MA Design Expanded Practice student projects: “Pataphysical Responses to the Most Urgent and Intractable Problems of Our Age”

On 11 July, MA Design Expanded Practice students displayed in the MA Studios the outcome of their work on the 10 week-long project “Pataphysical Responses to the Most Urgent and Intractable Problems of Our Age”, in a show titled “HA HA! (Hinting At Having Alternatives!)”.

An Ouvroir de Design Potentielle (OuDePO – Laboratory/Workshop of Design Potentiality) was instituted in the Design Department. The OuDePo was formed to initiate a pataphysical curriculum in order to have a playful, yet critical purchase on design and designing- and, in particular, the part design plays in enacting neo-liberal programmes.

The quixotic programme of ‘pataphysical design’ effects deviance, disruption and, ultimately seeks to detour what is deemed the ‘proper’ way to think, imagine and act in design practice; it does so in order to circumvent the blocks (blocs) produced by design orthodoxies, finding ‘alternative’ methods and ‘imaginary solutions’ (of which pataphysics is the science).

The work presented in the show issues from thirteen ouvroirs (laboratories), which were formed to research, explore and propose responses to the most stubborn (intractable) and pressing, urgent (used ironically or seriously) problems and questions of the day.

Here are a few examples of the projects on display:

Ethical Botany and Cultivated Elysiums (Team: Keer Wei, Wei Peng, Yaoyao Tang)

The program of this ouvroir is to explore the increasingly important spiritual-ethical bond between the plant world and the human world. In this instance, the concept of the divine force of nature was used for a pataphysical program tackling the plastic islands of the Atlantic currents. The ouvroir developed an apparatus that afforded the opportunity to mix human breath (chi) and mycellium spores and introduce the mixture into 1) a rubber-duck like float that would take up to a year floating on the ocean currents before reaching the plastic island and/or 2) duck egg-like bombs that could be thrown from a passing ship or dropped from a plane directly on it. In both cases the objects are designed to release the spiritual-botanic mixture so that it may start to grow on and/or attack the plastics that are accumulating in our oceans and which, pose a threat to ocean life forms and, ultimately, humanity.

Risible Natural Laws & Chimerical Physics (Team: Tajwar Aziz, Stacey Rosouw, Fiorella Moreno Pastor)

This ouvroir is dedicated to the study of the ludicrous and illusory scientific laws that we convince ourselves are basic ‘truths’ that subtend the behaviour of the matters of our universe(s). The particular project that is being exhibited is an ‘imaginary solution’ to the problem of excessive methanic eructation and flatulence (farts) in domesticated ungulates (the dairy cow) which are causing ozone depletion and are a major factor in global warming. The Heath Robinson-like apparatus, namely, the Borborigmynometer operates by capturing and filtering methane into a termitarian dome populated by the methanotrophic bacterium Methylococcus capsulatus. The bacteria, sourced from termite mounds, is able to absorb the gas and produce an edible fodder, also known as moo-palates, suitable for feeding back to livestock and other domesticated animals.

Thaumaturgical Feminisms (team: Minkyung Lee, Yang Liu, Jiawei Li, Yujyun Guo)

From time immemorial magic has been associated with the feminine. In the past this association was used pejoratively – women were tried (by attempts to drown them) for practicing the ‘dark arts’ and if they survived the trial they were burnt at the stake. This ouvroir became a coven of un-drown-able and un-burn-able witches asserting the thaumaturgical (magical) powers of the female body, particularly the power to bring to life. The ouvroir has developed a kit/service to use menstrual blood to ‘fertilise’ soil to grow evening primrose, which can be used to treat period pains. The work confronts socio-cultural taboos around the subject of menstruation, treating it, as it should be, as something profoundly natural.

Below, a few photos from the interim presentations, taken by Stacey Rosouw:

Text by Senior Lecturer in Design Terry Rosenberg