Air Futures

Air Futures is an amazing graduate architecture project from Theo Games Petrohilos.

He's designed the story and visuals of an alternative future of speculation in the legal ownership of air as a commodity and in doing so has developed a satire of the world of high finance.

He's tackling quite a similar area of speculation as I did with 88.7 but in a totally different way with these fantastic illustrations and gifs that really lend a fantasy element to the work.  In some way because the visuals are so thorough, consistent and numerous it actually manages to build a convincing world that reminds me a lot of the illustrations of Shaun Tan. By working in this way he's encouraging engagement in a different sense by trying to draw us into this world where this is possible, where we recognise and understand the rules, systems and institutions and can bridge it with reality. I tried to go the other way with 88.7 by bringing that fantasy into our world using motifs, artifacts and visuals that we were already familiar with but systems and rules that were alien.

Check out an interview with him over at WMMNA and check out his site here, where all these images are from.

In (Blank) We Trust

People's Assembly - Occupy London - Finsbury Square - Real Democracy Now

There was an article published in response to a new report at the Guardian a few weeks ago - British Democracy in Terminal Decline - that I've been meaning to tackle for a while.
A study into the state of democracy in Britain over the last decade warns it is in "long-term terminal decline" as the power of corporations keeps growing, politicians become less representative of their constituencies and disillusioned citizens stop voting or even discussing current affairs.
The arguments I want to put forward here I think are just too convoluted and probably misinformed but at a purely methodological level I disagree entirely with the findings or at least the way the findings are worded. 

Really 'British Institutional Democracy in Terminal Decline' would be much more accurate title. The study (despite the last point in the quote from the article) is actually only a measure of engagement with the British democratic system and in no way seems to reflect real political activism or interest - things that I would speculate have exploded significantly since 9/11 in this country as in the rest of the developed world from the pacified post Cold-War years.

Without wanting to sound like a giddy teen, I think that we live in a politically vibrant and exciting time where almost everyone in the country has a political opinion. In fact, I have a much longer opinion piece and group of theories on the history and importance of this new engagement which is perhaps best reserved for another time, place and medium. The poll itself admits that single-party voters are dropping - perhaps an indication that we're becoming more informed and less biased in our voting preferences and for those that don't vote I actually find the argument 'they're all the same' to be as valid if not more valid than people who just vote 'because it's there.'

It's a real indication of a failing in democracy when the parties appear to be if not actually are 'the same' and it's not a criticism to be dismissed. It says a lot about the relationship between politics and the media which through recent cases we're all considerably more aware of. It also says a lot about the entire ideology of the system. So I think that this poll shouldn't be read as British citizens becoming less engaged with democracy but British citizens seeing, understanding and becoming analytically critical of the failings of a system that seems out of touch, slow and untrustworthy. 

Here I can reel out lists of things about individualism, the popular press, the occupy movement, mistrust, the success of terrorism, objectivity, niching and grumbling but I won't. I was going to a week ago but I've decided it would just be too much, and like I say - another time, place and medium.
I'm not, nor would I suggest an alternative. Let's remember Churchill's words: 'Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.' But I would outline again that historically we live in a time of significant geo-political and social upheaval. The black-and-white dialectic of civilisation that has dominated the relationship between people and government is becoming blurred by what I would argue is a vast increase in political literacy for the average citizen.  Perhaps it isn't a matter of trust in democracy - ideals that I think most people can get behind - but trust in other men and women to uphold democratic ideals. Perhaps my retitling might be even more extreme: Trust In Government in Terminal Decline.

But that's not really news.

Critical Path Project

The Critical Path Project is a series of interviews and general exposure for video game developers, directors and writers to help them join up with the mainstream of art. The point is simple: When we think of cultural stalwarts who we might turn to for artistic insight into the human condition we chose authors, film writers and directors, artists, designers, architects even actors and models but never video game designers. 

I hold entirely with the view expressed that 'video games change the world' and not just in the tired cliche of them leading to violence or being good mental exercise (incidentally both arguments that have been counter-actively used for books, TV and movies in their time.) They are sculpted and built with the same, if not a greater, degree of consideration, process, rigour and human understanding as any other art form and I personally am looking forward to seeing people like Hideo Kojima, Peter Molyneux and Will Wright - people who have developed stories and scenarios that I have invested days and weeks in - give a rare insight into their art.

A Visual Response To Illegibility

I was trying to explain the key arguments of this blog post to my mother last week. It's an undeniable trend that more and more people find themselves, with a varying sense of willing, working and living 'illegibly.' Not to say that we live the nomadic lifestyle to the extent that the poster might but that I have very few friends who could honestly give themselves a job description. The days of seeing a two, three, four or even five word title that can neatly describe and reduce the activity of an individual are numbered I would hope: There's something remarkably aversive about being labelled a 'Regional Sales Manager' and having that as the dominating descriptor and first impression of you as a rounded, complete and living being.

So how do we describe ourselves? It's something that I've been struggling with. I've narrowed my elevator pitch into a tag line - Bringing Un-Shiny Futures To Life Since 2045 - but I'm hoping to chisel it even further down as I develop my practice. Describing legibility and the way that perhaps future employment systems might operate is not easy though. You're best off reading the Ribbon Farm post linked at the beginning for a better meaning of legibility in regard to lifestyle and employment but I was interested in how the readings of individuals as employable actors and the confines of those might work. So I drew some diagrams. Because I love doing that.

So, I'm going to grotesquely generalise and say that your job could basically be split into a Venn diagram of what you WANT to do and what you CAN do in pink and blue respectively.

So we might think that the more these two cross, the happier we are with our job. So, if you're big on catching rats and have the skills necessary to catch rats then you're set. Nice one. Likewise if you've had a lifelong passion for planes and just happen to be able to fly planes then you're probably set up for life. Of course I'm not taking into account the educational, cultural and other systemic factors that might make someone passionate about catching rats and give someone else pilot training.

Regrettably, sometimes these  two circles might never meet. Hollywood tends to make films based in run-down parts of town around this area and I know plenty of folk who can't use a computer but love particle physics as a less extreme example.

That's not to say that these two spheres are the same size either. I know a great many people with incredible passions but little in the way of applicable ability.
And then there's the 'expert' paradigm. The type of person I always tend to have run-ins. Those with a great amount of skill and expertise but tend to have passion for little else except bullying those less skilled or showing off.

But I wouldn't say this is how employment works. No matter what your skills and passion are and how they relate, the chances are you will only get paid to use a cross-section of those. Not many Bank Managers are paid for their skill with small-gauge railway modelling and no-one has ever paid me to play video games. In the instance below the work, which being legible is strictly confined to use and value a large amount of skill but employs relatively little of the person's passion.
We might find this a more rewarding job for our interests, but requiring very little skill or ability would make it highly competitive and potentially unfulfilling if there wasn't a feeling that you're abilities were being used.
A happier medium might be something like this. The confines of the job are widened. In doing so it's legibility is less readable but we might find it more enjoyable as it uses a variety of skill and employs our passions.
A truly illegible person therefore might work in an area something a little like this. There are large parts of their work which are unrewarding. Sometimes they might be asked to utilise their skill with little in the way of interest and vice-verse. But there's variety, and more often than not, a course of work might settle in the middle. They also become more flexible and useful as an actor since their movements across their own employable strata are so broad.
The only problem is trying to come up with a job title.


1514, Albert Hohenzollern becomes the Archbishop of Magdeburg. At the age of twenty-three. More gold in the Pope's coffers: he also buys the bishopric of Halberstadt.
1517, Mainz. The biggest ecclesiastical principality in Germany awaits the appointment of a new bishop. If he wins the appointment, Albert will get his hands on a third of the whole of German territory. 
He makes his offer: 14,000 ducats for the archbishopric, plus 10,000 for the papal dispensation that allows him to hold all these offices.
The deal is negotiated via the Fugger bank of Augsburg, which anticipates the sum required. Once the operation is concluded, Albert owes the Fuggers 30,000 ducats.
The bankers decree the mode of payment. Albert must promote the sale of indulgences for Pope Leo X in his territory. The faithful will make a contribution to the construction of St Peter's basilica and will receive a certificate in exchange: the Pope absolves them of their sins.
Only half of the takings will go to the Roman builders. Albert will use the rest to pay the Fuggers. 
The task is given to Johan Tetzel, the most expert preacher around. 
Tetzel travels the villages for the whole of the summer of 1517. He stops on the borders with Thuringia, which belong to Frederick the Wise, Duke of Saxony. He can't set foot there. 
Frederick is collecting indulgences himself, through the sale of relics. He doesn't tolerate competitors in his territories. But Tetzel is a clever bastard: he knows that Frederick's subjects will happily travel a few miles beyond the border. A ticket to paradise is worth the trip.
The coming and going of souls in search of reassurance infuriates a young Augustinian friar, a doctor at Wittenberg University. He can't bear the obscene market that Tetzel has in motion, with the Pope's coat of arms and that papal bull in full view.
31 October 1517, the friar nails ninety-five theses against the traffic of indulgences, written in his own hand, to the northern door of Witternberg church. 
His name is Martin Luther. With that gesture the Reformation begins.
Luther Blissett, Q
This passage is vaguely responsible for about a year and a half of my work.

American Individualism and Good Credit

Check out this article on American individualism and it's ties to economic prosperity and vice versa.  I'm on board with a lot of what's going on there but I think the causality links are a bit backward. Anderson raises the correlation of counter-culture acceptability and the rise of 'Randian millionares' in periods like the roaring twenties and the sixties but seems to put their success on the loosening of some ephemeral purse-string of American cultural that just seems to loosen at these times.

I would argue that the Randian millionaires came first and in their wake they encouraged a fluidity in the economy that influences social strata leading to dialectics and privilege that become a breeding ground for counter-cultures. Most counter-cultures are directly tied for or against the excesses that the Randian millionaires created: The roaring twenties and the ambivalence of the moneyed populace to the long-term effects of their lifestyles in lieu of it's riches were paid for by these forever young millionaires. In the fifties and sixties the rise of the hippies, beatniks and so on was a kick-back against the American supremism and dollar imperialism of the early Cold War that was funded by rampant consumerism paid for by war profits.

The cause of these counter-culturial and Randian booms themselves also have direct causal links. In the case of both the twenties and sixties - war and the fantastic credit it brought to an isolationist America. In the eighties the third world and its enormous debt became the source of excess for the same libertarian ideals among the young and wealthy while punk, grunge and later hip-hop music all came to embody alternatives - for the middle class who rejected these excesses and working classes who were excluded from them respectively. (I think American governement refuses to recognise class systems so I Anglicise here. (On another note - did you know that Google suggest I spell that Anglicize?))

Anyway, if you take one thing away from the article make it this graph of top tax rates.

The History of Nations, the Birth of the Individual

The British Isles could be said to have simply been constructed out of what was geographically accessible and militarily defensible at the time. Island nation status has made it repeatedly un-invadable since what might be said to be the only successful attempt of the Norman invasion. So, barring occasional forays into northern France, Britain remained comfortable in it's land mass until the advent of industrial sail allowed for the construction of a vast commercial satellite empire through the shrewd use of high-technology and diplomacy. The same applies to Japan barring it's slightly more aggressive forays into neighbouring Manchuria where it successfully held sway for some time. 

In these cases, the national identity of the citizens are inexorably tied to the land they inhabit. Though the same cannot be said for all. The Jewish diaspora is perhaps the most famous example of a landless people. Here we enter into the great chicken and egg debate of whether Judaism is a race or a religion. It is undoubtedly both to a greater or lesser degree of personal reading but which came first? All the major religions started small and localised - in most cases the literature suggests with one man. They then spread geographically with the passage of travelers, traders and armies. No religion before the advent of television could simultaneously sweeps a nation the way that American Evangelism, Buddhism for yuppies and Adele do today. So Judaism only formed itself latterly into the state of Israel through a protracted history of horrific oppression and political wrangling. The state of Israel then lends itself to the idea of a race for Judaism. But converts to Judaism as well as non-practicing Jews are allowed free citizenship with an Oleh certificate as equally as the most orthodox of Hebrew scholars so really Israel is formed around a loose identity of cultural history whether inherited, acquired or learnt.

This was a conscious construct of a nation though. The ideals and methods at play were legible to everyone at a time when democracy and openness of government held sway. The same does not hold true for the establishment of national boundaries that gave the shape of mainland Europe we see today. The shaping of modern Europe could be said to have started with Charlemagne. He prevented the Moslem armies from advancing on Europe, laid the foundations of the Holy Roman empire and  invented many of the principles and concepts that became central to the organisation of any modern state.

Over time the groundwork laid by Charlemagne evolved into a complex patchwork mandala of city-states under the loose banner of the Holy Roman Empire and the papal states with the only constant remaining the Kingdom of the Franks, later the Kingdom of France. Barring the aforementioned 1420 English foray, France retained a nearly coherent geographic landscape from the end of Charlemagne's empire right up until a French lieutenant started getting uppity toward the end of the eighteenth century.

But would the national identity of the average citizen, away from battlefield command, royal courts and parliaments be any different between the myriad broth of the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France? Throughout this time until the late industrial revolution, the average person probably never left their home town or village. The nation above them was an abstract construct with invisible borders that might be glimpsed on a rare map, their concerns were local as was their cultural identity and language. During the French Revolution less than a quarter of the French population even spoke French - a language reserved for the elite.

Lnaguages of modern France versus a highly simplified map of the Holy Roman Empire

Above (left) is a map of the main languages of France today. There are eight languages officially recognised by the French government and nine unrecognised as well as over twenty endangered indigenous languages. None of this takes into account immigrant languages. Compared to the way the city-states of the carved up Holy Roman Empire defined their borders (right) one can see very little difference. The citizens of these ill-defined blotches all had a homogeny based on a close geographic imperative. The greater or lesser degree of control exercised by a higher ruling body - the Kingdom of France or the elected leadership of the Holy Roman Empire had no impact on the identities of the citizens therein.

Race plays a subsequent role to all of this movement. Again, most of these boundaries are defined by but often not subject to geographic limitations. Before the industrial age, gene-pools had a slow and limited spread and so strong racial identities would form around certain areas that would inevitably be inheritors of the cultural and national identity of that area. In the chicken and the egg situation the religion, the cultural paradigms, the language and the identity came first as reactions to the geography. The race then followed while Kings, courts and armies carved out national boundaries above.

Then the international Empires came. Britain, in particular began carving up the world using very specific tactics. In India, comparatively little cultural change occurred, there was none of the hysterical missionary work that defined Africa, nor the westward land-grabbing of the US. American of course was the hot-topic - the land of opportunity and utopian promises. Africa, meanwhile, was drawn as a strange, almost nightmarish world of curious animals and sub-human peoples fit only to be dominated by the rule of civilisation.

Could the people of the British colonies ever be said to have felt British away from Britain? Most of the first colonists hoped to escape religious persecution and later ones tries to impose their own persecution in obscure, starry-eyes religions of communal ritual and new living. In India the disparity between the Raj and the subjugated natives implied a simple relocation mentality and in Africa all was strictly business, no-one really considered themselves a part of Africa on their missions there.

So how do we define a nation? What is it for? I would say that today it is nothing more than a supporting infrastructure for personal enterprise. We rarely engage with the political wranglings of nations in the way that we might have, willingly or unwillingly. Relative openness in immigration and communication means that if you're not happy with your supporting infrastructure, climate or cultural identity it is relatively easy to up-sticks and move to a new one although perhaps not to the extent that the later US colonists attempted. 

The Cold War was perhaps most endemic of this new national role. This was a proxy war that was over the most reduced socio-economic terms possible. After that event, no matter who won, the role of a nation was forever changed. All nations were somehow aligned in the bipartisan battle over the principles that should define a nation. In doing so, the very specific and rigorously upheld cultural differences between nations then and subsequently became muddled and nationalism began to die in the face of more abstract concepts of socio-economic order and control. Francis Fukushima would go on to grandly dub this process - 'the end of history.'

Really we should tack on the phrase 'of nations' and underline a new history of ideals perhaps, beliefs, the individual, or simply people.

Recent Photos

The RCA Graduation Show And Convocation Ceremony Edition.


RCA Grad Show 2012

RCA Grad Show 2012

RCA Grad Show 2012

RCA Grad Show 2012

RCA Grad Show 2012



The Joe Show

Class of 2012

Class of 2012

The Misfit Economy

Activism is something that I try and stay away from. I hold the same cynical lens to Greenpeace as I do to BP press releases. Anyone with an overt agenda is going to distort information in their favour and be selective with opinions. The Misfit Economy is exactly the kind of thing I would then normally stay away from.

What appears to currently just be a rolling tumblr with some interesting photographs is actually the beginning of a Kickstarter project (aren't they all) which received full funding back in April to go and document what I might call alternative micro-economies and what they call misfit economies.

It's how they use the films they propose to make that will prove their worth. Another round of half-speed clips with kids in rubbish dumps might make us all feel kind of bad in a Kony 2012 kind of way, but I'm hoping they really delve in and get to grips with the mechanics of these economies and present real documentation of systems that might be applied or gleaned from in the developed world as alternatives to the accepted top-heavy system. The point of these micro-economies is that they're environment-specific. Cairo's rubbish town actually works because of where it is and regrettably provides the only source of income for people there. If these films aim to raise awareness in the hope of dismantling these economies it might be more destructive than beneficial. So if it is activism let's hope the point is not to change the subject but the audience. It would certainly be the kind of research I could have used a year or so ago when researching the Mumbai slum economies.