Read: Connectivity: Closeness and the Virtual

Date: September 29, 2015

Author: Patrick Sutczak

Credit: Mari Velonaki

Photo: George Voulgaropoulos*

One of the most important things CUSP does as both a concept and exhibition is its ability to explore an abundance of thought-provoking ideas.

Design through products, architecture, fashion, and interactivity, to name a few, alert us to the movements in modern thinking. Interdisciplinary collaborations are seeing creative intelligence thrive in a global dish of like-minded futurists. For most of us, we are happy to remain passive wondering what they will come up with next. Perhaps we as audience and consumer need to be more aware of the shifts and leaps in thinking in order to help steer where we want our future to go.

CUSP could be approached with a particular focus on the fusion of science, creativity and design, and how those who proposed the outlandish and fanciful would likely be championed as visionaries all too late within their lifetime – a simple concept, really. Do you remember the concept of cow farms in the sky with made possible with virtual reality? And what about living wallpaper? Once, those ideas were things of the future – the distant future. Except that these radical designs are no longer things of the future; they are ideas of the now that have every conceivable chance of changing our existence. It just takes time to disseminate these concepts into our everyday lives. CUSP does what it was conceived to do, and that is open up possibilities for public consumption and continue a conversation around what we might see tomorrow. With that, designing for the future also invites empathetic involvement from those who bear witness. What exactly is the future, who is creating it, and who are we making it for?

Some years ago Mari Velonaki’s Fish-Bird: Circle B – Movement B appeared. Innovative, interdisciplinary and captivating, her work suggested a point of acceptance in the human psyche, and in many ways it elicited sympathy from those who saw it. Undoubtedly, Fish and Bird were in love, but there was an excruciatingly apparent element present – they would never be together. Repeated audiences were witness to this while mediating the narrative and shaping it, reading messages that Fish and Bird deposited as texts onto the floor. Through a human language that could be understood, Fish and Bird had attracted empathy and a sense of understanding through robotics and intelligence, that, when coupled with emotion, transcended into something organic. There was something familiar at play; something relatable within our everyday lives, that echoed the audience’s emotional experiences in an abstract context.

By touching the skin of Velonaki’s Blue Iris – a collaborative work in progress as part of CUSP – thoughts immediately surface about alienation in the modern environment. There is a sense of disconnection, even though we live in a world more connected than ever before. Design is as much about questioning the shifts in the way we live as it is in simply designing for the way we live as a result. Blue Iris, in its conceptual beginnings proposes, a future where the walls around us know us, sense us and can communicate with us using intelligence. While the work is beautifully tactile and imaginatively progressive, it causes us to think. Perhaps coming home will not be to the arms of those we love, but to the flesh of our architecture; a highly deceptive organic replacement where sense of satisfaction and belonging are delivered virtually through the familiar stimulation of touch via the walls that are embracing us.

The question that is then proposed is if touch is fundamental to our everyday experience, as is capitalised in the ubiquity of haptic devices such as smartphones, and what is it that we need to touch in order to feel a sense of ease and comfort? Rather than have artificial intelligence serve our physical task-oriented needs, does the future of interdisciplinary technological design propose that we need those intelligences to mimic and attend to our emotions as well? Do we need human flesh, or a flesh; a simulacrum that responds in new and enticing ways to replace inherent desires and companionship. How often do we see a bus or train station abundant with people where those alone, and sometimes not, are staring into and interacting with their devices, presumably communicating with another person via the screen? Are the realms of public and private being skewed through invisible acts of affection, or through the experience of dissatisfaction in spaces of human density? With communication so concentrated on, or at least mediated through, it is difficult to read the world around us today through human and non-human interactions.

As we navigate our way through this new era of technology and connectivity, questions are necessary, but so are thoughts of utopian thinking. Through daring visions, increasing knowledge, design and technical capacity, the ability to undertake an idea-to-product is undoubtedly creating a new and more informed world, but at the same time, it also creates tension between capitalism, consumerism and culture.

Bluntly, it may be better for some to go through a process of being obsolete. The ability to communicate with our children via a device and to know they are safe is a modern marvel that comes with not only a price, but also a software life. Connectivity and digital intelligence mimics us – it gets old and dies with the onset of new thinking, new technologies, and new design. In order to benefit, we have to shell out to keep up, and that perhaps raises one of the challenges of advancing the way we live and interact within the capacity to actually realise ideas in unison with the creation of functioning prototypes for consideration or investment.

As CUSP demonstrates, contemporary Australian design is at the forefront of potential. CUSP satisfies in suggesting what can be and will be. From incorporating Aboriginal design into interior styling, to addressing the urgency of the national housing crisis, the artists, thinkers, and designers of CUSP excite with their visionary approaches to shaping how we live, how we move through the world, and how we do that together.

Patrick Sutczak.

*Blue Iris installation at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Mari Velonaki. Photo Credit: George Voulgaropoulos