design to touch the world(Tokyo Art Meeting IV)
Venue : Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT)
Organization : Tokyo Metropolitan Government Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Tokyo Culture Creation Project Office (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture) The Sankei Shimbun Tokyo University of the Arts
Co-curator : Hiroshi Kashiwagi
Burak Arikan, Atelier Bow-Wow + Tokyo Tech + Tsukuba University, Bureau d’études, CAMP, Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen, Leandro Erlich, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg & Sascha Pohflepp, Hiroshi Ishii + Tangible Media Group, MIT Media Lab, Tsunehisa Kimura, Michael Lee, Mikael Metthey, OMA*AMO, Rhizomatiks (Daito Manabe and others), Fernando Sánchez Castillo, Sputniko!, Shinichi Takemura, Sissel Tolaas, Yosuke Ushigome, Marnie Weber, Judi Werthein, Richard Wilson
We are all aware that we live in a society undergoing rapid and complex changes. Energy and environmental issues, declining birth rates and aging populations, territorial disputes among neighboring countries, and diversification of markets and information systems are to name but a few. Thorough and extensive information networks supply us information about these changes in immeasurable amounts, and as highly detailed fragments. Such mega-loads of information can be overwhelming – some may feel a vague sense of anxiety, unable to comprehend what is laid out before them, while others may be reasonably satisfied by identifying the information against existing recognition patterns and give up on reading in any further. The nature of digital information as such is that it reveals its enormity and the complexity of the world in vague and superficial ways. It's as if we are left with a giant tangled ball of yarn and don't know how to start unraveling it, or lost inside an ultra high density 3D matrix, unable to decipher it. The feeling is that of resigning oneself to handle such overwhelming complexity, of being out of touch.
Today, practice is the more valid politics than ideology, action than it is theory. Many people are beginning to realize that whatever situation or phenomena we are talking about, we need to be the persons concerned as opposed to the ones observing or providing commentary. We all know that rather than depending on critique or persuasive theory, “engaging” is the more feasible approach to making the first step in changing society.
In the world of design, the techniques and tactics traditionally used to expand and sustain the market are now being utilized to raise issues concerning global capitalist societies and giving form to the questions that arise in our daily lives. Design thereby aims to bring changes in our consciousness. Using design in this manner overlaps with contemporary art in the way that it critically challenges the status quo. Contemporary art, on the other hand, has also begun to employ specific methodology in becoming more interaction and participation-based so as to prompt engagement in the audience. The “acts of giving form,” which are the first steps in raising awareness, namely, the visualization and realization of the world (ルビ：information), are beginning to take on meanings that deviate from the traditional ideas of representation. As curator-critic Boris Groys states, “The digital image is a copy – but the event of its visualization is an original event, because the digital copy is a copy that has no visible original.”
“Bunny Smash – Ways to Touch the World” presents the visual design works and practices “to give form” (in the broadest sense of the term) by a total of approximately twenty artists, designers and architects from both Japan and abroad. Crossing over genres, their practices interpret and structure the present landscape of our world through unique measures. At times, through unpredictable ideas based on intuition and imaginative thinking, they question anew established bodies of knowledge and the ways in which information is disseminated in society. Examples of their practices range from accumulating and creating schematic illustrations of macroscopically-expanding information, to designing things in the microscopic realm that are normally invisible, such as smell, in forms that can be physically experienced. Through such design practices, we are given the opportunity to see and feel the world in ways which we would not otherwise. By providing a comprehensive physical experience, as opposed to one that depends solely on the sense of vision, the exhibition probes for new possibilities for the world and ways in which we can actively engage with it, giving viewers the opportunity to approach that giant ball of yarn and attempt to start unravelling it on his own and arrive at his unique way of decoding the world.
The word design is used nebulously in this text to describe the things that illuminate meaning or order, or things that suggest the possibility of practical use. The exhibition presents a mix of designers and artists whose definitions of design and art vary from person to person. The importance of this exhibition lies not in giving a definitive understanding of design, but rather in its attempt to verify and provide a panoptic overview of the various suggestions (designs for visualization and realization) made in response to the increasingly complex world, as well as the swelling of information and advances in technology, to utilize such changes for the realization of a more enriched life and successful practice of thinking. The frequent usage of the terms “state of engagement” and “practice” in this text reflect the orientation of this exhibition, which is to bring together and to build a well-balanced relationship between the “fragments of reality” accumulated and deeply-analyzed through technology, and the bare elements of the human condition – our bodies, actions and emotions.
In the current stream of practices that suggest how technology makes possible the world even more analytically approachable and intimately tangible on both macroscopic and microscopic levels, Critical Design surfaces as a school of design that focuses particularly on interaction. While exploring the relationship between human beings and technology, Critical Design is concerned not only with the expressions, functions and communications made possible through new technologies, but also with events that exemplify how technology ultimately comes down to the social, cultural and ethical dimensions of our lives. Critical Design mediates on ideas beyond “new applications” of technology, to exploring their “implications.” According to its advocator, Anthony Dunne, Head of the Design Interactions Department at the Royal College of Art (RCA), Critical Design is a design approach that enables people to obtain a concrete understanding of abstract issues; it prompts people to think and change their consciousness, while inducing action and theory. It is antithetical to affirmative design, design that reinforces the status quo.
The difference between Critical Design and conceptual art based on critical inquiry is that the former “can be used” (in a broad sense, its “usability” as opposed to its“utility”). The artist Sputniko! says that a Critical Design product is something that makes one ponder whether or not he will actually use it.“Through this usable product,” she says, “the concept becomes a lot closer to people who see the work.” Essentially, the act of using something means acting upon the world in a concrete way.
Let us hereby question the purpose of this exhibition. Are we trying to explore “ways to touch the world” so as to change the environment (ルビ：world)? Or are we trying to change our consciousness? If we are talking about art, the latter would certainly seem like the right answer. Dunne's words on the role of Critical Design, however, is suggestive:
“This kind of design exists in a very interesting space between problem solving and commentary. The former tries to change or fix the world while the latter is directed at changing perception, and therefore values and behavior.”
Today we waver, more then ever before, between these two ends. This has generated the diversity of design, even in areas apart from Critical Design. The increasingly complex world brought about through globalization also plays a part in this change. First, our places in this world have become “layered.” Individuals today identify with multiple layers of belonging through social networking, as opposed to attributing oneself to conventional frameworks as in the past, for example, his country, community or organization. Second, we have the emergence of big data. With new technologies to capture and analyze massive amounts of data, we have now come to understand the world in ways we had never imagined before. Big data analysis is more about clarifying correlations than proving causalities. This overturns the cause and effect link, which is the standard principle in science, and we face questions about the prevailing norms that determine our decisions and ways of capturing reality. Where data itself, as well as the ways we use data are revolutionized, a different kind of knowledge – one obtained by surfing through the waves of correlations and guided by intuition – become important. Hence there is now a larger possibility that people's acts and information will influence and affect others beyond his intent.
Today we come across various approaches that may on the surface appear to be ordinary acts of collecting and researching data and information. Other practices may appear to be illustrations of trivial observations. However, these “pictures,” each designed to visualize the world, manifests a new kind of knowledge. Today, knowledge production in areas related to creative action are animately and reciprocally engaged with each other – we raise issues that develop into social actions, we make personal comments that expand into social commentary, and ultimately, these acts lead to actual engagement.
These various approaches will be discussed in the following three sections: 1) Data Visualization, 2) A New Relationship with Science, and 3) Methods that Touch Off a Shift of Perception.
”Bunny SmashーWays to Touch the World” Yuko Hasegawa (Excerpt from the catalog)