Last month I realised that I had less than a week to submit a ‘design manifesto’ proposal for the 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial themed The Future is Not What it Used to Be. I challenged myself not to use any of my recurrent keywords (design, postcapitalism, commoning, climate, etc). I also wanted to avoid debilitating catastrophism as much as bright green fantasies. The result is a —perhaps too simplistic— ‘us and them’ polarisation, and yet I am quite satisfied with the ending; the couplings made with the making/sharing/loving triad are meant to imply emancipated labour, stewardship of the commons and the production of commons. If selected for the second round, I will be expected to develop my proposal further. Any thought so far?
In a previous post I mentioned my favorite short animation about the climate crisis. This time I propose a complete list of essential feature length documentaries in the same topic. For a documentary junkie like myself, it is quite challenging to keep the list to the strict minimum. But rest assured; here you will not find any slideshow-with-a-Nobel-prize telling you to change the lightbulbs.
As the 19th round of intergovernmental climate negotiations are closing in Warsaw with no reasonable outcome at sight, perhaps it is timely to have a ‘season recap’ of the story so far. The unfolding drama is of epic proportions, but how to explain the climate crisis in the times of ever-shortening attention span?
Welcome to the tribute event to Allan Sekula, who passed away this year at the age of 62. He was first a conceptual artist, then a photographer and a historian of photography, and more recently a theorist of the documentary form in artistic practice. He had a special interest in the sea and its economy. The prologue of the movie you are about to see opens with a striking question about this relation: “the dike protects the village from the sea, but what protects the village from the sea economy?”. If you think about it, both the sea and the economy appear infinite and all-powerful when you are unfortunate enough to be completely surrounded by either of them. Sekula tried to expand our vision, both by taking us to aesthetic journeys beyond the sea, and by intricately studying the imaginary and material workings of capitalism.
Last week I wrote two brief paper proposals.
The first FabLab in Istanbul is being launched within Kadir Has, a private university, in partnership with Istanbul Development Agency, a government fund destined to projects that “stimulate local potential, foster regional development and ensure their sustainability”. Driven by neoliberal growth objectives and integration into world markets, Istanbul, the emergent financial capital of the region, presents itself as an ambiguous setting for initiating the “next industrial revolution”. This contradiction is traceable in the initial application documents for funding, where the buzzwords of “creative class”, “smart cities”, “technological innovation”, and “competitive university” have been influential narratives for the positive outcome. To what extent the initiators of the project adhere to this vision, and which alternative discourses and motivations underlie their engagements? The evolution of the space and its network from August 2013 to May 2014 will be chronicled, including interviews with key individuals and the analysis of their documentation. Three main axes of investigation will be pursued; (a) understanding the role of FabLabiST in design and technology education within the university; (b) surveying the strategies of open access and inclusion of various actors in its ecosystem (designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, artisans…); and (c) assessing the material production realised in the workshop and the economic value cycles they participate. This analysis aims to question the viability and relevance of synthesising divergent interests in the making and functioning of FabLabiST, hence providing the maker community with a reflexive account of the challenges encountered when starting up a shared machine shop. Overall, this testimony intends to contribute to a broader debate: how do we introduce practices of peer production and commoning into preexisting institutions?
The second one is for the upcoming ASCA Workshop, entitled Brains, Maps and Rhythms: Knowledge and Experience in (Bio)political Orders:
Waiting for the Anthropocene: certainty and doubt in times of ‘biocrisis’ and ‘peak capitalism’
Never mind radical cults waiting for the Apocalypse or radical politics waiting for the Revolution. All of a sudden, geology —perhaps the most conservative of all natural sciences— has proposed the most radical temporal break ever conceived. We have entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, marked by the impact of a single species, Humans, over the chemical and organic composition of the planet. In times when alternative cosmologies are (re)emerging to challenge anthropocentrism, we are realising that we have irreversibly left our trace —that there is indeed no Nature other than the one we have (dis)figured. In these times of radical uncertainty, statistics —hardly the most prophetic branch of mathematics— can easily be mistaken for oracles counting down how much time and fuel and species are left, or how high temperatures and seas and GDP can rise. Projections, predictions and probabilities dominate the scientific discourse by measuring, quantifying and calculating the incommensurability of ‘biocrisis’ —the crisis of all life. This paper will present some key numbers about our climate predicament and discuss the implications of their cultural and political appropriations. More specifically, the most controversial claims about the consequences of these numbers are about the fate of the economy —from the “Limits to Growth” forty years ago, to today’s “Carbon Bubble”, various contradictions are signalling an inevitable “Exit from Capitalism”. In other words: in times of impending ‘peak capitalism’, can politics of possibility ever find a voice in the language of scientific certainty?
Last week I attended several sessions of Amsterdam Urban Innovation Week. The topics included cooperative enterprises, critique of growth, makers movement and the circular city. Overall it has been quite a pleasant experience to discover things that appeared radical/marginal a few years ago now slowly making their ways into the mainstream of creative practitioners, social innovators and urban policymakers. The concepts of ‘sharing’, ‘openness’, ‘grassroots’ and ‘circularity’ (reminding “Small, Local, Open and Connected” by Ezio Manzini) are perhaps used mostly as buzzwords, without particular interest or awareness in their full political-economy implications, but there is visibly an increased desire and interest in collective, participatory, citizen-driven, bottom-up configurations, outside both Big State and Big Market. One downside of the week: since all the events were organised independently, it seemed to me that the intersections between the topics were rarely discussed —consider combining for instance, open source + urban governance; or cooperatives + makerspaces; or degrowth + local currencies, and you perhaps get viable, sustainable, postcapitalist value production cycles. Ultimately, I am glad that my research can contribute to this ongoing conversation in a meaningful way.
- Ruth Potts, The New Materialism, Schumacher College
- Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics
- Ross Ashcroft, Renegate Economist, Four Horsemen
- Peter Troxler, Third Industrial Revolution
- DUS Architects, 3D-printed Canal House
- Jens Dyvik, Making Living Sharing
- John Thackara, Xskool
- Michiel Schwarz, Sustainism, The Beach
- Alastair Fuad-Luke, Window874
Here is the poster I presented in a conference recently. Although it does not follow the order of my thesis, it synthesises its essential elements. This visualisation is also a work in progress; some were easier to represent with pictograms than others. Ironically, it is the most physical things (design artefact, digital manufacturing, “stuff”) that I found harder to translate into symbols. Suggestions welcome!