that follows the ocean’s rhythm. More than a making journey, these objects are symbols of human and nature coexisting, a reaction to the current production system and a tribute to the origins and qualities of natural elements.
Matter of fat
‘Matter of fat’ is a dystopian scenario where fat is a valuable material playing a crucial role in our future healthcare and bioethics.
Taking a research-led critical design approach, the project uses prop making and visual storytelling as tools to extrapolate on controversial current contexts and looks at a future scenario where human fat is a valuable medical material subject to new possibilities around organ trafficking and stem cells storage. Soula uses the language of classic body horror in her visceral models and fictional medical devices, provoking the audience to engage with the strange possibilities of monetised fat.
‘Standardisation’ aims to document the concept of muscle memory, a fundamental form of learning, to rethink the definition of standardisation in the future.
By designing a collection of dance training devices as a notation of body movement, the project’s aim is to give people an opportunity to choose the most efficient way of building ‘perfect’ dance skills by harnessing the muscle memory of a professional dancer. The rationale behind standardisation is often purported to be through making our lives safer, simpler, more comfortable and more efficient. However, is standardisation a process enhancer or a creativity killer?
This is grown.
‘This is grown.’ takes an organism-driven approach to material design, manipulating the growing process of k. rhaeticus bacteria and employing it in a new form of ‘microbial weaving’.
The project was driven by the designer’s frustration with plastics and a visible disparity between scientific research and design manifestations around ‘natural’ materials. Keane creates a process to optimize the natural properties of bacterial cellulose, weaving a new category of hybrid materials that are strong and lightweight. Designing and growing the upper of a shoe with this new process she explores the potential of a future were entire patterns and products could be designed and grown to shape with little or no wastage.
Through the project, Keane also hopes to acknowledge the ethical implications of exercising our new knowledge of nature to try and solve our material problems. ‘We have to question what is natural really, and accept that we may not actually be collaborating with nature anymore but controlling it.’
This is urine
‘This is urine’ presents a collection of decorative vessels crafted, composed and glazed with human urine.
Each of us produce around 2 litres of urine a day. With over seven billion people living in the world today, that soon adds up to over 10.5 billion litres of urine produced everyday. Kim explores the potential of human urine, from extracting the minerals, distilling it to form a natural glaze and eventually crafting ceramic vessels that nod to the origin of this humble, abundant and completely under-utilised natural resource. The designer’s hope is to not only create practical and viable ceramic artifacts, but also question the ethics of disposing such a vast raw resource simply because of our own personal perceptions around what is considered to be a disgusting natural process.
With Wine ‘Matters’, Cantarelli explores how waste streams created from the wine making process could be better utilised to become intrinsic to the end product, using her family vineyards as a case study.
Through a new craft process, the waste grape skins and branches become a sturdy and poetic packaging for the wine and white wine grapes become paper for the labels. Every detail becomes not only a practical and cyclical re-used material, but also a poetic connection to the environment, the skills and the local crafts of the region in which the wines have been crafted.
Aurore Piette presents her practice between contemporary craft, vegan-design and wabi-sabi philosophy, positioning herself as a neo craft and material maker. Self-proclaimed ‘Craftswoman of the Sea’, she is inspired by her environment, evolving her work through local material experimentation and engagement with engineers and other craftspeople
Ching-Hui Yang is a Taiwanese wearable designer based in London, exploring different materials and techniques to challenge what defines jewellery. Interested in the relationship between body and object, she sees jewellery design as a way to examine new methods of understanding the link between our bodies and emotions.
Considering himself a Hyperobject Explorer, Davide Piscitelli works in the intersection of art, design and research. He aims to investigate socio-political and ecological implications of emerging technologies through critical design research and making. He is currently interested in the discrepancy between how Artificial Intelligence systems perceive reality under a non-anthropocentric view and our human understanding of these alternate forms of intelligence.
Liv Bargman is an illustrator originally from the Welsh borders, exploring narratives surrounding science and mythology. Liv uses illustration as a speculative tool to show us what can’t be seen with a microscope or the naked eye. Mythical futures are explored in her recent work concerning the development of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance.
Jen Keane is a designer and creative researcher working in between the disciplines of design and science, technology and craft. Inspired by notions of sustainability, and a fascination with new digital and biological tools, she is exploring how new technologies could be employed to design a new generation of hybrid materials, and perhaps change our approach to making altogether.
With a background in material engineering, Ludovica Cantarelli works at the intersection of material science, design and traditional craft. Her practice is driven by her Italian roots and focuses on creating sustainable, progressive solutions through material innovation.
Nina Cutler is an interdisciplinary designer based in London, who uses playful fiction to explore critical issues in emerging technologies and culture. Interested in how systems of power, materials, politics and ecology interplay with individual psychology and relationships, her current work aims to provoke nuanced thought and debate around the rapid infiltration of new technology into unexpected areas of society.
Engaging with bioethics and social issues, Noémie Soula’s approach is transdisciplinary, mixing science, film, storytelling, and design. Exploring subjects from alternative perspectives, her aim is to activate unexpected debates and to push the boundaries of our expectations about the future.
Sinae Kim is an material designer and researcher exploring the relationship of science and craft through experimental process. She pursues provocative ways of challenging social barriers between the potential use of materials and how people perceive them.