Site [Un]Seen 1.0 / by Kiersten Nash

The [un]certainty spawned by critical reflection is an integral part of the practice of [un]learning.° While the wonderland known as Art is no stranger to site-specific strategery, particularly that envisioned by Richard Florida and his creative capitalists, many individuals who identify themselves as artists have honed phenomenal capacities to transgress norms that have become culturally inscribed in our perceptual fields in order to provoke reflection by challenging our assumptions, in situ. As Foucault observed: "…by the madness which interrupts it, a work of art opens a void, a moment of silence, a question without answer, provokes a breach without reconciliation where the world is forced to question itself." From the subtle tilt of Serra's monumental arc to the destabilizing dominion of Sandback's delicate strings, art works to investigate, [dis]assemble, and [re]frame site as a complex and contradictory physiological network of [in]visible infrastructures and agents designed and performed in flux. So, while preparing for a discussion regarding the [in]visible narratives woven throughout our environment, I turned to artists for guidance.


Theory of Action

 

This may seem like a Deleuzian pool in which everyone drowns, however I can assure you: it's not. Rather this tactic asks individuals to investigate and [dis]assemble an unfamiliar environment in order to understand the embedded agents and corresponding affects. According to Walter Benjamin, "It is only through the intensification of everyday experiences that social change can occur." For the purposes of this assignment, I selected familiar environments that were not part of participants everyday with the assumption that the beliefs and bias embedded in the everyday inhibit individual's capacities to perceive the various actors and narratives woven into the infrastructure.

This exercise serves as a primer for the following week's titled In The Wild which asks individual's to repeat the same actions in the context of their everyday. Ultimately, this tactic, in addition to others explored this semester, seeks to expose latent environmental assumptions and unveil the structure, operations, and context of the corresponding infrastructures, so that individuals can translate this knowledge into innovative theories of action that manifest in action as critical environments or objects. Essentially to develop their own praxis.


Theory of Action, In Action

 

SITE [Un]SEEN: AN EXERCISE

Preliminary Reading
Lockton, Dan. “If…Design with Intent. 09 Feb. 2012.

View the following
Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project
Volkswagon: Piano Staircase
Improve Everywhere: Say Something Nice
Niklas Roy: My Little Piece of Privacy

Select one and write a brief summary reflecting on how the design elicits engagement by outlining the following:

Identify the specific points of engagement.
List the human and non-human components involved in the interaction.

Consider the underlying assumptions of the design.
What does the interaction require of the user and the environment? What affordances does the interaction provide for the ‘user’? And the environment? What is the sensorial hierarchy (i.e. which modality is engaged first, and second, third, etc)? What are the leading and lagging environmental and behavioral indicators? What are the political, social, economic, or environmental forces influencing the space, including individuals?

Diagram the interaction.
What is the dialogue between the user and the component? What is the user ‘saying’? What is the component ‘saying’? How was the conversation initiated? What are the explicit and implicit behaviors? What are the environmental conditions that might influence the interaction between the human and non-human agents, space, and time?

Speculate on the designers’ intended vs actual outcome.
Was the design adapted in use? If so, how? What are potential quantitative and qualitative units of analysis to evaluate the designer’s outcome?

Please note: I do not claim authorship for the following insights, but find them immensely helpful for fostering my own reflection. The work is cited as a means to correlate the conversations throughout the DSB studio and the evolution of [un]learning° as a praxis for explication.


 

My Little Piece of Privacy
Interpreted by Lana Nyguen and Linda Xin


Niklas Roy’s “My Little Piece of Privacy” was provocative in the sense that the curtain does exactly the opposite of what it is meant to do: instead of maintaining privacy, it promotes voyeurism. What is most dynamic about it is the constant dialectic between the user and the viewer. At the same time, the parties are not clearly defined as separate entities. Both parties play both roles. This ambiguity is what gives the work another dimension. The most obvious set of roles is the passerby as the user, and the person behind the window as viewer. The user’s (passerby’s) environment, the open space, is what puts him in a vulnerable position. He is not aware of the entire situation at first, and wants to view what is behind the window but cannot. At the same time the person behind the window knows everything and can view everything. He is in a closed space and therefore plays the more dominant role of the person in control.

However, the power can shift. This happens when the viewer on the outside starts to understand what is going on: that the curtain is motion sensing his movement. Once he discovers this, he is now just as aware of the entire situation as the person behind the window. Now the passerby becomes the one in control. He can decide to quickly move sideways and take a glimpse at what is behind the curtain.

The user on the outside has now become the viewer in control of the situation. The role of the environment has now changed as well. The closed space is now the vulnerable position. There is also a direct dialogue between the user (human component) and the curtain (non-human component). The human instigates the curtain to move. At the same time, the curtain instigates the human to move when the passerby sees it and decides to test what they saw. Both are making the other one act.

The sensory hierarchy involves 4 layers: body-mind-body-mind. At first the peripheral vision is engaged, a bodily awareness that leads to the passerby’s state of questioning what he just saw (mind). After this, the viewer tests his mind by moving his body, which then turns into a full mental awareness of the situation.

  Nyguen, Lana and Linda Xin. My Little Piece of Privacy: A Diagram. 2012.


Nyguen, Lana and Linda Xin. My Little Piece of Privacy: A Diagram. 2012.

 
 

The Weather Project
Interpreted by Louis Wright

 Wright, Louis.  The Weather Project: A Diagram . 2012

Wright, Louis. The Weather Project: A Diagram. 2012

 

Reflections

 


Less Is More The first seven weeks of the semester were primarily devoted to understanding the form and function of the University Center's blackwater, aircuity, and cogeneration systems. Two weeks ago the focus shifted. We were now ready to ask: how might we unveil the structure, operations, and context of these infrastructures to engage human and non-human agents in a dynamic dialectic toward sustainability?

Step 01: Scale out and begin to assemble the framework for each narrative. Title: Visible Infrastructures. Exercise: Using the attached north⁄ south exterior elevation of the University Center, each group was responsible for mapping the components of their respective systems.

Step 02: Time to add a little detail. Title: Sensing the Situation. Exercise: Using our senses, let’s illustrate the visible and invisible components within our narrative frameworks on the enclosed elevation and floor plan of a typical University Center dorm room. Repeat exercise from step 01, imagining you are a student navigating a University Center dorm spaces like the one below. What are the tangible and intangible components of the UC’s sustainable systems that you encounter—see, hear, taste, touch, smell? Consider walking into the kitchenette, what components of the black water system do you engage with while preparing lunch? What’s on your plate? What’s in your glass? Etc? What are the components are perhaps hidden from your immediate perception, ie buried in the floor, behind a wall, etc? Keep scale in mind—ginormous, miniscule, and everything in between. We are equal opportunity designers.

Each of the above exercises proved interesting. However, the insights generated from this exercise were far more complex, creative, and provocative. I believe this is due to the contrasting frameworks. In hindsight, the first two were incredibly prescriptive and left little margin for interpretation. On the other hand, the framework for this exercise is relatively open. The resulting text and visuals afforded individuals the opportunity to interpret the material based on their capacities. I consequently was afforded a more in depth understanding of who was comprehending what.

Users begone! Did I say 'user'? Yes—several times. And, not surprisingly, it has been repeated over and over and over again. Folks, meet Joe and Josephine—our quantified selves...