Technology is changing life so dramatically and at such a headspinning rate, it can be challenging to find the time to breathe - let alone figure out the implications for "the future." Nonetheless, that's the role of the well-trained designer according to the 80s design theorist Victor Papanek, who predicted that "given the way technology’s transformative effects were accelerating so quickly, simply making sense of all the change was what a designer's job eventually would become."
Which Design Academy Eindhoven gets. "The Academy has set up its educational model based on social phenomena with man as the focal point," they note. "Design is in the service of man and society and social developments are the most important mainsprings for innovative design. Designers who graduate from the Academy are particularly gifted conceptualists." And part of training designers to be aware of the social implications of their designs, means training their charges horizontally.
So they sent some of them to collaborate with BioArt Laboratories, a local think-tank that pioneers crossovers in science, nature and art. The purpose? To help the next gen of design talent become better acquainted with the cutting-edge of biotech materials and understand how to adopt - and adapt - these new techniques into their work. (image)
This Living Mirror project is a fabulous example. Using bacteria able to swim along the Earth's magnetic field, students Laura Cinti and Howard Boland created an interactive art installation which changes the field, causing the bacteria to rotate. The light scatters and appears as a mesmerizing shimmer within a liquid, creating a "living" mirror.
Just as another liquid, water, acted as the mirror in which Narcissus of Greek myth fell in love with his own image - drawing him in and eventually drowning - so the Living Mirror acts as "a reminder of how we continue to immerse ourselves in similar mirrors as we extend our identity into the virtual."
And issues of identity lie at the heart of fashion, not just as a means of protecting ourselves from the environment, but defining everything from how we see the world - and our place within it. Interestingly, our brains aren't the only way we think; rather, we also learn about concepts that are abstract via our bodies, called embodied cognition. Embodied cognition, what we think because of what we physically experience, also extends to the clothing we wear.
For example, imagine you're carrying an official-looking clipboard. Researchers have long known that it will most likely make anyone you come in contact with believe you to be smarter, but what new embodied cognition research is discovering is that the person carrying the clipboard (you) will view themselves differently as well. In one fascinating experiment lead by Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Columbia Business School, around 60 undergraduates were randomly assigned to wear either their street clothes or a white lab coat. They were then tested on how often they noticed incongruities, including the word "red" appearing in the color green. Compared to those in regular clothes, those in the white lab coats made half as many errors! "Clothes invade the body and brain," adds Galinsky, "putting the wearer into a different psychological state." (image)
In short: put on certain clothes, play a different role - and change how you see yourself in the world. Change your own perception of your abilities - and therefore yourself.
Because of how embodied cognition controls our sense of self, it is vital that designers understand our our biological context. “I predict the integration of more biological systems into our immediate environments,” says BioArt's Jalia Essaidi, noting that "this collaboration [with the Eindhoven Academy] is helping to define the way forward into a world where more of our environment is alive and based on biological systems." To underscore this hard-to-pin-down yet definitive shift, highlights of the collaborations were featured in a recent show in Milan called Eat Shit.
"Food is life," they explain. "Input leads to output. So it makes sense to also examine one of foods stinkiest consequences – shit and waste. Shit is your printout, the great revealer of a person’s health and culture. And to shout Eat Shit is to hurl a protest against contemporary realities, which leave people divided and often-times hungry." (image)
Cheeky, yes, but attention-grabbing - which is vital, if we're to grasp how the speculative world science can be used to help society better interact and cope with its own needs. Particularly around thorny issues involving the topic of life and when it begins. “Science provides us models to understand the nature of reality,” continues Essaidi. “Especially in biotechnology, these models are vital to understand the workings of the materials you are handling. Bacteria, cells, DNA they are all invisible to the naked eye.” And yet incredibly misunderstood by the general public. "A brain scan may reveal the neural signs of depression, but a Beethoven symphony reveals what that depression feels like,’ adds Essaidi, quoting Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize-winning American neuropsychiatrist who specializes in how the brain's neurons store memories. "Both perspectives are necessary if we are to fully grasp the nature of the mind, yet they are rarely brought together."
(image from Metropolis by Fritz Lang)
- Lesley Scott
Actively embracing the future - from technology to traditional gender roles - with a desire to make it fashionable and timely is a signature of the Futurenetic fashion tribe. For more of my posts about this tribe, CLICK HERE. To learn more about each of fashion's four mega-tribes that I track, START HERE.