Speculative by Design: criticism and fiction.

“…many oppressive relations result not from people having mistaken ideological beliefs, but from living in material circumstances that provide no alternative.” (Levy-Bryant. Onto-cartography, An ontology of machines and media. Edinburgh University Press. 2007)

When we talk about critical design, we mostly refer to a design method that improves products through a carefully chosen political and ethical attitude. On the other hand, speculative design as a form of critical resistance is concerned with making alternative structures of circumstances in daily life visible, aiming to create radical change. The difference between these two design methods lays in the vision on what design can do: improving products by reflection or offering an alternative perspective on societal issues. The latter vision implies that speculative design must be able to change the existing perception of what is considered ‘normal’ by large groups of people. Hence, creating a political element within design that goes beyond moral arguments in the vein of designing with ‘good intentions’. So how do we assess the political element of the outcome within the speculative design method when we talk about the quality of design?

Only by investigating a societal problem that is worked through over a longer period of time, in a constant loop between experience, interaction and insights from technology (as a product or service), does a measurable political evidence arise. As a result, not the designer but the influence of technology in the domain of social relations, will have to be able to offer new perspectives on political issues. Hence, speculative design needs to be approached from the technology consumed in the contemporary capitalist economy rather than the design process or the designer as creator. And because we can only see in retrospect whether there was a change, the historical origin of design will have to answer the question whether design contributed to a critical resistance during the process of societal change. The question remains whether the method of speculative design can claim its right to change.

Shaping Responsible Futures @ DesignLab UT

Transdisciplinary Master-Insert Programme Shaping Responsible Futures.


Are you an engaged UT master student? Would you like to learn how to shape desirable futures for others and with others? Are you looking for new ways to develop yourself personally and professionally? Do you want to work with students from various disciplines on tackling societal challenges?

If YES, DesignLab invites you to apply for the Transdisciplinary Master-Insert Programme Shaping Responsible Futures. This academic programme will be taught by enthusiastic academics from all over the university, and will involve working in transdisciplinary teams on addressing complex societal challenges.

Source: University Twente DesignLab

Art workshops for ‘Hallo Europa’!

logo hallo europa

‘Hallo Europa’ is an initiative by Crista van Dee in collaboration with the province of Gelderland in the Netherlands.
Christa is ‘Ontgrenzer’ (‘Noborder’) by profession in which she works together with young people in the context of 75 years of freedom in Europe.

Students from the Achterhoek (NL) and North Rhine-Westphalia (DE) have been invited to create a joint work of art concerning the question of how we can maintain peace. During this project students will meet about six times. The ultimate goal is to get to know each other, collaborate and build a lasting relationship.

To gain inspiration for the joint artwork the students visited the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo. To help them to get started I was asked to create assignments to get acquainted with various types of art, to link SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) to a work of art and to learn how to look at art using Cloudwatching. All assignments were performed and discussed in a duo or trio.

Although the students are of different ages and educational levels, they immediately get started. In the first assignment, students together choose an SDG that appeals to them, for example ‘no poverty’, and then look for a work of art that this SDG conveys.
In a short time, discussions are started in both German and Dutch about why there is a link between the SDG and the artwork. At the end of the discussion they sketch the chosen work. Everyone makes their own sketch so they inspire each other again.


With the help of two postcard assignments, two works of art are deeply studied and the artist’s choice of material encourages thinking and sketching.
During the last assignment the students will look at abstract art by discovering shapes with the help of Cloudwatching. They were guided by two questions; what are the shapes that I see and why does that appeal to me? In this way getting acquainted with abstract art is easily accessible because everything they discover is good, no errors possible in these assignments.


At the end of the day, the students went home with a pile of sketches, varying from very detailed sketches to quick experiments with drawing. The new insights they gattered will help them to work together while creating their own artwork in March. I am looking forward to seeing the result!

Let’s Play: The art of the digital (Nov 2, 2019)

Let’s Play, The art of the digital: This weekend during Amsterdam Museumnacht young artists and designers show their digital artworks in the subway stations Weesperplein, Waterlooplein and Central Station in Amsterdam. These stations form a digital art gallery with moving and soundless artworks. Information about the art works and artists is shown using Augmented Reality.

One of our CMD students Victor Zumpolle was selected to show his work “Blokje om”! His work will be shown at the Weesperplein subway station on 2 November from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m. There will be a prize-giving ceremony for the artworks at 1:00 AM. You can vote via the Let’s Play Art Gallery app.

“Blokje om” by Victor Zumpolle

Playing with light by Utterback

Human movement on camera in a public space creates the visual input, followed by writing software that creates the visual output. This is basically the process that Camille Utterback uses to then integrate forms, created by ink and pencil drawings, with human movement. These forms appear and disappear on a screen based on the movements made by an audience. Once this happens an almost circular process of movement, forms and again movement is created. To keep this process going the audience has to embrace vulnerability in order to visualize the movement on the screen, trying to maintain control. All of this is supported by technology what leads to the question where we can put the matter of control.

(WIRED. (2009, October 20), Interactive art: Playing with light [YouTube]. Via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-lOAoWcAV8)

Life in art, art in life.

Art, for me, is thinking about and responding to life or better ‘the whole existence’. The work of former artist Tehching Hsieh helps us to navigate through the universal circumstances of human life. His performances investigate ‘the whole existence’ by cutting up the passing of time into components and variables. In his artwork called One year performance you see him punch a time clock every hour on the hour for exactly one year. By dividing his life into units, giving his life mathematical parameters, he visualizes the passing of time.

Tehching Hsieh on One year performance: “One year is the human calculation of life, in basically one unit. And this (Wasting time) is the earth around the sun-one year. So it’s a very good way in a piece of art to talk about what life means. To me, in my philosophy of my whole life’s work. I would say life is a life sentence. Life is passing time. Life is free thinking.”
(DasPlatforms. (2014, April 30). Tehching Hsieh – One Year Performance 1980 – 1981 [YouTube]. Via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvebnkjwTeU)

Although he talks about his work as a philosophy it is interesting that he starts from non-philosophical situations in his performances; living on the streets of New York, tying himself to a fellow artist for a year, jumping out of a window from the second floor of a  building and voluntary isolation. All these  performances show how Tehching Hsieh tries to find freedom. Today he has found his freedom: “I don’t do art anymore. I no longer feel creative. I don’t want to do what the art world expects me to do. This is my exit. This is my freedom.”
(Marks, K,. (2014, April 30), Tehching Hsieh: the man who didn’t go to bed for a year. Via The Guardian)

(FACTLiverpool. (2010, October 28), Tehching Hsieh – One Year Performance 1980 — 1981 (Time Clock Piece) [YouTube]. Via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90izVR2Kip0)


Art that creates restlessness

Pors & Rao on their artwork at the Setouchi Triennale 2016 “Someone’s Coming”: “We had an idea of these empty canvases whose only state of being is to wait for someone to come; perhaps to look at them, or make them an image, or as a preconscious entity to be born in someone’s mind. As the shed is accessible only during low tide, we thought this idea of waiting for someone to come was quite fitting for this abandoned space. Inside the installation appears as a pristine, maze-like gallery with blank canvases hanging around the edges of the walls. They have these cartoonish patches and repair-work, as if they have been around for a while, and when someone enters the space, they peek around the corner to see what’s coming. If you stand in front of a canvas it doesn’t move, but canvases around the nearest corners will peek out. This creates restlessness in the space where one’s attention is continuously drawn towards what is around the next corner.” (Interview Pors & Rao by David Billa August 15, 2016)

Karin van den Driesche

Man made earthquakes in Eindhoven

How do people respond to the infringement of nature caused by man itself? This question is the drive behind the artworks of Danish artist Sissel Marie Tonn. For Tonn the Netherlands is especially interesting for investigating this question because of its history of overlap between culture and nature. This history resonates in the saying “God created the earth but the Dutch created the Netherlands”. At the Van Abbemuseum Tonn created an interactive artwork of an intimate archive of all the man made earthquakes in Groningen. Tonn’s goal is to transfer the experience of an earthquake rather than to provide information about it. This experience should not only encourage people to become curious but also inspire them to come up with a better solution for the problem. Last Saturday I experienced for the first time how an earthquake feels. The 12 sensations of the installation felt eerie and waiting for the next shock was nerve wrecking even within the save environment of ‘Het oog’ in the Van Abbemuseum. I asked Tonn whether the NAM had visited her artwork but they told her they weren’t interested.

Karin van den Driesche

Grayson Perry: Middle Class Taste [2012]

Grayson Perry: An artist as an anthropologist in search of middle class taste. I want to share this video as an example of how artists can make things visible that are invisible. It is interesting to see how the people of middle class that Perry visits fear choices. The middle class will go for the ready-made ‘no choice left’ houses. “It is restful to buy a show flat, a new house is like a blank canvas and people don’t want to get it wrong”, the interviewed woman explains.

Perry nails it when he refers to this ready-made utopia created by brands as “the esthetic duvet”. The middle class is able to afford to buy the dream that brands offer. This phenomenon is aptly described by Perry as: “A potent symptom of modern capitalist hyper consumption and hard working middle classes and what they have to do to be happy.” The  rules about taste are shared and people know what not to do.

But within the middle class there are different tribes. When Perry visits an other middle class home, not far from the ‘esthetic duvet’ tribe, class is not about money but about cultural capital, “the sum of all the knowledge, education and culture these people worked so hard to accumulate”, according to Perry. However because historically the middle class are not the workers and not the landowners, they are therefore unsure of their place in society. Paradoxically people are very well aware of the tribe and the rules they belong to or want to belong to.

Perry visits tribes like the ‘esthetic duvet’ tribe, the vintage loving tribe, the classical academic tribe, ‘green bling’ tribe. Belonging to a tribe means that people validate their choices by TV chefs, glossy magazines, philosophical book shops or organic markets. And within the tribe everybody  is seeking for kudos (=respect and recognition) from their fellow tribe-members. Kudos is obtained by not trying to hard or otherwise you look desperate and you are out. There is also something that all tribes of middle class have in common, that is they are self made and highly consumerist.

Perry’s conclusion at the end of his anthropological quest about middle class taste is that each tribe has a different version of saying “I am a good person“: I am doing alright, I have dragged myself out of working class or look I have a shiny house and a shiny car and wife or I am a respectable citizen, I contribute to society and I know the rules or I am groovy I know the rules but I am going to send them off or I want to save the planet for my children.” Between the tribes and their moral reasoning stands a huge wall.

The six tapestries that Perry has set out to create on middle class taste will have to represent precisely these moral varieties mentioned above. When he writes “I think boundaries now [in relation to anything can be art, so what is art] are sociological, tribal, philosophical and maybe even financial.” (‘Playing to the gallery’ p. 42), this implies that for the tapestries to be art they have to fall within a philosophical framework that does justice to these moral varieties without condemning them. Condemning the rules of the tribes will overshadow the (incomplete) meaning behind existing moral varieties within middle classes. The meaning of the condition of the middle classes is that there are a lot of agonizing choices out there. “You become more and more aware of these choices and that is a blessing as well as a curse.”, says Perry at the end of video talking to the woman who bought the show-house.

Perry decided to call these tapestries on middle class taste ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ and combines them with biblical scenes. For example in the tapestry ‘Expulsion form number 8 Eden Close’ the character Tim Rakewell (computing student at university) and his middle class girlfriend are send away from  the tribe that sells into ready-made utopia, into the tribe of classical academia like Adam and Eve are being expelled from paradise.

Expulsion From Number 8 Eden Close, Grayson Perry, 2012

What is striking is that people who have been interviewed by Perry as part of different tribes feel both validated by his tapestries as well as uncertain about whether they are being belittled. Perry ensures them, being part of the middle class himself, that he loves there homes, that “he toke it on board”. So what is the meaning or the message of the tapestries? Perry’s answer: “The desperation to be an individual.”

If you want to know more about Grayson Perry and middle class taste, there is an article in The Telegraph written by Perry called:  ‘Taste is woven into our class system‘.

Pottery by Perry is now at display at the Bonnefantenmuseum until 5 June 2016. The exposition is called: ‘Hold your believes lightly’. I went and I thought it was beautiful. On the way back in the train I read Perry’s book ‘Playing to the gallery’. (I wish the book had been available when I graduated from art college, I should have stayed on the fucking bus.) In this book Perry gives a definition of art which I really like: “[Art is]…indeed an onanistic experience, to detain and suspend us in a state of frustration and ambivalence, and to make us pause and think rather than simply react.” (‘Playing to the gallery’ p. 70)

Karin van den Driesche