The only good nation is imagination.
Speculative scenarios are often unusual, curious, occasionally even disturbing, but desirable and attractive prompts that create the suspension of disbelief about change. They are open-ended, offer the audience the possibility of personal interpretation, and frequently include humor, which activates the audience on an emotional and intellectual level, in a way similar to literature and film.
Here are writing prompts that could rescue you during Phase 1 of time traveling: scenario design. All from Renata Adler’s Speedboat, a “fragmentary account”.
“When he asked his last question, what was the moon made of, he heard from the smug children, about green cheese. Some said the moon was made of paper, two said neon light. A vote was taken. The green-cheese children, in their nyah nyah voices, seemed to have chanted everybody down. There remained one unconvinced, iconoclastic child. The moon, she said, in a sensible, lofty tone of pure conviction, is made of grabbedy.”
Phase 3 of time traveling is about rapid-prototyping. This is how we make artifacts rapidly, how prototyping works at The Time Travel Agency, or how this weird stuff is created.
In speculative design we communicate ideas with artifacts. During rapid prototyping we think with our hands and build physical or digital objects that contain a fiction, a scenario, a challenge inside that scenario, and a proposed answer.
When working in a group setup our job is to make links between the participants’ perspectives, helping them build on each other’s ideas.
Here’s an example of an artifact: The ‘Future Headteachers’ floorplan for Holbæk Art School in Denmark contains a space to donate dreams, a neverending videogame testing room, a campfire room, a room where monkeys can go eat bananas, a wall to connect with potential partners, a restaurant, and a “bird room” for chirping.
In our biggest collective time travel yet, 78 art students were taken into a time where – 37 years after having graduated from Holbæk Art School, in 2057 – they received an alluring call from their headteacher asking if they would come back to co-headteach the school together. If they accepted, their task would be to design a new area of the school for the 2058 generation. This floorplan (and the physical spaces they prototyped in a few hours were the outcome).
The result revealed a desire to find school subjects (for today, of course) that would fit the many curiosities students had, no matter how playful, because they connected these curiosities to the reasons they were attracted to art. In the future school, rooms would go up first, and classes would adjusted to the proposed function of the rooms.
What we see when we aren’t seeing into a specific project.
At the studio during research, and in time travels during rapid-prototyping, we are transformed in our interactions with objects.
We allow them to talk to us, to show us ourselves from their perspective, we ask them to shift our focus so we reinvent what they can do (and then how). And because we rely on them to tell us about the futures we speculated on, we must access their voices for this storytelling to develop.
Everything is Alive is a wonderful podcast that does this exercise for us during research, and inspires our work greatly. In short episodes we learn about the life of an object in first person, including their emotional dimension, and this is our key: when objects have stories of feeling they become a distanced totem, and time travelers feel safe from to share their inventions including the emotional dimension of their inventor.
In Everything is Alive there is the episode of a can of coke, a pregnancy test, a staircase (who’s never seen an elevator and is amazed at its description), and many many more (and maybe not enough).
Martian poetry is another tool to shift perspective, and we will get there another time.
From our community!
Gokul Nair’s “extreme universe” In This Future is accessed through objects and places. There, the user feels uncomfortable by default, numbers don’t exist, thermostats measure temperature and emotion (what is the temperature of scared?, can thermostats double as ghost detectors?), and objects no longer hide their emotions and are a new form of reading our world.
Gokul extended ‘comfort food’ to ‘comfort objects’ (or ‘discomfort objects’).
When a table like the one in Defensive Furniture expresses discomfort we get its message that we should take care of things around us.
Does it get annoying or do we care?
If you go to the project’s website, you can play with the objects in AR, maybe place them in your space and see what they tell you.
After my call with Gokul I placed his rectangular defensive table next to my favorite (my comfort) circular table because the circular table doesn’t know many other shapes in creatures of its kind (I realized I like round tables so I only keep those around). They seemed to enjoy the placement because they made my sense of composition tingle, and I left them there for a long while because the round table wanted to show its perfect circular shadow to the rectangle, who was amazed looking for its own until it flickered away.