Bauhaus Futures Book Chapter

Bauhaus Futures Book Cover Photo of Anni Albers from chapter

This chap­ter exam­ines the process­es of scal­ing made vis­i­ble with­in the words and work of the Weimer Bauhaus and, par­tic­u­lar­ly, Anni Albers’ care­ful accounts of weav­ing. We explore whether thread­ing a fem­i­nist pre­car­i­ty into her writ­ing helps illu­mi­nate new ways of exam­in­ing ten­sions between what we scale up and what we scale down.

Read­ing with Anni Albers:
The weave as a live­ly invo­lu­tion of scale, affect, and fem­i­nist precarity

Mov­ing first over and across, we exam­ine Alber’s dis­cus­sions of dif­fer­ent scales of weav­ing, from the hand loom to indus­tri­al machin­ery. Tra­vers­ing then down­ward and below, we con­sid­er Alber’s atten­tion to the body, those fin­gers and hands inter­lac­ing threads along a pli­able plane. Shift­ing around and through, we con­sid­er how an affect is present in Alber’s reflec­tions, and espe­cial­ly in how it pulls against the stur­dy mech­a­nis­tic log­ics vis­i­bly orga­niz­ing her process. Across this writ­ing, we hope to think with Albers, read­ing her prose some­what against the grain of con­ven­tion­al Bauhaus accounts by inter­weav­ing a fem­i­nist positioning.

Matt Rat­to, Daniela K Ros­ner, Yana Boe­va, Alex Tay­lor (2019) Spe­cial issue on hybrid ped­a­go­gies edi­to­r­i­al, Dig­i­tal Cre­ativ­i­ty 30(4), p. 13–217, url, doi:10.1080/14626268.2019.1699576

Daniela K Ros­ner, Alex S Tay­lor (2019) Read­ing with Anni Albers: The Weave as a Live­ly Invo­lu­tion of Scale, Affect, and Fem­i­nist Pre­car­i­ty, Bauhaus Futures, Lau­ra For­lano, Mol­ly Wright Steen­son, Mike Anan­ny (ed.), p. 201–212, Cam­bridge, MA: MIT Press, pdf

EASST 2018 Presentation

Abi­gail Dur­rant and I gave our paper “Mod­el­ling Cells in/with risky comak­ings and devi­ous worlds” at EASST last week, in the fab­u­lous Fem­i­nist Fig­ures panel.

Mod­el­ling cells in/with risky comak­ings and devi­ous worlds

We use String Fig­ures and Invo­lu­tion­ary Momen­tum to “read against the grain” of a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous biol­o­gy char­ac­terised by reduc­tion. Work­ing through the design of a tool that mod­els cel­lu­lar sta­bil­i­ty, we spin a yarn of “affec­tive­ly charged” rela­tions between researchers, cells and technologies.
Draw­ing from her foun­da­tion­al stud­ies of biol­o­gy, Eve­lyn Fox Keller (2009:301) writes of a com­plex­i­ty and con­nect­ed­ness that might just char­ac­terise our “devi­ous” world(s). She has traced threads through biol­o­gy for over 40 years, draw­ing atten­tion to—amongst oth­er things—how it has often resist­ed the explana­to­ry pow­ers con­ferred upon its coun­ter­parts in oth­er nat­ur­al sci­ences. A prag­mat­ic approach has dom­i­nat­ed, she extols, in which unknowns have been a part of biology’s messy reality.
Look­ing ahead, to the deep­en­ing entan­gle­ments between biol­o­gy and com­pu­ta­tion, we find con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous imag­i­nar­ies sur­round­ing cel­lu­lar life to be test­ing this lin­eage. Certainly—as Keller her­self has reflected—computation makes pos­si­ble very par­tic­u­lar modes of under­stand­ing, ones con­form­ing to the “reduc­tive, mech­a­nis­tic, and adap­ta­tion­ist log­ics” that char­ac­terise a pre­vail­ing neo-Dar­win­ism (Hus­tak & Myers 2013:77).
In this paper, we wish to cut across what on the face it appears to be biology’s nar­row­ing move. By ‘look­ing askew’, we hope to ask more about biol­o­gy and whether or not it is being ren­dered com­pu­ta­tion­al. Exam­in­ing a project invest­ed in the com­pu­ta­tion­al chal­lenges of mod­el­ling cel­lu­lar sta­bil­i­ty, and rely­ing on the “risky comak­ings” (Har­away 2016:14) between actors, algo­rithms and com­pu­ta­tion­al tools, we stay com­mit­ted to the trou­bles enlivened by knot­ted rela­tions. We use two fem­i­nist fig­ures, Haraway’s String Fig­ure, and Hus­tak and Myer’s Invo­lu­tion­ary Momen­tum, to (re-)tell a sto­ry of unfold­ing rela­tion­ships between researchers, cells and tech­nolo­gies, spin­ning a yarn of “affec­tive­ly charged” (Hus­tak & Myers 2013) relays and knot­tings that resist sin­gu­lar figurings.
Har­away, D.J., 2016. Stay­ing with the trou­ble: Mak­ing kin in the Chthu­lucene. Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press.
Hus­tak, C. and Myers, N., 2012. Invo­lu­tion­ary momen­tum: Affec­tive ecolo­gies and the sci­ences of plant/insect encoun­ters. dif­fer­ences, 23(3), pp.74–118.
Keller, E.F., 2009. Mak­ing sense of life: Explain­ing bio­log­i­cal devel­op­ment with mod­els, metaphors, and machines. Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Press. 

Reading “Critical Fabulations”

When we real­ly need it — amidst so much dark­ness and gloom — Daniela Ros­ner has woven togeth­er an inter­ven­tion­ist design with a crit­i­cal fem­i­nist view to pro­duce some­thing so full of promise. The gen­er­a­tive the­o­ris­ing set out in the works of Don­na Har­away, Anna Tsing, Saidiya Hart­man and so on (all such out­stand­ing fig­ures in con­tem­po­rary fem­i­nist schol­ar­ship) is put into prac­tice through an assort­ment of design inter­ven­tions. The design work is clev­er­ly pre­sent­ed through a range of dif­fer­ent voic­es and per­spec­tives, alto­geth­er show­ing Rosner’s impulse to work cre­ative­ly. But the book is much much more than this, it is about the sto­ries we are able tell in doing design and because of design. It is about a design prac­tice done dif­fer­ent­ly — redo­ing design so that the absences and alter­na­tive imag­i­nar­ies come to life.

Rework­ing the Meth­ods and Mar­gins of Design

Photo of 10 copies of Critical Fabulations book

What I real­ly enjoyed in read­ing this book is that it offers a way for those of us in design to think with the kind of hope­ful schol­ar­ship com­ing out of fem­i­nist the­o­ry. For so many, schol­ars like Har­away are a chal­lenge to read, but not only does Ros­ner make this schol­ar­ship acces­si­ble, she spins some­thing new into the ideas. She takes Haraway’s ‘spec­u­la­tive fab­u­la­tions’ and pro­vides very tan­gi­ble ways to think ‘with’ sto­ries, and think ‘oth­er’ and ‘more than’ with sto­ries. Her design inter­ven­tions (con­sti­tut­ing a patch­work across the book) pro­vide exem­plary ways of both under­tak­ing design and also think­ing with it. The cen­tre­piece, the work Ros­ner has done with oth­ers on weav­ing the Apol­lo mission’s ‘core mem­o­ry’, speaks then to both a design­er­ly prac­tice for doing tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion and a way to do design in respon­si­ble, sen­si­tive and open-end­ed ways.


Audrey, Anyone?

I just dug out my old Audrey, a com­put­er appli­ance designed for the home released in 2000 and then canned in 2001. What a shame to think a device with such thought­ful­ly designed soft­ware and hard­ware was so quick­ly rel­e­gat­ed to the dust-pile of e‑history. Any­way, see­ing Audrey remind­ed me Lau­rel Swan and I pre­sent­ed a paper on Audrey at 4S in 2005 titled “Audrey, Any­one?” The abstract is below. We did man­age to inter­view some of the orig­i­nal design­ers on the team includ­ing Ray Win­ninger. How­ev­er, things got the bet­ter of us and we nev­er wrote it up in fin­ished form. Here’s the abstract we wrote:

Wikipedia has an entry, here.
A short chap­ter we came across in doing back­ground research on Audrey is Leslie Regan Share’s “The gen­der­ing of a com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy: the short life and death of Audrey”, in Out of the Ivory Tow­er: Fem­i­nist Research for Social Change, edit­ed by: Mar­tinez, Andrea and Stu­art, Meryn. Toron­to: Sumach Press.

Article in Design Issues

Design Issues, Sum­mer 2017, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 25–36
Cover art for Design Issues, 33 (3) 2017

ABSTRACT — In his 2015 Research Through Design provo­ca­tion, Tim Ingold invites his audi­ence to think with string, lines, and mesh­works. In this arti­cle I use Ingold’s con­cepts to explore an ori­en­ta­tion to design—one that threads through both Ingold’s ideas and Vin­ciane Despret’s vivid and mov­ing accounts of human-ani­mal rela­tions. This is a “think­ing and doing” through design that seeks to be expan­sive to the capac­i­ties of humans and non-humans in rela­tion to one another.
I’m so pleased to final­ly have this arti­cle pub­lished in Design Issues, and very grate­ful to Abi­gail Dur­rant, John Vines, Jayne Wal­lace, and Joyce Yee for all their help with edit­ing my text and the Spe­cial Issue: Research Through Design: Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry Mak­ers and Mate­ri­al­i­ties.

In my con­tri­bu­tion, I’ve reflect­ed on Tim Ingold’s provo­ca­tion at the Bien­ni­al Research Through Design con­fer­ence, and tried to play around with open­ing up a more gen­er­a­tive kind of design. My exper­i­ment has been to put Ingold’s ideas of lines and mesh­works in con­ver­sa­tion with Vin­ciane Despret’s uplift­ing sto­ries of ani­mals and becom­ings. A strange mix, but one that for me at least rais­es plen­ty of inter­est­ing ques­tions — and isn’t it more ques­tions we need?!

For an ear­ly draft of the arti­cle see:  What lines, rats and sheep can tell us, Design Issues 2017

Vienna art, design, and architecture biennale

Anab Jain very kind­ly asked me to con­tribute a short piece to the pro­gramme for the Vien­na art, design, and archi­tec­ture bien­nale.

With the motto:
“Robots. Work. Our Future”

… the Bien­nale sets the devel­op­ments in robot­ics and AI against the future of work and labour. I’ve used this as an invi­ta­tion to con­sid­er two ‘modes’ of capability:

When it comes to judg­ing the capac­i­ties of humans and non­hu­mans, we are drawn to two modes of exis­tence. In one mode, we are com­pelled to see capa­bil­i­ty as resid­ing with­in an actor, as an intrin­sic qual­i­ty of their being. A favourite deter­mi­nant is the brain-weight to body-weight ratio; anoth­er is genet­ic pre­dis­po­si­tion. We have devised all man­ner of tests to iso­late human and non­hu­man capac­i­ties: IQ tests, rats mazes and Tur­ing tests among them. Nat­u­ral­ly, humans come out on top using most counts.
In the sec­ond mode, we observe actors excel in their achieve­ments. We allow our­selves to be sur­prised and delight­ed by exhi­bi­tions of capac­i­ty that exceed our expec­ta­tions (and that con­tra­vene the first mode in so many ways). To find evi­dence of this mode, one need only turn to that vast repos­i­to­ry of record and obser­va­tion, YouTube, and wit­ness the view­ing num­bers for titles like “species [x] and species [y] play­ing togeth­er”, “species [x] and species [y] unlike­ly friends”, and so on. As these titles sug­gest, capa­bil­i­ty is often recog­nised here as accom­plished with others—with oth­er objects, oth­er actors, oth­er critters.
Spec­u­lat­ing on human capacities—on what humans might be capa­ble of and how they might work in the future—I find myself ask­ing, as the ani­mal stud­ies schol­ar Vin­ciane Despret does, which of these modes is ‘more inter­est­ing’ and which ‘makes more inter­est­ing’. Which of these modes invites us to spec­u­late on new fab­u­la­tions of actors of all kinds, of actors becom­ing-with each oth­er, of becom­ing oth­er-than-human­ly-capa­ble, of becom­ing more capable?
I am tak­en by the mode that views capa­bil­i­ty as col­lec­tive­ly achieved and that invites those con­di­tions that enlarge capac­i­ties through on-going inter­min­glings. The future of work, through this mode, will be dic­tat­ed not by the lim­its of being human, but by how we might best attune our­selves with oth­ers, how we might become more capa­ble together.

On “How Apple is Giving Design a Bad Name”

Thanks to Richard Banks for point­ing me towards this piece pub­lished on Fast Com­pa­ny’s site by Don Nor­man and Bruce Tog­nazz­i­ni (Tog):

The arti­cle is a hard hit­ting cri­tique of Apple’s cur­rent design phi­los­o­phy. More than this, though, the two long time inter­ac­tion design gurus set out a clear project for design, one that they see Apple hav­ing been instru­men­tal in but now devi­at­ing from. Their gen­er­al argu­ment is, on the face of it, pret­ty con­vinc­ing. Yet dig­ging a lit­tle deep­er it’s one that I have prob­lems with. This post is real­ly an effort to sort things out in my own mind. (more…)