Revaluation & appropriation
‘Attentive discussion’ around notions of resilience
A suggestion that Resilience is a vitally important strategy immediately provokes a critical response in me. Resilience to me suggests suffrage and repellence, a defence position while at war. A dam stoically holding back a flood. A ‘pliable’ entrepreneur ready to ride the market. A battered wife trying to cope. An ambitious jobseeker, willing to lie on his CV, if that us what it takes. A community determined to retrench once the hurricane passes through. It suggests to me a short-term response to adversity from which there is no guarantee the human spirit will survive. Resilience tends to run out.
Okay, let’s accept that being resilient and willing to change is sometimes good for us. But changing your mobile phone every six months is downright irresponsible. Is redundancy really desirable? A dedicated follower of fashion may adhere to frequent radical transformations but is this lifestyle sustainable? An evolutionary biologist would cite bacteria, rats, cockroaches and termites as adaptable experimenters but should mankind seek to emulate these stoic little survivors? Mary Shelley wrote the apocalyptic The Last Man in 1826 warning of technological excess and the questionable value of survival. In Greek mythology Phoenix, the resplendent bird, is constantly reborn from its own ashes. (The Phoenix, incidentally, is the symbol of Beirut, a city weak from constant bombardment). I propose that adaption and reproductive success may matter less than collective intelligence and empathetic ferocity.
‘… preservation is more desirable during this current period of unprecedented exponential change, than abolition and regeneration. I wish to play a Caretaker in this project, concentrating on maintenance as a strategy for anticipating the future.’
I was attracted to the CoR Project to argue the case that genuinely valuable assets are pretty rare, that they need identifying and treasuring in order to pervade for generations. I wish to argue from an ‘anti-design’ position which insists that preservation is more desirable during this current period of unprecedented exponential change, than abolition and regeneration. I wish to play a Caretaker in this project, concentrating on maintenance as a strategy for anticipating the future. I am seeking to transform public perception of a Luddite and a Conscientious Objector, celebrating their ability to see the ethical dimensions of a bigger picture. (The Luddites, of course, were the 19th-century textile workers who protested against newly developed labour-saving machinery introduced during the Revolution, which threatened to replace artisans with less-skilled, low-wage laborers).
Seeking a permaculture
I was attracted to the CoR Project as a result of three related projects that I have undertaken at the London College of Communication. In 2011, I established Conscientious Communicators with Tara Hanrahan at the LCC. It was formed to develop and consolidate a community of practice around environmental and social creativity. It is an informal cross-disciplinary group of students, staff and Industry practitioners who explore sustainability and social responsibility in practice and within the curriculum. I am proud to say that we have now successfully established a diverse community at LCC of involved practitioners (filmmakers, designers, journalists, designers) and are very inspired to be sharing and developing the ethical & sustainable ideas and motivations that we have in common.
Last February I curated another Green Week of events and intervention entitled: Survival. Through a project called Critical Mass, it looked at: historic communities who had rejected consumerism, at what Future Pharmacy might look like, at Paleo fitness and primary play, at Dark Cities and Reverse Archaeology. Exploring ‘survival methodologies’ encouraged LCC students and staff to create bio-composites, to eat insects, take part in an immersive installation entitled ‘Small Global’, to follow the Folk calendar, to rewild the Elephant & Castle and to return by feral techniques to basic principles of Permaculture. Reflection on this combination of experiences allows me to understand my current position.
In 2012, I was invited by Neville Brody, (before his appointment as dean of School at the RCA) to take part in the Anti-Design festival. The experience allowed me to decompose my discipline, to explore how design contributes to consumption and commodity and to consider how analogue cultures may be more desirable and even exotic than technological ones. This formative experience challenged me to consider that we have perhaps, as Neville suggests, traded ‘freedom for peace’.
Luddites & objectors
Early discussions with the cross-UAL working group on Cultures of Resilience have proved very inspiring, as we have debated features of system organisation that we individually favour. I have been surprised to find myself falling between the ‘auto-organising systems’ camp and the ‘cohesive systems’ troupe, which broadly value humanism over artificial, technological salvation. I align with empathy, investment, participation, trust and reputation. I find myself reflecting back to Rousseau who believed that unhappiness in civilised societies was caused by the need for material possessions and that community, understanding and trust are all we needed for a fulfilled and happy life. This may seem naïve and ‘romantic’, but I realise that they underpin my own values and my commitment to the Green Movement. How odd I feel in 2014, arguing like a Victorian about the dangers of technology! I have seen so much ‘progress’ in my short lifetime that I have lost faith in the notion that the Future offers us much scope for optimism. I yearn for less.
Groups discussions at UAL have prompted me to adopt ideas of ‘indigenous conservationism’ in these times of scarcity. The 17th century philosopher and conservationist Jeremy Bentham proposed localised utilitarian measures: ‘the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest time’. Let’s organise an amnesty. Let’s not make more, let’s eliminate, value and share out what we have?
‘… the best utilities reside beyond the objects themselves in the emotional connection with and between the users. In essence, I am interested in communities, the emotional nonobjects and nonspaces between participants.’
Things are emotional. The space between things interesting. Socially organized systems rely on old-fashioned ideas of co-operation and non-materialism. This reminds me of Branko Lukic’s NonObject. His approach is the thought that the best utilities reside beyond the objects themselves in the emotional connection with and between the users. In essence, I am interested in communities, the emotional nonobjects and nonspaces between participants.
Insurgency & optionality
In the past I have been encouraged to behave like a Flaneur, to constantly revise my options and actions as I progress. I now rebel against this optionality and open-mindedness. Adaption and modification may suggest progress and fluidity but it no longer has the clarity and co-operative approach needed as a long-term strategy to flourish in a world of increasing complexity and turbulence.
My intuition tells me that conservation and preservation are now appropriate systematic strategies. I am compelled to seek insights into the properties of survival, which may give us a clearer understanding of what makes an innovation resilient, stable or durable.1Rousseau, J (1755). Discourse on Inequality, Oxford University Press.2Benton, T (1989). Marx and Natural Limits: An ecological critique and Reconstruction, New Left Review.3Taleb, N (2012). AntiFragile: Things that gain from Disorder, Penguin.4Easlea, B (in reference to Mary Shelley) (1983). Fathering the Unthinkable, London: Pluto Press.5Mill, J S (1848). Principles of Political Economy, Harmondsworth Penguin (1985).6Schumacher, E F (1973). Small is Beautiful, London: Blond & Briggs.7Meyer, A & Cooper, T (1995). A recalculation of the Social Costs of Climate Change, Global Commons Institute.8Conscientious Communicators, http://blogs.arts.ac.uk/sustainability/2012/10/19/2456/9Survival https://storify.com/LCCLondon/lcc-green-week-wednesday-survival10LCC Green Week http://www.arts.ac.uk/media/arts/colleges/lcc/images/inside-lcc/green-week/GW2014_programme_LR.pdf11Critical Mass http://vimeo.com/10006433912The Anti-Design Festival http://antidesignfestival.wordpress.com/adf-manifesto
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Rousseau, J (1755). Discourse on Inequality, Oxford University Press.|
|2.||↑||Benton, T (1989). Marx and Natural Limits: An ecological critique and Reconstruction, New Left Review.|
|3.||↑||Taleb, N (2012). AntiFragile: Things that gain from Disorder, Penguin.|
|4.||↑||Easlea, B (in reference to Mary Shelley) (1983). Fathering the Unthinkable, London: Pluto Press.|
|5.||↑||Mill, J S (1848). Principles of Political Economy, Harmondsworth Penguin (1985).|
|6.||↑||Schumacher, E F (1973). Small is Beautiful, London: Blond & Briggs.|
|7.||↑||Meyer, A & Cooper, T (1995). A recalculation of the Social Costs of Climate Change, Global Commons Institute.|
|8.||↑||Conscientious Communicators, http://blogs.arts.ac.uk/sustainability/2012/10/19/2456/|
|10.||↑||LCC Green Week http://www.arts.ac.uk/media/arts/colleges/lcc/images/inside-lcc/green-week/GW2014_programme_LR.pdf|
|11.||↑||Critical Mass http://vimeo.com/100064339|
|12.||↑||The Anti-Design Festival http://antidesignfestival.wordpress.com/adf-manifesto|