The destroyer of worlds
I am a destruction, a devastator, someone who culls without thought or care. Heck, I wasn’t even aware of it, so how could I stop doing it? This weeks delve into all things Woodward discusses our place within human and non-human worlds, and how our actions, however small we may think they are, can have wider repercussions. As with previous sessions, hold onto your pants dear reader, this about to get deep. I shall explain.
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon
Toss a stone into the middle of a the largest lake in the world and run to the edge – don’t ask me how you can run that quickly, this is all theoretical so shut and just do it(!) – and watch what happens. Firstly the stone will sink to the bottom of the lake. It may hit a fish on the way down, it might then disturb a few stones on the bottom of the lake that were a home for a few tiny crabs, it might then roll to the side and squash a plant. Big deal. A fish is dead, a few crabs have to find a new home and a plant will slowly die. Who cares? On the surface, ripples concentrically form from the splash of the stone as it entered the water. These ripples start as large rings, moving quickly away from the epicenter of the splash. Hours later, were sat at the edge of the lake waiting for something to happen; come on, I threw that stone in ages ago, something should have happened by now?!?!” Then, at the edge of the lake, a tiny, insignificant ripple slowly crawls to us and then splashes against the soft bank of the lake. I, a human, have made this happen for my own personal gain. Sick, right?
Bored now. Lets throw a sofa in the water and see what happens.
The Grim Reaper
Design theorist and philosopher, Tony Fry states that no act of creation can avoid also being an act of destruction. Let us apply this theory to the stone throwing idiot from above, and see what happens. Before the stone had a chance to sink to the bottom, it hit a fish on the head. Accurate stone throwing skills, I know. More importantly, that fish probably tried to swim on, looking for food to help sustain itself, but slowly had to rest at the bottom of the lake, dazed. Sometime later, the fish dies. Sad story. The stone also hit some rocks at the bottom, disturbing a shelter for some crabs, forcing them to evacuate and find a new home. Again, sad times. Finally, the stone sat on top of a plant, bending its stem and killing the plant. Seriously, this is like War and Peace, enough with the sadness. At every stage of this stones journey, destruction was rife, all for the (human) creation of fu:; to cause ripples in the water. Cameron Tonkinwise, on his discussion of design, or rather undesign, states that ‘A tree must die for it to be the material cause of a wooden table…[where]…each plank is an autopsical slice, as dead as it is unnatural.’ For us, as humans, to ‘have’ a table at home, something has to die. This does not mean, however, that it is just the tree that has to be felled, to make the table. Oh no. Think deeper, think of the falling stone; what else dies with the tree? ‘The tree is a wider part of a wider home, an ecology, such that its removal…will impact all that is interdependent with that ecology’. The falling stone killed a fish, made some crabs homeless and destroyed a plant, just for some ripples. Like the felling of a tree for a table, more than one ‘thing’ has to suffer.
I Am Paint.
As a task, to see how interlinked everything is, we got into teams and looked at how wide a field of projection a small tube of oil based paint would run to. Here is my terrible mind map (it is a fair representation of my mind, however; messy):
The crux of it was, the paint tube consists of a tube, (plastic, metal and paper), and the paint (oil and colours). These are made in individual factories which produce various forms of waste. These factories need trucks to deliver the raw material. These trucks need to be made in other factories which make more waste and need more power to run them. The trucks need people to drive them. The truckers need food. Cows are in fields next to factories so the cows breath in toxic fumes and drink contaminated water. The cows are turned into meat (?!) and then put on a truck to get to the store to be bought by the truck driver who eats the contaminated meat….and so on, down to dust. Phew.
Size is important
What does all this mean? Ripples in water, squirrels having to find a new tree to hang out in, throwing a sofa in a lake? It is all a matter of scale and the circular way in which the world works. I say works, I mean how we force the world to be.
Think back to the stone in the lake scenario. That fish who, like Jesus was stoned to death, couldn’t have imagined that something the size of a family car would come crashing down on its head one morning. That is the type of scale we are talking about, in human terms. Think of the crabs having to evacuate their stoney haven. I have chosen my words wisely, as evacuate would be correct. For the crabs, a boulder crashing into their pebbly home would be akin to a jumbo jet crashing into a semi-detached house in Roath. Devastating.
Jakob von Uexkull discusses this matter of scale in a very pleasing way. For him, a tree is his muse. He states that to a fox, ‘the oak tree has come to mean a solid roof, which protects the family from the hazards of the weather’. To an ant, each groove of the bark would be a mountain to climb. We need to consider things from the perspective of non-human things. We need to inhabit their many Umwelten, (an Umwelt is (in ethology) the world as it is experienced by a particular organism). We speak the language of human, (some of us, just barely), but we have never bothered to learn the language of the trees or the fox, or the fish or the bacteria in the water. We only consider the human. The tree, for instance, is potential timber to us, a way of offsetting our carbon footprint or a part of a table, but to a bird it is a home, a woodlouse it is something bigger than they could ever imagine. A woodlouse, in its Umwelt, could not conceive the scale of the tree as a whole unit, only its cracks, crevices and creases. It doesn’t care that there are branches above or roots below ground, it just cares about the bits it can see, feel and touch. Our ripples on the water would feel like a tsunami to a water spider, chilling on the surface of the lake.
Would a woodlouse care
Back to our old friend the paint tube from our earlier discussion; we have been asked to discuss the paint tube from the perspective – the umwelt – of a woodlouse. Crazy, huh. We went through many iterations of what the woodlouse would think of the smell of the paint, the texture of the metal tube, the scale of the object and the sticky nature of any spilled paint; but then we thought, hang on, this is a woodlouse! How much energy would it bother to expel on a massive discussion over paint? So we figured the woodlouse – who we called Steve – would simply poke the tube with his antennae and think: hmm, that thing is stinky, seems a bit foreign, by blimey that baby is MASSIVE! Best response? Tuck and roll away. Better to be safe than sorry. God work, Steve.
Jesus, I’m thirsty
How small can we go with this? How microscopic can we consider an Umwelt could possibly go? Until we are down to dust. Micro dust. Abram states that language is a human property; we do not talk to the world underfoot. Well, some crazy guy has made a living out of talking to water! Yes, that’s right dear reader, we are talking about talking to water.
Dr Masaru Emoto believes that ‘All things vibrate, and they vibrate at their own frequencies…[and this means]…that everything is creating sound. As a sound is created, there is a master listener to receive the sound: water. Water faithfully mirrors all the vibrations created in the world, and changes these vibrations into the form that can be seen with the human eye.’ Emoto created an experiment where people spoke to water to see if it had an effect on crystal formation when the water was frozen. It did. Positive words – who’s a good water – gave ‘pleasing’ shapes, whilst negative phrases – naughty, naughty water – gave more ‘broken and deformed crystals.’ This is a judgement on whether you perceive the shapes to be good or bad, but either way, it is an interesting discussion into the Umwelt of water and the language of human and non-human things.
We are not tune with things anymore, we just don’t listen. The world is shouting at us, but we have drowned it out over years of being ‘superior humans’. We need to shut up. It was proposed that as designers, we are the destroyers of the world, so to speak. That by designing so-called, new and better things, we are making existing things redundant. Take the new iPhone 7, for instance. Some genius has decided to ditch the headphones jack stating it will enable designers to make thinner and more exciting phones. Wow, a thinner phone that will shatter to pieces when it is placed in a pocket so that I have to throw it out and buy a new one, lining the coffers of Apple even more. Yay. By making this subtle change, the human is affected because we are unable to charge the phone and listen to music at the same time. Stupid design. If we want to use our ‘old’ headphones, we have to buy an adaptor – iDapt? – that will make the new connection, creating a new product line but also a avenue for more resources to be burned away, and more waste to be created. If we decide to buy new, Apple headphones, then millions of headphones will end up in landfill. iGenius.
At the beginning of this blog, I said about tossing a stone in the lake was boring, why not try a sofa next time, to up the ante. This is what Apple have just done by ‘designing’ something ‘better’. They refused to listen to the language of the water and just tossed a million headphones into the lake. Think of the ripple that will cause on the surface for us humans to see. Sick, right? Maybe take a look underneath the surface of the water to see what is happening to the crabs new pebble home.
A beaker of water as subject: Create an object, installation, image, performance (or whatever is appropriate) for a beaker of water. Open brief, do what you want. You must have a rationale.
I propose colour. This is an object, installation, image and performance, depending on the scale you chose to observe from. Tip some ink into a small beaker of water and watch it perform a dance in the micro currents and vibrations of the water. Take a photograph, every single microsecond, and each still is markedly different to the previous one. Zoom in closer and see the atoms of the liquid interacting with the atoms of the ink. Freeze the water and see what crystal are formed due to the foreign substance that is the ink. Stand back as a human and see the object that is the beaker of watery ink and see what we could make out of that; a painting, a dyed tshirt. Leave it there for millennia and see how the surrounding objects have jumped into the liquid, how the liquid has evaporated into the surrounding floorboards, curtains and the bones of the person who once poured the ink into the beaker. Stupid human. Should have just let water be water.