It is always a pleasure to visit Central Saint Martins to see the graduates from MA Material Futures. A challenging course, which prides itself on driving forward innovation through critical discourse, future-thinking and cross-disciplinary approaches. Students are confronted with complex issues during the 2-year program with the hope to nurture imaginative, resourceful designers who will be equipped with the skills to design for a better tomorrow. A collection of provocative projects are showcased designed to delight and surprise, create emotional resonance and elicit debate around critical future concerns.
CULTIVATING THE BODY
Pure Human: Tina Gorjanc’s Pure Human is a speculative project, showcasing a collection of commercial leather products cultivated from cells extracted from the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Pure Human raises serious ethical concerns around the biological patent laws of harnessing human genetic materials for commercial use. Currently The Human Tissue Act (2004) only addresses the handling of bodily materials for medical purposes. There is very little protection of our personal biological material; bioengineering companies can obtain ‘raw’ materials from patients without their consent.
Super Human: From cultivating the body to craft luxury goods to human enhancement to create super humans. Sin-thetic Superpowers by Nicky Vu envisages a future where cognitive enhancements have become the norm. As technology evolves, sleep becomes a thing of the past. We become dependent on stimulants to meet the demands of our non-stop lifestyle. Recent studies show that this is already happening, 1 out of 5 students in the UK use drugs such as Modafinil, Ritalin and Adderall to aid their studies. A tongue-in-cheek project with its colourful 1950s kitsch aesthetics and iconic super hero symbols designed to raise awareness and debate around the ethical and moral issues of abusing stimulants to meet society’s expectations.
There is much debate surrounding whether a jobless future is on the cards. We are already seeing how robots are undertaking some of the more menial tasks such as automated checkouts to advancing to more skilled roles such as driverless cars. As technology evolves, machines become more in demand than their human counterparts. According to the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane, he predicts that half the UK labour market could be automated within the next 20 years.
Automated Futures: By using machine learning and a genetic algorithm, Charlotte Nordmoen has created a robot designer that replaces the role of an artisan. An industrial robot equipped with a human finger is designed to craft a collection of ceramics with a ‘human touch’. Although the project touches upon the future of unemployment, Nordmoen speculates on what does this mean for our notion of craft as something unique and handmade, in opposition to machine-made? What does artificial intelligence mean for design and authorship? And can machines ever truly replace us? A pertinent topic that is causing trepidation within the artisan community; the project echoes sentiments of Huddersfield graduate Tamsyn Ainsworth project ‘Silent Designers’ where designers begin to question their role within a techno future.
Digital Self: Pamm Hong has created a speculative platform that transforms a user’s Internet usage into an abstract digital organism. Set in the peak of digital reliance, a virtual world is crafted by the users digital footprint. The data collected feed the digital organism, interactions on social media, shopping habits and browsing history all contribute to the growth of the users digital self, informing its mood and reactions as its responds to the data, creating a personal profile of the user. According to Hong, the amount of data feedback we as users provide will ultimately create hyper-personalised algorithms that will channel our consumption in favour of corporations. This will enable users to measure the extent of their online consumption and empower them to take control and shape their digital future self.
Similar to Hong but focused on a more political angle RCA MA Design Interactions graduate Thomas Pearson’s project ‘Inside the Blackbox’ speculates on a future where a political system is driven by data, citizens have created a digital self that has been trained to debate and vote on their behalf in the form of a digitally mediated direct democracy. A growing area of interest with both consumers and industry alike, with the end goal of learning more about a user and how we can exploit this data for future use.
The future of healthcare has always been a prominent topic particularly with the growth in digital technologies; projects emerging from this area examine the future of 3D printed biological parts to how big data can create personalised healthcare. Recent reports in the news, highlight growing concerns on an antibiotic resistance future, which is becoming less effective from patient overuse and its application in raising livestock (see our report here). In response to this, designers are exploring alternate methods that enable a patient to self-diagnose and self-care. Empowering people with the confidence and information to understand their biological bodies and giving them greater control over their health.
Symbiotic Wellbeing: Giulia Tomasello’s project Future Flora is designed to empower women to become more in tune with their own personal health and wellbeing, leading to the prevention of common reoccurring infections such as Candida. 90% of our body is composed of different microorganisms, all of which are part of our natural skin flora. These microorganisms have a symbiotic relationship with our health. But due to extensive use of chemical based products, we are not only removing bad bacteria from our bodies but also stripping it of the beneficial ones. This means we are more susceptible and vulnerable to future infections and viruses. Future Flora is a living culture pad, an agar jelly-based element designed to worn much like a sanitary towel, which is embedded with living bacteria that help to balance vaginal flora. By wearing the pad, the healthy bacteria grows on the surface of the infected area and replaces the missing flora in the vagina epithelium.
Intra-Body Communication: Fellow Student Lesley-Ann Daly also examines the future of healthcare. Her project explores the future of wearable technologies. Speculating on a future where sensory implants will enable people to listen in on their own body’s wellbeing. With increasing popularity for wearable technologies such as FitBit and Jawbone, people are becoming more conscious and proactive in the monitoring of their body to safeguard their wellbeing. As technology becomes increasingly smaller and more accurate, this future does not seem so far fetched. Daly’s Anthropomorphic Sensory Augmentation collection showcases three future implants to monitor different parts of the body, a cardiac monitor, a nutrition tracker and a toxicity evaluator. The implants are embedded into the body and they continuously track and monitor your physiological health. This data is then fed back to the user through an auditory mediator, an in-ear device worn like a pair of headphones. The mediator works by enhancing the wearers hearing, enabling them to tune into the various tones and sounds of the body. Providing the user tangible data to recognise physical health signals and respond accordingly.
Post:-Meat: Drawing comparisons between dulse, an edible red seaweed and pork, Sea Meat proposes a future that exploits the production of seaweed to replace meat in a post-meat world. Eating meat is no longer sustainable due to the environmental impact of meat production, however there is a whole culture behind rearing, processing and cooking meat that would be lost if we suddenly eliminated meat entirely. Examining the art of butchery in a post-meat world, designer Hanan Alkouh borrows the language, aesthetics and semiotics of meat production to portray a future where the culture of meat production is retained but only the meat itself is replaced. Alkouh replicates butcher shop visuals and faux carcasses created from dulse seaweed (a product when fried tastes like bacon), combined with the smell of rotting flesh to create a provocative display. The objective is to point out the collective social values and innate behaviours tied to the skills around meat production that would be jeopardised in a post-meat world, to ensure their adaptive proliferation.
Image Credit: Left -Tom Mannion, Right - Vic Philips
Post-Fishing: From post-meat to post-fishing, Ines Marques project proposes that fishermen become custodians of the sea. Fishing is essential to a fisherman’s income, but overfishing has impacted on the ecology of the sea, leading to depleting phytoplankton. This in turn has led to a decrease in EU quota in how much fish local fisherman can catch, a continuous, negative cycle with no benefit to either party. Phytoplanktons are the foundation of the aquatic food chain and support almost all life forms in the ocean. However, overfishing has destroyed much of their natural habitats that phytoplankton live on to survive. In response to this, Marques has devised a system that encourages local fishermen to nurture these essential organisms. For every 20 kilos of fish they catch, the fishermen are encouraged to release 20 litres of phytoplankton, creating a holistic approach of caring and giving back to the ocean what we take from it.
Image Credit: Tom Mannion