4 August 2014
by Gian Luca Amadei
Following our open call to UK-based practitioners for a design residence in Helsinki, we are pleased to announce that Tobias Revell has been selected as the recipient for the Helsinki residency programme 2014, taking place in September. This is the third residency that the British Council is running in Helsinki in partnership with Helsinki International Artist Programme (HIAP) and Helsinki Design Week (HDW).
The residency programme this year is set around the theme of Take The Leap and focuses on addressing the great changes the design world is currently facing: from manufacturing to communication and from local resources to global concerns.
As Tobias is getting ready for this departure to Helsinki we asked him to introduce himself and tell us more about his current projects and his plans for the residency.
Hi Tobias, tell us a bit about you, what is your background and areas of interest?
I've labelled myself as a critical designer and futurist. I studied Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London which has a strong mandate in trying to broaden definitions of design as well as explore the interactions and relationships we have with technology as a society. Currently I'm a tutor in Interaction Design at the London College of Communication, a visiting tutor in Design Interactions at the RCA, a designer with Superflux, a some-time researcher with Arup's Foresight department and importantly, a real-life, walking, talking practicing designer.
My specific contextual interests involve a field that one could broadly call 'techno-politics'. That is, analysing and revealing the politics and embedded meanings of technologies which are often reflections of social tendencies, or worse, attempts at control. As a designer I'm interested in exploring 'imaginable alternatives' for existing technological objects and infrastructure that might make the nature of these politics clearer or perhaps even allow people to create their own. I think there's a general drive that design has the potential to be something else other than simply a way of producing desirable products or services and so I'm part of a growing group of people trying to figure out what that might be and how it might work.
What are you working/researching on at the moment?
For the last year or so I've been studying the nature of space, territory and technology in terms of how the design of technological objects or services allows interested parties to control the politics of people. This also includes studying where traditional state-based legal systems and the new rules of a world dominated by the Internet run up against each other and what kind of objects, events and artefacts these conflicts produce. Recently I've been spending a lot of time looking at communications infrastructure; the Internet obviously, but also alternatives, like mesh networks - an increasingly popular form of peer-to-peer network. A recent project of mine, The Monopoly of Legitimate Use, presented three 'design fictions' in film format for how ordinary people might exploit or liberate themselves of network control using normal devices. I'm interested in making these kind of scenarios a little more real by exploring what the technical constraints are.
There are two problems with the way we consume designed technology today: first that we don't understand how it works, secondly that we don't understand why (for who, for what purpose etc.) it works. I've spent some time exploring the 'why,' now I want to start approaching the 'how.'
Coming from a more academic direction, I'm interested in studying the applicability of methods such as critical and speculative design and design fictions. I'm interested in ways these might convert into change or inform real-world designs. So much of this cannon of work ends up in the art world which means it is too often dismissed despite having serious insight. There's a compelling and implicit visual language to design which has the potential to lead to greater empowerment.
What are you planning to do during your residency in Helsinki?
I plan to start by getting to know Helsinki. I want to reach out to some of the more grassroots design movements that might be happening in the city, be they hacktivists or maker spaces. I'm interested in changes they've noticed and changes they predict. How have new technologies and manufacturing processes influenced their practice or their standing in the city? I also want to explore some of the more technical aspects of network construction in a new place, setting up a mesh network for instance in Helsinki and discussing the design challenges and understanding the vocabulary of the area that might influence the way the city perceives it's political relationship with network technology.
I'm going to be mostly starting from the ground-up and the things I learn from conversations will hopefully inform the direction the work takes!
What are you hoping this experience in Helsinki will bring to your practice?
I think it's important for adding a new cultural context to the research I'm pursuing. It's easy to continue to pursue this work form the context of London, but global thinking is so important. By basing the project in another place, I hope to challenge preconceptions I may have about design and human interaction as well as the politics of place.
British Council Project