From Geeks to Batman; popular culture to Doc Martens, Constellation, level four has certainly taken us on quite a journey. Initially, I was quite sceptical over the relevance to many of the proposed topics – Sonic Arts(?) – and concerned that a third of the course was dedicated to this pursuit, but I must admit, I have come out pleasantly surprised. Allow me to expand.
Keynote lectures provided us a virtual smorgasbord of topics, changing week upon week, and opening up some interesting debates: What truly is masculinity? When is an image, truly an image? Is Gotham City more real than New York City? To the later: no…yes…maybe. It was proposed in the lecture entitled, Invisible Cities, that when we travel to a famous city, we only see the parts that the tourist board wants us to see; that we never witness the true heart of the city, beit a good heart or bad. Gotham, on the other hand – for those not in the know, it is where Batman resides – broadcasts all of its grisly underbelly, the bad bits, the roughness of its citizens; the negative side of things. Does this just mean that one city displays a bad, dark narrative, whereas the other shows a more grand or happy version, or are we just seeing two sides of the same coin? An interesting postulation, but what does this have to do with product design? Moving further into the proposition, we discussed the concept of the city as a ‘home’, not a single address, but the whole city as, ‘home’; one that has no specified location, that cannot be tangibly touched. Obviously, we know we can actually find the city and live within it, but the city itself, the character of the city is harder to fathom, it is much less tangible. This is the point, this is the relatable link, the character of something. The indefinable quality that makes something just right. We can make a product that perfectly fits the brief, is beautiful to look at and does its job with sublime ease, but if it is without that certain something – the character – then it’s just another collection of components arranged in a useful way. Without that character, we will never form a relationship with it. Interesting start.
It can be delayed no longer, onto the (so-called), black sheep of the family: Sonic Arts. Along with many of my fellow peers, I had much scepticism as to the relevancy of a lecture on musical theory and its place within the school of art and design. Music is so influential within the arts, but product design? Alexandros gave an impassioned presentation, detailing the history of music, the creation of new musical instruments and the people who are most revered within their field. A single phrase stuck with me: ‘An orchestra is like a factory’. This has been paraphrased from the original lecture, but it sent me on a journey of discovery. I started to think of heavy metal music – Black Sabbath specifically – and how that genre of music had been born out of the monotonous, repetitive, heavy sound of industrial metal forming machines, banging and grinding away. This relentless rhythm and thrum of these machines formed the backbone sound of a new genre of music – heavy metal. From the most uninspiring of places – a heavy metal factory in Birmingham – creativity blossomed. This mirrored my feelings on the Sonic Arts lecture: from a seemingly unusual starting point, (musical theory), I came out with the realisation that creativity, pioneers of new beginnings, can stem from any source. Perhaps there is something to these constellation lectures after all.
Focusing on the longer, chosen topics – specifically, Creativity and Cognitive Development in Art and Design – I found it fascinating to delve deep within such an expansive and fascinating subject matter. Exploring our relationship with materials – how we are all equal partners in a dance of form – the scintillating concept of a truly ‘private language’, onto the way we educate our children. As a product designer in training, the segment dedicated to childrens educational toys seemingly has all the components needed to satisfy someone within this field: materiality, interactivity, shelf appeal and so on. It could be argued that this, from a product designer’s point of view, should be an obvious highlight, but this is simply not the case. This later module has been a highlight in its entirety. Delivered with passion and knowledge, but also in an open, inquisitive way, allowing students from various disciplines, with wide-ranging points of view, to engage and interact with the subject matter. I could absorb all of the theories raised, the wide ranging subject matter and apply it to my own field. To sound cliched, it challenged my convention.
Constellation, it has been a journey through light and dark. For some parts, it was truly fascinating – the concept of a private language – whilst other segments were more of struggle, requiring illumination to see the meaning within the concepts. I believe this is the point, the raison detre, to Constellation: to shine a light on concepts we would never have explored under our own volition, but also, to look deep within the darkness of the topics we struggle to comprehend, and look for the light switch. We have been asked to dig down to the core of the concepts presented, to really try to understand the link between this and our chosen field. If it was presented as easily digestible, bite-sized chunks of information, tailored made for our chosen way of thinking, there would be no challenge, no self discovery, no need to dig to find that certain something within that lights a bulb above our heads.
Constellation, it is an odd title for a module, but I understand it now: if we widen our gaze, look to the stars, explore the darkness and the light, we may come out slightly bleary eyed, but we will come out more informed and with a grasp of the bigger picture.