[movements x design] + [designs x movement] / by Kiersten Nash

A few weeks ago, designer James Clotfelter extended an invitation to his Movements To Design. This panel discussion punctuated a 3-week participatory design/research project featuring of "movement workshops for non-trained movers in the worlds urban planning, design, and architecture."

Unfortunately, I was unable to participate. However, considering the topic is integral to the continued development of Public Works, I've assembled a few thoughts into a brief presentation, [movement x design] + [design x movement] or Strategies and Tactics of  Everyday [Dis]Engagement.

 

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Hello. My name is Kiersten Nash. I’m a designer.  Actually, I’d like to suggest, we’re all designers. To design is to affect and or effect change. Or, to quote political scientist, economist, and sociologist–Herbert Simon, to move something from an existing to a preferred state.

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Movement, therefore, is inherent in the adaptation of time, space, and being or design. This evening I’d like to share with you a few ‘movements x design’ and ‘designs x movement’  or some of the strategies and tactics that shape my practice.

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01 : : movements x design

Enter Frederick Winslow Taylor – effectively one of the most influential designers of the early 20th century. Claiming the factory as his studio, Taylor choreographed countless companies through the modulation of time, space, and being. Employing a diversity of empirical methods, Taylor attempted to reconcile manual labor and capital. The result? The Principles of Scientific Management. A seminal text that inspired “laws, rules, and principles” for cultivating a 'better, more competent man.'
 

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Taylor intended these movements x design be applied to “all social activities…from our simplest individual acts to the work of our great corporations…to the management of our homes…our farms…our churches, our philanthropic institutions, our universities, and our governmental departments.” And in many ways, they are.
 

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Whilst the revolution of society and soma might have begun during the Industrial era—with machines replacing nature as the choreographer of circadian rhythms—we continue to employ a multiplicity of micro- and macro-level strategies that seek to automate the beats, tempos, and frequencies of our everyday.

Worth noting: Having spent 7 years of my childhood in a chalk-laden gym, surrounding by various technologies that could be construed as medieval torture devices, training my muscles to memorize movements so that, during competition, my body could perform independent of my mind, I’m particularly attuned to such strategies.

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 We produce and consume space. Space produces and consumes us.

Consider the kitty carousel. (Forewarning: I'm almost certain a few of our furry friends were harmed in this experiment). In 1963, Held and Hein wondered if seeing the environment change was sufficient to develop depth perception, or whether an self-generated movement is necessary to embody such knowledge.

 

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And the kitty carousel was born–a cylinder with a central roundabout to which two kittens were attached—one active (A), one passive (P). Neither one can see the other. The movements of Kitty A propel the roundabout and hence Kitty P sits suspended in a basket. If Kitty A walks clockwise, so does Kitty P. Over the course of six weeks, 10 kitties spent 3 hours a day in the carousel. The result of this torture? Kitty A learned to see. Kitty P was effectively blind—its eyes could see, but its brain couldn’t interpret the sensory input.

These [in]visible infrastructures of power that masquerade as everyday practices construct physical and psychological barriers between mind and body; individual and society; production and consumption; past, present, and future…relegating human and non-human agents to the role of occupant or user in the name of efficiency, productivity...and, most recently, sustainability.

 

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Consequently, we are withdrawing into increasingly modulated spaces, thus limiting our capacity to effectively engage within our environments—to critically confront the present, to think.

 

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That said, if we embrace this morphogenesis of mind and matter to be design in the expanded field—in which meaning making and memory or learning are an affect and or effect of designing—then we can begin to [investigate, disassemble and [re]frame the prevailing lexicon, discourse, and practices that construct our everyday.

 

02 : : designs x movement

By harnessing design as a means to ask questions, Public Works for, with, and in a diversity of publics around the globe to invent innovative tactics for everyday [dis]engagement. Civic engagement. These mind-body-space mash-ups tune up perceptual affordances, so that individuals can tune out of habitual patterns, and tune in to a heightened awareness of the [in]visible infrastructures that affect and effect our perception, conception, and mobility.
In a word, to think.

Or rather, [un]learn. This inverted analytic framework regards solutions as problems—prefigurative, inflexible outcomes—and questions as solutions—opportunities for reflection and adaptation. In this context, doubt becomes the primary vector for critical thinking that interrogates the legitimacy, authority, and ethics of our cultural status quo.

 

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Currently, Public Works is situated in Kentucky. Many of the infrastructures that sustain this enchanted neck of the woods are [in]visible, including groundwater. Yet, it's is a source of life. Families, farms, entire ecologies and economies depend on it. If we can't see the water that runs beneath the Bluegrass, it's difficult to understand how our actions affect this valuable resource.

To that end, we're collaborating with the KY Geological Survey to develop Livestream—a transmedia project that collects, monitors, and translates groundwater data from various springs throughout Kentucky into an interactive soundscape that will manifest as: (i) a public art installation; (ii) an interactive archive; and (iii) an educational outreach program.

 

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Livestream serves as an innovative participatory action research platform for the advancement of environmental awareness, literacy, and accountability…by actively engaging individuals, organizations, and institutions throughout Kentucky in the cultivation of one of our most valuable resources–imagination!

I believe passionately in the power of creativity. The power to ask “Why not? How come…? What if? The performative, discursive, and phenomenological attributes of these antagonistic actions distribute deviances at a range of intensities throughout the body, penetrating and gradually eroding the conditioned relations between established signs and meanings; ultimately, emancipating designers from the discipline of cultural [re]presentation and [re]production. Philosopher Michel de Certeau might refer to this schemata as "a poetic making do.”

 

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The practice of [un]learning is as elusive as the everyday. "As its name indicates," critical theorist Jamer Hunt aptly observes,"(the everyday) is, a temporal category…aleatory and fugitive. They resist codification because their heterogeneity is both meaningless in its particularity and distorted when we abstract or generalize it…The everyday, then, is an anxious oscillation between the gravitational poles of stasis and change."

Similarly, critical consciousness teeters precariously along the dynamic dialectics of [un]certainty—engaging and [dis]engaging, learning and [un]learning.

 

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 [Un]Learning "really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience."

The capacity for [un]learning to advance critical consciousness is dependent upon frequent intervention into our normative landscape in order to disrupt the rhythms, melodies, and harmonies or infrastructures that modulate our everyday practices.

By identifying and harnessing the affective potentialities embedded in such instances of difference and dissonance, perhaps we can move the practice of design into a time and space that has yet to be conceived, constructed, or occupied.