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Helsinki Design Residency program’s theme for this year is “Intelligences”

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Helsinki Design Residency is a production of Helsinki International Artist Programme – HIAP in cooperation with Strelka Institute, Iaspis, Design Museum and Helsinki Design Week. The producer of the residency, Martin Born, shares his thoughts in the beginning of the program’s ninth edition.

Carol Hanisch’s essay on the feminist practice of “political therapy” was published in 1969 under the title “The Personal is Political.” Fifty years later, Tommi Vasko quotes the headline in his development of one of the types featuring in his essay “The Four Temperaments in Design.” Five months after reading his text, I encounter the statement again, central as it has been to the formation of my politics and practices since the 1990s, in the catalog of the Danish National Gallery’s exhibition “Everyday Desires: Dreams, Actions and Unity 1965-1975.”

One of the persistent impositions endured (and perpetuated) by design is the illusory and illogical modernism of the New, of a carte blanche, a white cube, innovation, a hero, a genius, a never-before and never-after, and the amnesic displacement of relevance it amounts to. What should be well apparent just from tracing Hanisch through the times is how as people and designers we are most simply filters, write/read media given to being imprinted with the outtakes the world coincidentally impresses on our limited attention, and to sounding them back, in a joint orchestral maneuver that teases out the Eigenfrequencies with which the world’s architectures of knowledge, for a moment, resonate. More than producing originality, designing is to play back the world onto itself, the harmonic exercise of a cosmic sonography. (See Alvin Lucier’s “I am Sitting in a Room” for more on this.)

Much in the way that Gilbert Simondon describes alienation to be the consequence of interrupting the evolution-in-correspondence of wo/man and machine by ascribing to the machine a defined, static function rather than continuously developing potentials, the fun to be had with this impersonal tape and echo machine is in the constant re-harmonization of its loop snippets to seek yet unplayed overtones that might excite another corner of the current (conceptual) universe.

Providing a space for such recompositions in design research and practice is one ambition of the Helsinki Design Residency program, that under the theme “Intelligences” is currently in its ninth edition. The program brings together practitioners and curatorial partners from across the terrain of contemporary design discourse to excite a moirée vocabulary of their different modi, media, forms and scales of observation, imaginary modeling and artifact production.

The residency’s 2020 participants Mikaela Steby Stenfalk, Mayumi Niiranen-Hisatomi and Maxim Spivakov, conversing for the time being digitally from their bases in Sweden, Finland and Russia, explore the notion of “intelligences” as a non-exclusively human, and non-exclusively linguistic-logical faculty.

Mikaela Steby Stenfalk: Physical manifestation of a YouTube search result. 2020.

Spivakov’s research focuses on the imaginary figurations that govern the relationship of human and machine. Departing from the mid-1920s sci-fi novel “Horror Machines” by soviet author Vladimir Orlovsky, in which a wicked inventor plots to terrorize humanity by machinic rays inciting uncontrollable emotions, Spivakov examines the affective compatibility or complicity of wo/man and machine. Updating conceptions in the posthumanist tradition, such as Donna Haraway’s seminal figure of the Cyborg (1985), Spivakov pursues the formulation of a relationship built not on the diagnosis of a defect or lack (humankind’s inability to survive without technical prostheses) but one instead seen as a joint cosmic exploration conducted by a wo/man-machine-ensemble. An approach by which, to circle back once more, the space of Hanisch’s statement would seem as one disclosed by an early cyborgian coalition of wo/men with, for example, contraceptive technologies, a structure of apparent resonance with the technophily of contemporary xeno-feminism.

Maxim Spivakov: Leon Theremin playing a burning 5G mast. 2020. Video, 1’53”

Another script recording as we speak onto the contemporary register of design is “practice-based research,” the influx of artistic and other projective modes of practice into the echelons of academic knowledge creation. Welcome and necessary to prevent research from falling blind to the critical impacts of its material substrates, it must be figured still as an invitation, that is, a sanctioning of projective practices by practices of reflection, in the latter’s domain, on the latter’s terms. It is the teleological recalibration of practices previously committed to creating (material) particulates onto the creation of (conceptual) universals, in another subordination of the material irrational form to its convertability into rational code. It is not science read as poems. It is not the recognition of time as time, but another option for ex-temporalization. In this sense, a concentration on material, time and the act of material, as Mayumi Niiranen-Hisatomi presents in her exploration of the time-taking ceramic repair technique of Kintsugi, is set on a wholly different terrain.

Mayumi Niiranen-Hisatomi: Repaired Arabia bowl. 2019-2020.

All the while, Youtube’s algorithm may be the central audience appreciating the development of the informal realm of tutorial-based education that is the focus of Mikaela Steby Stenfalk’s project. Entangled with the physical delivery system of the devices they are viewed on, the ecology of apps surrounding them digitally, the observant algorithms sanctioning their absence, presence and sequencing, the renegotiation of interior and exterior space induced by them or the psychology and strategies at play in constructing followership and identities of having-followership, the video tutorial unpacks a host of political, ontological and epistemological issues. Stenfalk pursues these in her research with emphasis on audio-visual rhetorics and a perspective on the field as an emergent public archive of (design) practices.

Mikaela’s, Mayumi’s and Maxim’s researches will continue over summer and, hygienic circumstance permitting, presented during Helsinki Design Week 2020 in form of a panel discussion on September 10, 9:00 to 12:00 at the Design Museum and a physical installation whose shape will be announced as it evolves along with the projects.

Helsinki Design Residency is a production of Helsinki International Artist Programme – HIAP in cooperation with Strelka Institute, Iaspis, Design Museum and Helsinki Design Week, curated by the author. The Russian facet of the program is supported by the Embassy of Finland in Moscow and the Finnish Institute in St. Petersburg.

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