Workshop report by Lorenzo Gerbi
Posted: 17 February 2017
Workshop report by Lorenzo Gerbi
On Friday February 10th, the Baltan basement turned into a future-telling lab where artists, designers, architects, scientists and science fiction writers built alternative possible worlds for an afternoon. The workshop, hosted by our Economia resident artist Monique Grimord, explored the methodology of fictional world building, through which Monique developed her TerraEconomics world and artwork, that will be exhibited during the festival (28-30 April).
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Inspired by thinkers and makers paving the speculative movement, such as Dunne and Raby’s United Micro-Kingdoms, Donna Haraway’s Speculative Fabulation, Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, and Andrew Friend and Sitraka Rakotoniaina’s VVFA, Monique Grimord created a collaborative exercise of play-acting, dialogue, improvisation and fabulation.
As a premise to the collaborative exercise, two fundamental concepts were addressed to better explain the context where it originated: speculative fabulation and reverse archaeology. The first, according to the definition of Robert Scholes, an American literary critic and theorist, is "fiction that offers us a world clearly and radically discontinuous from the one we know, yet returns to confront that known world in some cognitive way.” The purpose of the exercise is to design for "unreality", for a world that could have been, but it isn't, without any utopian or dystopian connotation. In doing so, it's important to bring back our speculative world to our actual reality and confront it with today's systems, values and contexts, in such a way that the speculation becomes instrumental. The term reverse archaeology, instead, looks at archaeology as a retroactive way to define our future: instead of focusing on the material remains (such as fossil relics, artifacts, and monuments) of past human life, reverse archaeologists study that of eventual human life. With the same attitude of archaeologists, who are building stories and worlds around the found artifacts, in a reverse approach workshop participants were asked to develop worlds and stories to be then translated in artifacts / concepts which will populate that speculative world.
The starting point and requirement of this workshop is that invented artifacts and systems should eventually be able to populate the fictional realm of TerraEconomics; “Imagine a future world where nature would dictate our financial value system. In our fictional world, nations are using an algorithm to determine the value of everything by measuring its negative impact on the earth. It uses diagnostic globally placed sensors to measure the damage of extraction and pollution, and according to that data, it revalues commodities, and all of the objects and materials that surround us. No longer is the value of goods determined by the invisible forces of supply and demand, but by the flux of the natural environment.”
To get acquainted with the TerraEconomics world, participants were asked to divide in small groups of 2-3 people to imagine few Earth diagnostics and what they would measure. The Earth was divided in 4 main environments on a scheme taped on a wall: oceans, forests, atmosphere, land. For each of them, participants placed their ideas in a utopian or dystopian area of the scheme, according to the connotation they believed they had. Drones measuring the ozone hole, noise pollution, wearable forest, pollution-nomadism, de-mapping and the Anthropocene, were some of the ideas which came out in this phase.
But what would be the characters who populate TerraEconomics? What are their goals? Seven groups were created, seven characters and seven goals were random assigned to our fictional-builders who had to engage in an archaeological research of found materials online to enrich their characters and then create a small biography for them. We met the founder of Bitcoin, a destructive urbanist, a stick figure named Ternence and few terrArists among the TerraEconomics population.
How would these characters interact with the fictional elements of the Earth themes defined in the first chapter? How would they become part of their daily life? What would they value or dislike? These questions triggered interactions between the world and its inhabitants, helping to better shape each other’s identities. After this step, the characters, with their set of values and defined beliefs, were ready to meet and confront each other on a speed dating session: in 10 minutes, they had to imagine different scenarios in which they would most probably conflict or collaborate.
Each character / group collected enough interactions at this point to start selecting some of them and go more in depth. In the fifth chapter of the workshop, participants were asked to focus on an interaction that intrigued them and ideate around it several artifacts that would exist in this story. What if…? Why? What is it? How does it work? Those were the questions which facilitated the artifacts creation. The most promising artifacts were then turned into narrative objects, accompanied by a background story: objects that are narrative because they describe the story through their form and function.
The seven resulting narrative objects were finally presented and shared with all the participants.
We entered a world where urbanists would have license to destroy entire neighborhoods with the power of nature; where the same nature would be taken care of with drones, able to deliver spores, nutrients, chemicals where needed; a world infested with Slimenet molds that would enable communication between the different infected species; a world in which connecting with nature is simply as sticking a walking stick into the ground; where our individual environmental impact is visualized by a colored aura that surround all of us; a fictional world called TerraEconomics that you will be able to preview during Economia, before, we hope, it will eventually come true.