Yael Bartana

I've literally just sat down for my first afternoon cracking away at the Permacultures residency at the White Building in Hackney Wick. I'll be spending the time developing some aspects of 88.7 that I never really felt were complete - in particular, the human aspect of the work, and how big systemic changes in the economy and social systems of the world might manifest themselves on an individual level. I'm beginning by revisiting Yael Bartana's incredible trilogy of films - And Europe Will Be Stunned. I first saw these at the Venice Biennale in 2011 and still wholly believe them to be the best thing there. I've popped some trailers in below...

We begin in the first part - Nightmares - with a rousing speech in a cinematic and involving space urging change, specifically the return of Jews to Poland. 

The Tower and Wall moves to the construction of a Kibbutz in Warsaw - a vision of utopic ideals and socialist imagery.

Finally, Assassination envisions the funeral of the leader of the revolution, finally uniting the people of Poland behind his death.

Weeknotes 6

Another highly delayed Weeknotes, covering roughly three weeks... 

What Does It Mean?

Parallel that with this 'moving' op-ed in the Independent and the more recent bombardment of Mr Osborne's paralysing decisions to crush the economy. When even the IMF are telling you that you're messing up by punishing the poorest you gotta stop and look around. But he hasn't, so, nice one. I mean, we do all know that the whole 'will-we, won't-we' with the EU is a smokescreen right?

Tatler List

And in a near-perfect segue, the 'magazine' Tatler has publishedit's list of 'people who really matter.' Which basically reads like a who's who of Irrelevant Rich White People. The whole thing is sprinkled with Beckhams, Cameron's weird cousin, some horses and a lot of heirs and heiresses. Another fascinating insight to the misguided worldview of people with quite literally - more money than genetic variations.

Old Interviews

An interview I did some time ago about 88.7 has been strangely edited and posted up at Wild Culture. Also the much better edited audio interview I did with some former peers way back in the summer with Regine of We Make Money Not Art fame for her Resonanace FM show - Artists in Laboratories - was uploaded to Soundcloud recently. Here you go... (I'm last, around 20 minutes in.)


I spent a few days on an 'artistic retreat' in Ramsgate Kent with my residency, at the home of Augustus Pugin (above).  I got lots of photos which I'll post another time, it really is quite an enchanting place once you see through the vaguely oppressive Gothic-ness and heavy Catholic imagery.  A lot of very interesting conversations were had, especially considering why I brand myself a 'designer' while the others saw what I do as art. A lot of these ideas are going to go on to inform the work I do in the residency and with other work.

We set up a makeshift cinema there as well where this scene jogged this excellent poem back into my mind.


I've shuffled into new digs with the Department of No (above) in Whitechapel.  We're sharing space with Inventory Studio, a lovely team of designers and all this has meant that I've finally got round to getting myself some business cards printed. Back's a bit messed up, but next time I run into you, ask me, and I'll probably have forgotten to bring any with me.

Wanted - Living in The End Times

I'm cracking my way through Zizek's excellent book but am struggling somewhat with a lot of the terms. If anyone has a good philosophical/psychological glossary/thesaurus, I'd be very interested in borrowing or receiving a link.

'Til next time comrades!

A Moral Quandry of Wasps

With respect to the theological view of the question: This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically, but I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars or that a cat should play with mice... On the other hand, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance.

Charles Darwin, in a letter to Asa Gray - botanist and Darwin's lifelong friend - 22 May 1860


Some lovely Radiolab stuff enhancing my research into parasitoid wasps.  It's such a vast and daunting area full of thousands of species that it's very hard to embrace the zoology fully. I've been doing some sketches (and models - above) and trying to get to the route of what in the process is actually interesting. The Darwin quote above is pretty much from on high - the process and the life cycle of the parasitoid wasp is so vulgar and upsetting to most that it's hard to consider it anything but 'wrong.'

There's something horrific about the aesthetics of the wasp as well as the moral questions it poses. The automatic reaction to wasps in humans is one of revulsion - they're largely seen as aggressive, useless and dangerous. They have a mean sting, but unlike the bumble bee, the great pollinator, friend of nature, they don't suffer for it. Nor does the wasp appear to perform any function in the greater cycles of the garden or the field. The common wasp falls into the genera vespula or dolichovespula, so loathed are they that they're one of the most numerously mimicked species. Some research even suggests they can remember human faces and will mark them for aggressive behaviour.
The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility. [...] I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Ash, Alien (1979)
The xenomorph from the Alien series of films was even based on a combination of the life cycles of parasitoid wasps and social wasps in quite possibly the most damning condemnation of the wasp in human conscience.

There's some strange balances though: Parasitoid wasps are one of the widest used biological pest controllers. Each species targets one specific host. So farmers use them as a non-chemical way of eliminating crop consumers - once the hosts are all dead, the wasps die too in a cycle of perverse incentive. 

They also have incredible smell, up to 99% more accurate than sniffer dogs, and there are already early developments of the Wasp Hound (above), a device that uses wasps to detect trace chemicals of drugs, explosives or even cancer. They use this smell to detect hosts from kilometers away. They can also count up to five.  

When they deposit they're eggs in the host, they inject a virus that also genetically reprograms the host to stop it's immune defences attacking the eggs and in some cases trick it into defending them. There's something so elegant about this system that on studying them, it actually becomes quite hard to feel the same revulsion towards them.

So it's in this balance between elegance and revulsion, between godliness and evil that this animal and it's complex life lies. The question then is how this can be scaled-up or be adapted to a medium in design that I can then use to talk about the original ideas around naturalistic fallacy and moral codes in the aesthetics of nature. 

Walkshop Weekend

Some pictures from a walkshop conducted yesterday around the City of London. Lots of banter and chat related to economic history, architecture, symbolism and trebuchets.


Best tower in the city


Obligatory Barbican shot

Walkshop group

Phone forfeit pile

A Concise-ish History of The Cubicle

One of the best and regrettably hardest to find scenes from Jaques Tati's timeless film Playtime (above) is where Hulot - the bumbling and sympathy-laden hero of this brave new world - attempts to navigate a maze of office cubicles on his thankless mission around a modernist identikit Paris. The sameness, symmetry and intractable efficiency of the constructions of these new spaces make his journey confusing and impossible, stripped as it is of naturalistic and humanistic symbols and pointers.

Tati was prescient in his vision of a world of cubiclisation and also in our reaction to it and feeling towards it. Playtime was released in 1967 only seven years after the invention of what was arguably the very first office cubicle system - the Herman Miller Action Office. Herman Miller were giants of modernist furniture design, most famously as the manufacturers of Eames furniture but one of their lesser celebrated innovations was the Action Office, from which all modern cubicles can be traced.

Prior to the Action Office, most workplaces followed a 'bullpen' format - a militarised arrangement of open desks with offices at the periphery of the floor housing managers who could see the regimented lower workers by leaning out of their door.

The aim of the Action Office - and subsequent cubicles - was to lend a degree of privacy and peace to individual workers - the illusion of their own 'room' but taking up significantly less space, at lesser expense and without undermining the hierarchy of established corporations.  Business innovations of the post-war period and the opening up of the business world to women meant that mangers had learned that a degree of autonomy could be rewarding and that a slight de-regimentisation of the body of workers could lead to higher productivity as the impression of personal space opened up the power of choice and initiative for the individual worker.

The modular, personalisable nature of the Action Office was endemic of modernist design. In twenty or so pieces, a working environment could be built specific to any individual and their job and workload. It could be reused, cycled, disassembled and reassembled elsewhere for no additional cost but still gave the user a sense of control and individuality in their working environment. That in turn translated into a feeling that management considered the individual worker trustworthy and important. But, much like Tati, even at the time there was criticism. In fact, the designer of the much more successful Action Office II, George Nelson, disowned himself from it, writing in a letter:
One does not have to be an especially perceptive critic to realize that AO II is definitely not a system which produces an environment gratifying for people in general. But it is admirable for planners looking for ways of cramming in a maximum number of bodies, for "employees" (as against individuals), for "personnel," corporate zombies, the walking dead, the silent majority. A large market.

Above: IDEO's Dilbert Cubicle

We know how well parodied the cubicle has been since and we know that new, hi-tech employers (like Google below) have sought to distance themselves from the 'cube farm' of the 20th century as far as possible. To some (myself included) the cubicle is a symbol of surrender - the willingness to surrender true choice and freedom about your working life and it's habits

But the cubicle has another curious effect - by presenting the worker with their 'own' workspace - enclosed and customisable, it presents an alternative or parallel to the home where, like the home, the need to obey the rules and rituals of others in the environment are hidden behind a veneer of ownership and individuality.  In this way, the cubicle perhaps served to reinforce the work/home divide - there are two spaces that are yours, one in which you work, one in which you live.

The cubicle, against it's designed intention, did nothing to break and free the hierarchy of the traditional corporate structure - apart form perhaps the notable exception of breaking some of the racial and sexual prejudices in the business environment. Essentially, it served eased the tensions that the nature of communication technology necessitated.

The cubicle came near the beginning o the end of large corporate structures. As transport and communication infrastructure across the developed world grew, flights, cars and telephones became cheap and efficient. In this world, the most convenient office model involved a community of commuters who worked in a single building for ease of interaction. The car eased this setup by allowing for these commuters from a wide area and the telephone allowed for inter-office communication between these large structures and between people within them.  One of the major effects of this mentality was the skyscraper - the most potent symbol of corporate mentality. But as the number of people who could work in one building grew with profit, the sense of importance for the individual worker shrank. The cubicle was the solution - by literally blocking others from view and hearing, the worker would gain a sense of individuality and importance.

Part of the genius of Tati's playtime is how he mocks the ideology of the relatively young modernist architectural movement. His characters move in straight lines and ninety-degree turns and conform to movement through space as envisioned by Le Corbusier and friends with no recourse to basic human nature. The cubicle was if anything an advanced and serious version of this parody. Designers and employers are under no illusion now that it's possible to conform the desires and behaviour of employees by designing lines, angles and arrangements in a certain way. However, by physically reordering the workspace - presenting a user with illusions of individuality and choice it's possible to mitigate against these desires and any potential disquiet.

What then happens if we take the same normalised mentality of the cubicle resident but free it from this space? What happens when it becomes more expensive for a business to own a large office with furniture and hundreds or employees than to hire distant freelancers through the web for specific tasks? The menial and repetitive, devaluation hidden behind a veil of individuality and personalisation but in a new type of space.

Weeknotes 5

Happy new year! Weeknotes are supposed to be EVERY week technically. But it was the holidays so this is more a sort of 'weeksnotes' of things I haven't done anything about. 

Pulp Sci-Fi and Mad Scientists

iO9 has been publishing a series of articles on science fiction in totalitarian contexts. Probably the longest articles ever published by iO9. Of particular interest was the one on Japan. My MA dissertation was a study of fiction under dystopias and totalitarian systems and how these were represented in the fictions. Japan's military was of course responsible for some horrific 'medical' experiments during the Second World War on prisoners of war and Chinese citizens, the research of which was claimed by US big pharma in the aftermath. It's strange then that the section on 'Evil Surgeons and Mad Scientists' only brushes over this connection, referring back to Wellsian links to Dr Moreau and so on.

This brought to mind two of my all time favourite 'novllettes' which are by no menas 'pulp'.  Firstly, Adolfo Bioy Casares' The Invention of Morel. Morel is a clear take off the Island of Dr Moreau but features computers that can holographically replay history as the evil of invention and an increasingly paranoid escapee as the witness - his horror and fears informed by the machinations of machines rather than living tissue. 

Referring back to living tissue, Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog (sometimes Dog's Heart) is a lesser known satire by the writer of The Master and Margarita in which a master surgeon implants the heart and glands of a dog into a minor criminal who proceeds to become the ideal communist. A political satire acted out through the widening doors of eugenic technology that marked the era.

Hackers and Sexism

I'm not really as savvy on hacker and maker culture as I should be. Though both are linked and important modern movements that exercise personal freedom through technology in an age of tightening systematic controls, I fear studying them for they fall into the 'experts' category. Much like tattoo artists or lens grinders, they know so much about their own field that it's hard to dip one's toe in to test the water without either having it ripped off or being dragged under.

One thing that does keep surfacing (and perhaps has marked the entirety of 2012) was the issue of sex in these cultures. In a moving and compelling post, Asher Wolf, a key player in the hacker community posted about her disdain at the rampant sexism and abuse that women suffer. This isn't the first time this has come up gamer culture suffers an awfully similar and at time, more pronounced problem.

If these invigorated 'geek' cultures are to be future industry and social leaders then they need to consider how their social attitudes might belie their forward thinking.


Check out this review of Makers at the Guardian. It's important to note when talking about these cultures that more often than not, the optimistic potential far outweighs the actual reality of these cultures integrating with the real world in reporting them.  I had the exact same problem with David Wolman's End of Money. Lot's of wistful talk of a cashless future without dealing with the realities of the expense of digital infrastructure, how culturally and socially vital cash is and with almost no economic theory. Perhaps this is an endemic problem with techies writing about social change.

Dark Knight Sins

I really love Dark Knight Rises but, apart from not noticing the randomly falling over guys, here's a breakdown of what I also agree was wrong. (They should just call this Suspension of Disbelief Counteraction)

2012 and Rape

For a lot of people 2012 was a year when rape came to the forefront of political debate. Even in the UK, the issue of abortion briefly surfaced and a row with the Church over female bishops prompted him to pipe up with the immortal 'get with the programme.' And yet it was in the US where the presidential debate sealed world opinion that American social attitudes were decades behind the rest of the 'developed' world with repeated blunders and idiocy from public figures.

Following their election loss, I was concerned that the Republican party might rally deeper behind it's extreme elements, citing Romney as too moderate - as evidenced by his constant swinging and u-turning - and further divide the political spectrum, potentially deepening the flaws in the two-party democracy. Luckily it looks like I was wrong.  

In India, the issue is gaining traction, I read an article about it some time earlier in the year and now with the horrible case garnering mainstream media attention, the issue of women's rights in developing nations is finally coming to the fore. Even the Arab Spring was marred by stories of journalists being raped and assaulted.

And again in the US, the issue of prisons, something which I really want to broach at some point, and the endemic rape that happens there is beginning to come into focus following a series of articles throughout the year (again, I've lost them all.) Listen to this though for some cracking journalism.

Fiscal Cliffs

The near-mythic 'fiscal cliff' provided another opportunity for the election's bitter losers to emulate the temper tantrums of a five year old in the eyes of the world.The fiscal cliff is a long and childish story of coincidences and brow beating that still isn't over and we'll see brought back to life in the next few months. This article probably provides the most interesting coverage. Anything else is party-posturing. 

Little Things

List of '10' codes as popularised by US police dramas but no longer in use due to gross inefficency. Still, if you need to send some discrete signals...

The Guardian, who's journalism I become more and more despairing over, has another article where a potent question - What does a world without work look like? - is asked but never answered let alone conjectured upon and the author uses the whole tract to have a go at government cuts.

Looking For

Someone who can talk to me about Coasean economics (desperately.)