3 May 2024

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

Decades of writings, dialogues, and attempts to practice green-eco-good-better design, and yet here we are: not a snowflake’s chance in hell of keeping below 1.5º to say the least.

I’ve decided to lower my ambition: instead of trying to do good design, how about at least design that does no harm? So I’ve decided to make a car, that’s ‘harmless’.

Harmless: To all things, for all time. Harmless in its manufacture and its use. What a dream! But giving it a seconds thought – impossible. Impossible things can be revealing though.

The Harmless Car is work in progress. It currently has a ‘space frame’ type chassis, designed with the assistance of Prof. Jun Wu at Delft Institute of Techology, woven from coppiced willow; the least harmful material in world. It has large low pressure tyres (eventually to be made from dandelion rubber) so that should it run over a small snail (or any other creature) it will leave it unharmed. I am exploring options for harmless power… An impossible work in progress.

The Harmless Car as at Zone2Source

The Harmless Car is an object from a world with different design criteria, a different value system, a different calculus of harm from our own. It cuts to a formulation of design as a means of creating objects to transfer harm from one person, place, time or species, to another. Every design decision is political, because it contains this intrinsic calculus of harm: us or them, now or later?

If it’s inevitable your design will harm, on who or what is it just for that harm to fall? On yourself, your own family and lifestyle? Those most able to bear the harm? Those distant to you in time and place? If you could choose where to place your harm, where should it go?

Everything is connected. 

(so it’s impossible to) 

Do no harm.

The concept for the Harmless Car was developed during my participation in the Machine Wilderness residencies at ARTIS Royal Zoo, which Zone2Source organised with FoAM in Spring 2022. Further work was done during my solo show at Zone2Source in summer 2023.


Car weaving workshop, with help from Piet Hein at vlechterij.nl

Visiting Toon Wortel, the last Dutch wagon maker. Wheels are complex.

Photo: Marjolein Vinkenoog for Zone2Source

Photo: Marjolein Vinkenoog for Zone2Source

Photo: Marjolein Vinkenoog for Zone2Source

Hi! Please find a quick video here. (nb. Please don’t take the roughness of this video as indication of the seriousness of my application – I like my idea of making tools as a route to understanding someone’s work).

The password for the video is CERN

12 December 2018

Video Triptych
The Design Museum London
(2016, Commission)

I was commissioned to make a film on the subject of design and sustainibility for installion in the permanent collection gallery of the new Design Museum in South Kensington, London. I created nine episodes, a twenty minute long film across a triptych of projections. This involved shooting interviews with key figures in the sustainibility field, such as Steve Howard, Chief Sustainiblity Office at IKEA group in an IKEA living room store display, travelling to the largest open cast mine in the United States, and presenting a timeline of the earth’s atmosphere and human history from the year 20,000BCE to the present day.

In the 1930s, the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay, “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”, in which he predicted that the economic problem of subsistence for his grandchildren’s generation, that is us, would be solved. We wouldn’t have to work because the world would be seven times richer. We are indeed seven times richer, yet we still work. Keynes failed to predict that as our wealth increases, so too do our desires.

Voodoo Economics is a rotational moulding machine running on tracks, which is used to produce little hollow plastic figurines on pedestals. Each pedestal has a phrase embossed on its pedestal, associated with some fundamental concepts from economics: participants in the economy are “led as if by an invisible hand” to provide goods for society, “a rising tide lifts all boats” including those represented by the homeless figurine, we (including our city traders) are rational animals, “Homo Economicus”.

The pedestals on the statues become muddled. The homeless man becomes “Homo Economicus”. The city trader is led to enrich himself. The invisible hand becomes drowned. The figurines are relics of a faith that is passing.

The project was commissioned for the Saint Etienne Design Biennale 2017.

As installed at CID Grand Hornu, Belgium

5 August 2017

In collaboration with Sioban Imms
Commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices 2017

In a few hundreds or thousands or millions of years, what trace will remain of our post-industrial industries, and its not-so-post industrial pollution? Digital culture is often discussed in immaterial terms, but it depends on material substrates: mineral ores, mined from seams, processed and purified. Given enough time all this knowledge, the cat gifs and the culture stored in disks, drives and tapes will sink back to become a smear in some rock somewhere.

We tried to connect the vastly different timescales of digital and geology: petaflops and epochs. To revel in the thought that the beat of our fast digital culture will inevitably fall back in to the slow drip of water in cave.

We set out to re-order a set of digital storage media according to their elemental materials. Instead of being organised according to date, dewey decimal or other criteria, we tried to return the organisation of the object to a more elemental state.

Working with Dr. Frank Mair, who is based in the Chemistry Lab at the University of Manchester, we partially dissolved some computer disks in acid. Then drawing on concepts from column chromatography, a technique used to sort and separate mixtures, we created Chromobytes: artificial stalagmites precipitated with the metal ions from discarded hard disc drives … A kind of geology made from digital technology.

Chromobytes was also shown as part of the Bioart and Design Award show at MU Musuem, Eindhoven.

With special thanks to Dr. Frank Mair and the School of Chemistry at Manchester University for their invaluable knowledge and development of the project.
26 July 2017

Living History is a 360º virtual reality ‘documentary’ film from the future, about the present. Film from the earliest days of cinema is magical: grainy moving images of people working in fields, or men in ornate hats walking along streets crowded with animals. These scenes were mundane everyday sights at the time, yet just over a century later they’re full of pathos; the ‘earliest surviving images of a bygone era’. Living History tries to take a perspective on our present, from some future. What will the people of two centuries hence think when viewing the images we’re creating in these early days of virtual reality? I made Living History while doing a residency at the Asia Culture Center, Gwangju, South Korea. You can watch it on the MilkVR Platform on the Samsung Gear Virtual Reality headset, or on an old fashioned flat screen here (use your ‘mouse’ to look around)..

360º still frames from Living History

The specifics of our beliefs will have been forgotten. The details of our wars and triumphs, will be of interest only to academics, or will be reduced to sweeping generalisations made about ‘the peoples of the late Holocene’… Our most advanced technology will be yellowed by age, in glass museum display cases. Probably. Or perhaps in two centuries the world will be such that no person will be interested in the ruins of our civilisation. But we have to hope that one day, someone in the future will wonder about us.

As installed at Asia Culture Center

On location at a Korean dairy farm.

I tried to become a goat to escape the angst inherent in being a human. The project became an exploration of how close modern technology can take us to fulfilling an ancient human dream: to take on characteristics from other animals. But instead of the ferocity of a bear, or the perspective of a bird, the characteristic most useful in modern life is something else; being present in the moment perhaps. Anyway I ended up in the Alps, on four legs, at a goat farm, with a prosthetic rumen strapped to my chest, eating grass, and becoming a goat. I wrote a few paragraphs about the project. I sent them to Princeton Architectural Press, who said if you write the rest of the project up, we might publish it, and lo and behold, a book! My second book in fact. I’m pleased with it, but krikey, I’d forgotten how difficult writing is! Anyway… some links: Amazon (US) Princeton Architectural Press (Publisher) Barnes & Noble (US) IndieBound (US) Amazon (UK) Abrams & Chronicle Books (Europe) Waterstones (UK) Books at Manic (Australia) Amazon (Canada) Chapters (Canada) Oh yes, once again thank you to the Wellcome Trust for supporting this project.

5 April 2015

I wrote a plugin for Adobe Illustrator that lays out a daily calendar on to rolls of wallpaper, showing every day of the week (and highlighting the weekends), for whatever time period you specify.

A calendar for a wall about two meters high can be made to comfortably extend 2oo years in to the past and 200 years in to the future. The wallpaper shows every day of the year for 400 years (about 146,000 days, depending on leap years).

So you can see every day of your expected threescore years and ten lifespan, laid out day by day: it forms a not particularly thick or remarkable band on the wall. Also the lifetimes of other generations, your parents and your children say, overlapping through the years.

The intention is a memento mori effect, and to connect with the continuum of history…

400 year-to-view calendar installed at Akademie Schloss Solitude

Stairs Installation

26 July 2014

In the 21st Century BC, Nebo was the Babylonian God of wisdom and writing. He determined the lives of every human being by writing their story on to sacred clay tablets, and thus was responsible for the ultimate fate of mankind. Now in the 21st Century AD, Nebo has been resurrected in a new guise, to free each of us from false choices and false aspirations. Together with Nebo, we will determine our own fate once again. Nebo is an online service and range of objects that employ some of the techniques of marketers and advertisers not to make you buy things, but to make you lead a more fulfilling and happier life. Nebo is advertising that influences you to act in your own best interests. Nebo will come to know you better than you know yourself. This project is a ‘tech start up from the near future’. It was progressed while I was one of the Design Museum’s Designers In Residence 2013.

Object # 1, Gateway Router You begin with Nebo by receiving the Gateway in to your home. It is a computer and wireless router, that ‘over powers’ existing wireless internet connections, becoming the gateway through which the devices in your home connect to the internet. When they connect to the Gateway, Nebo will install itself on to all your households’ computers, tablets and smartphones. In the beginning it’ll just track your patterns and habits, observing what you read, buy, and watch online, where you go and what you do with your phone, as well as gathering login details for the various online services you use. After around four weeks you will start to notice changes in what influences you’re exposed to.

Object # 2, TV Controller Nebo Object # 2 plugs in to your television. It knows what influences you’re currently seeing, and will intervene as necessary. It will change the meaning conveyed by adverts, show you content you need to see and occlude content that is of no benefit to you.

Object # 3, Purse Strings ‘You are what you buy’, so you and Nebo will change what you can buy, when, and where by taking control of your cash and cards. This wallet will influence what you buy, and even won’t let you spend money on certain things, at certain times at certain places.

Object # 4, Resoled Shoes Depending on the changes you and Nebo need to make, you may be required to send us a pair of boots for resoling. We’ll send them back with a GPS tracker and Nebo embedded in the new soles. You’ll be set destinations to wear them to and Nebo will know if you get there.

Scientific knowledge has played a key role in shaping our material world, and especially with regard to genetics, our social, political and spiritual lives also. But how dependant is scientific knowledge on historical accident and chance? Could we have a different, and not necessarily less valid, version of scientific truth if history had played out slightly differently – if certain observations had been made or missed, if individual scientists had been more or less successful, if different accidents had occurred? Or, does the scientific method act to eliminate the effects of historical chance, and our present state of knowledge is somehow necessarily true? Unlikely Objects explores these questions through a ‘Choose Your Own’ history of genetics, and the presentation of some more, or less, likely objects from imagined alternative histories of genetics. Supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Choose Your Own… History of Biology The book accompanying the project takes the form of a Choose Your Own Adventure, allowing YOU the reader to determine the course of biological science. Well that was the idea, but re-writing the history of science proved somewhat more difficult than I first anticipated! A somewhat broken archive of the project website is available here…. The book is illustrated by Nelly Ben Hayoun, with graphic design by Jacob Robinson.

Evolutionary Mythologies The Darwinian revolution never happened, and the focus of biological research, rather than genetics, has been the hormones that control the development of form. In a present where no Darwinian revolution took place, the idea that medical science can and should intervene to direct human evolution wasn’t sullied by the horrors of eugenics and genocide. However, as with all facets of human life, there is some disagreement as to which direction this should be. Certain families have nurtured the belief that the ultimate goal of humanity should be a ‘return to’ an angelic form. Children in these families have their upwards growth arrested to minimise weight, and through judicious injection of hormones that control bone growth, have their arm span greatly increased, and their upper body strength greatly enhanced. The elongated arms provide points for the surgical grafting of attachment points for artificial feathers.

Responsiveness Tester Under the current biological paradigm, known as the Modern Synthesis, the actions you take in your lifetime cannot change the genes you pass on to your offspring. The dogma has been that information flows from the genes to the body, but never from the body to genes. However, evidence is mounting that about ten percent of people have a highly ‘flexible’ genome, where certain traits they’ve acquired in life are passed to their children, through epigenetic mechanisms. These traits are overwhelmingly to do with personality and sociability, and are highly dependant on the environment in which the parent grows up. In an alternative present where the dogma of the Modern Synthesis hadn’t caused researchers to ignore epigenetic effects, society embraces the idea that some people have genes that are effected by the environment, and that these altered genes will be passed on to their children. The state therefore tests the population to determine if someone is of ‘the responsive type’, because the environment in which ‘a responder’ grows up has consequences for society: A nurturing environment and they grow to be highly social individuals, beneficial to society, but a bad environment and they overwhelmingly become criminals. Furthermore, the effects of this environment are passed down to their offspring as well. Therefore the resources of the state are directed towards the responders, with special, well funded schooling, to maximise the positive impact responders will have later in life. A form of ‘intergenerational responsibility’ is also implemented, with parents of responders held partly responsible, and liable to serve a part of any jail sentence, if their offspring grows up to commit serious crime. The Responsiveness Tester is employed nationwide to determine at 18 months, if a child is a responder. It gives them a mild fright, and gauges their responsiveness, by taking a sample of their saliva from the dummy, and measuring the levels of the stress hormone cortisol it contains.

26 July 2011

Pharmaceutical companies are experimenting with pharming – genetically engineering plants to produce useful and valuable drugs. Currently undergoing field trials are tomato plants that produce a vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease and potatoes that immunise against hepatitis B. Many more plant-made-pharmaceuticals are being developed in laboratories around the world. However, the techniques employed to insert genes into plants are within reach of the amateur…and the criminal. Policing Genes speculates that, like other technologies, genetic engineering will also find a use outside the law, with innocent-looking garden plants being modified to produce narcotics and unlicensed pharmaceuticals. The genetics of the plants in your garden or allotment could become a police matter… Commissioned by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council as part of the IMPACT Project, with the UCL Centre for Security & Crime Science.

Photograph: Theo Cook

Vicia faba (Broad bean – GM) Modified by amateurs to produce the class A controlled drug, Benzoylmethylecgonine (‘Cocaine’). Pollen from the modified plants was traced to a large crop being cultivated within three miles of a commercial farm, thus posing a serious risk of cross-pollination with food crops. Six convictions were made. Helianthus annuus (Sunflower – GM) Highly toxic, genetically modified strain of the common sunflower, causing irritation of the skin upon contact, with seeds that can be fatal if swallowed. Lycopersicon esculentum (Tomato – GM) Genetically engineered to produce high levels of Ebixam®, a patented drug used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. This sample was taken from a pirated clone plant, grown illegally on an allotment in East London. Its pollen was detected by a Metropolitan Police surveillance hive, leading to two prosecutions.

Click for a higher resolution version.

30 July 2010

(2010) Prohibition relies on controlling access – stopping someone from accessing something. So far, access to alcohol and tobacco has been determined solely by age – well the age you look at least. The system isn’t exactly nuanced – a day younger than the magic age of 18 and it’s totally prohibited, a day older and you can have as much as you like. As for ‘controlled’ drugs, the spectre of addiction has made their total prohibition politically expedient for successive governments. With growing concern over anti-social drunken behaviour and the medical effects of alcohol abuse, and millions taking drugs recreationally each weekend, the present simplistic legislative controls are deemed to have failed. Technological developments enable much ‘finer grained’ access control at reduced cost, and a generation of young people who’ve grown up with various PINs, chips and contact-less readers are more used to electronic monitoring. In collaboration with powerful drinks and tobacco lobby groups, the government introduces the ‘Charm System’ (named after the charms from charm bracelets), initially rolled out for those who’ve just turned 16. Every young person fills out a self-assessment or visits their GP to determine levels of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco that are medically and socially acceptable. They are then issued with ‘Charms’ (small RFID/Chip&PIN cards) for each class of drug. Using these they can buy up to their agreed amounts of alcohol, tobacco, or ‘drugs’, at ‘reduced’ levels of tax, reflecting the reduced cost to society of a healthy level of consumption. It’s still possible to make purchases without using a charm, or if your allowance for that day or week is used, it’s just prohibitively expensive Is this prohibition by stealth? The personalisation of prohibition that goes hand in hand with the personalisation of medicine? A mature legislative response to an important social problem? Or the continuing rise of nanny government? Commission from The Future Laboratory. ‘Dear Hamish Johan Thwaites, Congratulations on turning sixteen. As a young person you are now entitled to licensed use of controlled substances. Her Majesty’s Government understands these can be pleasurable, however they are dangerous and used in excess they cause damage to yourself, your family, your children (should you already/choose to have them), and our society. This letter includes your license to use these substances, & some electronic ‘charms’ that enable you to purchase a pre-agreed amount of these at reduced tax rates. Your GP consultation found these levels of alcohol, tobacco and ‘drugs’ (cocaine, THC, amphetamines) as sensible for YOU at the present time. You may arrange to have these levels reassessed in six months time. These levels have been determined for YOU specifically, taking into account your age, weight, genetic predisposition, and current lifestyle & circumstances, and cannot be applied to other people. Each time you purchase alcohol, tobacco, or drugs in a premises or off-licence you should present the corresponding charm. It will record your purchase and will display how much of your agreed allowance you’ve bought so far that day, or week. Purchases within your agreed allowance attract lower rates of tax. Purchases beyond your agreed allowance, or made without a charm attract higher rates of tax. Her Majesty’s Government wants you to enjoy a pleasurable and fulfilling life. The charm system has been implemented to enable you to do so, without causing damage to your health, the health of children, or our society. We wish you all the best for your future.’

26 July 2010

(2010, Residency project) Myself and Steven Ounanian were offered one of the 7 week-long residencies at the Stanley Picker Gallery, as part of the Louder than Bombs programme.  Over the course of the week we tried to get a bicycle stolen that we’d bought especially for this purpose.  We equipped the bicycle with a hacked mobile phone, hidden in the saddle, which would take pictures and send us its GPS coordinates when  it was moved.  Our aim was to use this slightly uncomfortable situation as a way to interrogate the complexities of theft, and to hint at a future where tracking technologies have become ubiquitous. We turned the gallery into an office, complete with photocopier and coffee machine, where we monitored the situation, and held some talks where we presented our findings. Participating audiences viewed surveillance footage and photographs taken from the bicycle’s on-board camera, video of interviews we conducted with economists, priests and security guards, and debated issues of theft, art and social ethics raised by the planting of our Honeytrap. The bicycle, purchased from the Liverpool St branch of Evans cycles.  The shop assistant Ahmed who said he used to hang out with some bicycle thieves, insisted that this bike was the one to go for as it was a TREK, and had suspension.  Bicycle thieves also like disc brakes apparently, but our budget wouldn’t stretch that far. I wrote an App for the G1 Android phone which caused it to take photos and text us its coordinates when it was moved.  Steven added extra batteries which would keep it running for about three weeks we think, and hid the assembly in the saddle. Java code for the App here. The (quite subtle) hole drilled in the saddle for the camera lens. During our residency, a girls’ rather fashionable Dutch-style bike was stolen from outside the gallery. It was locked just next to our honeytrap. This suggests either we got the thieves taste in bikes drastically wrong, or they had read about our project on the gallery poster

Some photos from the bicycle camera, with their GPS coordinates. We moved the bicycle to the ‘notorious’ estate in Kingston. It wasn’t stolen there either.

Much has been said elsewhere about The Toaster Project, which I’m really pleased about! I’ll not try and reproduce it here, except to answer some questions and criticisms (which for the most part are totally welcome). So, firstly, yes, I realise toasting bread over a fire would’ve been a lot easier. But was a piece of toast (or designing a better toaster) really the point of this project? Secondly, yes I realise I cheated quite a lot! Though I really did naively set out with the intention of only using pre-industrial tools and methods, I soon realised that a) it was impossible, and b) by taking things like trains, or using wikipedia, or even not making my own shoes for walking to a mine, I was already in a sense ‘cheating’. In the end my view is that it’s the cheating rather than slavishly following the rules that make the project more interesting, and lead to discussions of questions other than whether it’s possible to make a toaster alone. Thirdly, I now know about the essay I, Pencil, written from the perspective of a pencil ‘as told to Leonard E. Read’, and I think it’s fantastic! There is a book of the toaster project, published by Princeton Architectural Press, and which has Japanese and Korean editions! The ancient original site for the project is here: www.thetoasterproject.org. I also did a TED talk about the project, and it’s been watched over a million times. Yowser. P1040045-840x630


Korean edition!


Japanese edition!

30 July 2008

(RCA brief) From the back cover: These days the world can be a confusing place for a child! And no wonder – the remotely operated objects they encounter in their day-to-day lives can sometimes seem very lifelike. This light hearted book teaches children about the reality of remote workers, and the machines they control all around us. Despite wildly increasing power, general Artificial Intelligence remains, as it has for decades, ’50 years away’. Robots lack common sense, and still can only perform the simplest of tasks in the uncontrolled spaces in which we live and work. I suggest that economics and developments in remote control technology will create a new kind of migrant labour. Teleoperation will enable common sense physical jobs to be outsourced to countries with the lowest pay and lowest costs of living. Workers will live in one country while working via remote in another. This children’s book and video explores the scenario from ‘both sides of the wire’.

(RCA industry project) A service design project for Intel about the advent of E-Money… Out of sight out of mind… If we lose the physical tokens of money do we also lose our ‘feel’ for it? Handing over solid coins and elaborately decorated paper is replaced by a wave and an electronic beep – spending becomes less significant and we become more prone to impulse. E-money = information. In much the same way as supermarkets use loyalty cards to profile our spending with them, perhaps our e-wallets will record the details of our every purchase. And with information comes control – of others, and perhaps of ourselves. You are what you buy. Obesity, lung cancer from smoking, alcoholism, even depression. In a sense these illnesses are purchased. Most people know what kind of lifestyle will make them healthy and happy, but impulse gets in the way – another drink, a cigarette, that shiny new product you can’t afford. But if your wallet stops you from being able to pay for the things you know are bad for you… E-money presents exciting opportunities for public health. Future Sky Advertising E-money, RFID and low power e-ink displays present new opportunities for active marketing materials. Touching your e-wallet to the leaflet displays a personalised price, and touching it again allows you to buy on impulse… Public Fiscal Health Warning E-money makes spending invisible, and marketing techniques become ever more refined. “The psychological arms race between consumers and marketers has been decisively won; the majority of consumers have lost control of their spending.” The government naively introduces ‘Fiscal Health Warnings’. The National Fiscal Health Service Logo The NFHS an offshoot of the UK’s National Health Service is founded. It’s remit: To treat diseases of affluence through prescribed spending. NFHS Prescription A patient and their consultant agree on a variety of restrictions and prescriptions. The patients’ e-wallet is programmed to deny transactions for pre-agreed items, or to set aside money for specific things. So in a rational moment you decide what you’re able to do in the future… The NFHS has helped combat physical diseases of affluence [e.g. obesity], addictions [e.g. smoking], and significantly has aided the fight against depression.

Energy Futures examines potential forms of everyday energy consumption in the future. Learning from the field of future studies, the project is based in an examination of contemporary social trends and forecasts of possible energy futures. Drawing this into the realm of design, the project revisits the physical manifestations of behaviors and beliefs around everyday electricity consumption. The central concern has been to explore – and design for – a transition between the familiar now and the extreme future. In the form of provocative designs, presented as a (super)fictive reality, Energy Futures asks us to rethink – and, perhaps, to debate and change – our relation to energy consumption. From the introduction to the project documentation by Dr. Ramia Mazé. Energy Futures was done with Aude Messager and Basar Onal while we were interns at the Design Research Unit led by Dr Ramia Maze, at the Interactive Institute, Stockholm. It is part of Switch!, a design research program at the Interactive Institute sponsored by the Swedish Energy Agency.

We use electricity as and when we need it, without regard for any other factors. This convenience allows us to minimise the influence of natural conditions, like the time of day or night or the weather, on our routine. This unquestioned convenience also requires energy generators to maintain the capacity to cope with large peaks in demand. Smart grids and appliances have been developed to automatically help smooth these peaks, and some building climate control systems adjust themselves according to weather forecasts transmitted over the internet. But it’s interesting to speculate on adjusting their behaviour. If solar and wind generation do become substantial sources of energy (as is the hope), perhaps people wouldn’t mind altering their plans accordingly – especially once given enough information to do so. The energy forecast suggests a future where ‘flick of the switch convenience’ is still around, but isn’t the overriding value. Variation to the pace of life caused by changes in the environment have been integrated into modern life. We speculated about a future tradition emerging around energy use, an annual day which acknowledged the complexity inherent in peoples’ attempts to save energy, in order to fractionally reduce emissions they can’t see, while living in a consumer society. Our traditional day would be held at the end of the summer. The idea would be to not use any electrical power, with friends and family getting together to cook an evening meal outside. All the electrical objects in your home would be wrapped up in white paper and paper tape. This means they can’t easily be used, but also gives these everyday items an abstract shape. The blankness of these transformed objects invites a consideration of their ‘place’. In addition, the wrapping-up reflects the unwrapping of gifts at Christmas. We imagined that some products might perhaps remain wrapped and unused for the three months to Christmas, and so becoming a reminder to not buy further unnecessary products. The smoke produced by the whole neighbourhood cooking outside would combine into a haze, added to by ‘smoke decorations’. This makes the atmosphere ‘visible’. We see that our actions en-masse can effect the atmosphere – in this case producing a pretty red sunset (given the right conditions), and metaphorically bringing the emissions usually produced elsewhere in the generation of power, to the areas where that power is actually used. “The objects are ‘socket bombs’. Socket bombing involves purposefully causing a short circuit in a buildings’ electrical mains. This trips the circuit breakers and so cuts the power to all the electrical sockets on that circuit. The activists use cheap timer switches – by wiring a loop of cable between the Live and Earth pins of the plug, a short circuit is caused when the timer switches to ‘On’. Plugging these devices in to sockets in the public areas of buildings, the pirates can cause the main circuit breakers in the building to trip at a pre-set time, cutting power to many of the other electrical outlets in the building. Similar devices are used to cut the power to lights, and when a number of such devices are synchronised the power within an entire building can be cut. The activists claim benign intent, and while no injuries have been caused thus far, it can cost money and create chaos when, for instance the power to the checkouts at a supermarket is cut. The power remains cut until the device has been located and unplugged. The activists use this to create further inconvenience by plugging the devices in to sockets in out of the way areas like behind desks, seats, or display stands. ”

The concept of Energy Security is as much an issue as global warming in some political discourses around energy. This implies that energy use could become a highly charged political issue. The politicisation of energy fed in to our ‘creation’ of the Socket Bombers, imagined as an activist group of the near future.

With this scenario we wanted to draw attention to the physical interconnectedness of the electrical distribution network, and our strangely unguarded access to it in many public buildings. More important though are the motivations of the socket bombers. Do they target institutions who use energy ‘wastefully’, or those that buy their electricity from sources to which they object? A shopping centre whose supplier is investing in coal fired power stations? Government buildings after the passing of an unpopular energy bill? And what of the response from the institutions – locks on all electrical outlets?

“At last! Energy Independence and Great Looks from just one mildly invasive procedure! These days we do more, but what we do has changed – instead of grinding corn we crunch numbers! And while no-one told our bodies, there’s a supermarket round every corner… so there’s just no need to store the excess energy from our food and drink as unsightly fat. The ‘Umbilicus’ device updates our bodies for our 21st century environment. It contains friendly bacteria, engineered to metabolise fats and lipids into electrical energy – power for the devices we rely on for our work and play. So you can eat, drink and be merry, safe in the knowledge your body is putting those calories to work. Umbilicus – total energy freedom.”

31 July 2007

These office chairs change their stature to reflect and thus reinforce the power dynamic between their occupants. The chairs monitor their occupant’s conversational contribution (for example tone, level and pace of speech), and body language (reclining or sitting forward say), and compare it in real time to that recorded by their companion chair. They change aspects of their size and shape, to reflect the changing balance of power or confidence levels they detect in the conversation. For example a dominant occupant will be raised higher and their chair will make itself bigger than their submissive counterparts’ chair, which will make itself smaller, more uncomfortable and lower. This ensures the smooth running of an office by reinforcing the prevailing hierarchy, making it clear both to the chairs’ occupants and bystanders who is ‘the boss’. Power struggles between colleagues are resolved efficiently, while office politics take on a whole new dimension to the amusement of all. ‘Executive Override’ controls can be fitted to help managers who lack an innate sense of authority nonetheless impose their personality on employees. The executive can either discretely modify the calculations made by the chairs, or if the situation calls for a dramatic gesture, they can suddenly cause their chair to rise to its full stature while at the same time minimising that of their employee. The chairs are sold as pairs, or in special sets for meetings. Executive Chairs - Relaxed The start of the conversation: Both occupants are level, though the chairs will have detected the slightly more assured pose of the occupant to the right, and the slightly more eager ‘weight forward’ pose of the occupant to the left, and will begin working to reinforce this dynamic. Executive Chairs - Dynamic Reinforced By constantly reflecting the emotional state of their occupants, self-assurance or insecurity is fed-back and thus reinforced. Through in certain circumstances occupants could be in for a bumpy ride, the chairs help ensure that by the end of the conversation, neither is left in any doubt as to who is higher in the office and/or social hierarchy.

Squeezing someone’s hand conveys comfort and support in those situations where you can’t talk. These bracelets use memory metal to replicate this gesture, conveying it over distance.

31 July 2006

I exhibited in a group show in a disused theatre. My work was made for the theatre’s offices… For all the time we pour in to computers it’s strange that the only physical objects we generally extract from them is the ‘printout’. Information comes out in a myriad of forms, from the screen, the speakers, the optical drive, but this information is either transient – sound, light – or is accessible only through the medium of another computer. The printout potentially is the most permanent record of all our work on computers – while technology marches on and legacy storage systems and document formats become ever harder to access, paper and ink extend their track record of millenia. The common home inkjet printer provides further evidence of its difference to other peripherals by the way it moves. Single minded, it can shake the cheap Ikea computer table it sits on to its very core. Its mechanical whirring, the clicks and beeps it makes can be mysterious and unknowable. It may decide to do our bidding or it may decide to print out half a page we’d asked it to print days ago and forgotten about. They must be fed, and demand an expensive vintage to drink. They move. They respond to stimuli. The idea became a kind of technological cave painting. Some people drew patterns, some people wrote philosophical words, some drew clever things, a couple of people managed to get photos on to my computer. Most people drew people.