Politics of participation in Art : Evoking awareness through art in the Age of Capitalist Monopoly and Technology.

In Bishop’s book Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, we are exposed to the idea of art standing for something more than just an image for visually aesthetic purposes. Even though this cultural shift first happened in Europe during the historic Avant Garde movement in Europe in 1917, art as agency has grown to become more eminent as a social catalyst that invites discourse and dialogue.

The concept of art and agency took on a new dimension with protest art. Protest art came about in the 1920s with the Dadaists (Zurich based European Absurdists). Protest art in terms of an agency can be found in various degrees in terms of the subtlety expressed through an image, or more performance based mediums like theatre or song writing. The painting/ depiction carries a certain ontological meaning that could state a larger phenomena and allows participation for the people who are exposed to, or express discontent on the same phenomena. The signified becomes an ideology, and the signifier or agency is the art form. The concept of transmission of affect also implies in this case where the subject of art intended to cause a certain physical reaction due to the emotion triggered by the image/art form.

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968

Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ was one of the most iconic artworks of the Dada art movement.

I would like to mention two artists whose works have evoked notable ‘reaction’ in the age of capitalism, surveillance capitalism (which was caused by corporations gaining monopoly over the internet). One would be Banksy, who is probably the most controversial graffiti artist of the late twentieth century. Some of Banksy’s artworks have a clear undulated message, where the artwork is almost a direct satirical representation of the issue he tries to highlight (in case of the image below) – the Syrian refugee crisis. Banksy happened to speak about this particular work of art – “We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant. Apple is the world’s most profitable company, it pays over $7bn (£4.6bn) a year in taxes – and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.” This work depicts Steve job, who was actually the son of a Syrian migrant who travelled to America after the Second World War.


‘The Son of a Migrant from Syria’ 2015 (source: The Telegraph)

Another one of his famous works ‘Balloon Girl’ was chosen as Britain’s favourite art work in 2016 in a poll done by Samsung. This mural originally painted on to a wall in Shoreditch shows a young girl letting go of a heart shaped balloon. The nature of the mural which might appear dreamlike to some, depicts hope, in a world marked by atrocities like 9/11 and the refugee crisis. The fact that it was voted as Britain’s favourite painting conveys how his subject struck a chord with the audience and triggered some kind of an emotional reaction within them. This participation might be somewhat passive physically but created a larger emotional impact that resonated with people. The Steve Jobs mural was more direct and assertive in what it signified than the ‘Balloon Girl’ which was more of a subtle trigger.


‘Balloon Girl’ 2002 (source: guyhepner.com)

Another artist whose work could fall under the bracket of protest art but in a different cultural space would be Simon Denny.  Denny’s work “addresses today’s major digital issues such as crypto-currency, big data and internet surveillance, along with the biggest players in this area such as Peter Thiel, Kim Dotcom and Jeff Bezos, as well as the founders and inventors of new digital currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.” (Hamish Coney, a conversation about Founder’s Paradox, Newsroom). This work of art is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland. The game is based on the popular board game ‘Life’ to highlight the evils of surveillance and the possible dangers of tech. It allows participants in the game to think of their own actions – while playing the game, and questionable values that underpin surveillance capitalism. Denny says “Presented in this alternate visual context, the very real concepts can instead be “posited as some kind of weird fantasy”—one that may actually help viewers better evaluate the legitimacy or absurdity of the underlying phenomena” (Denny, Artnet, 2018). ‘The Founder’s Paradox’ is a satirical modern take on the downside of the digital age where the medium and form can be instantly identified by the participant by means of popular culture and re designed to transfer greater meaning to the artefacts and the game itself.


‘The Founder’s Paradise’ (source: Artnet)

I wrote about Banksy and Denny’s work because both these artists use art as an intended agency to spark a certain trail of thought or emotional response in the audience. They deal with similar concepts but are unique in their medium (Banksy in the late 1990s with the trademark stencil graffiti and Denny more recently with the oversaturated visual language of tech and data). It would be interesting to see the course of art and agency as artists pull away from traditional aesthetic to explore the cluttered semiotic sensibilities which prevail in our physical and mental spaces.


Bishop, C. (2012) Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, Verso Books

Brennan, Transmission of affect









Research into, for and through design: Manifested in User Experience Design

The three types of Research that are associated with Design and its practice are Research into Design, Research through design and Research for Design. These different denotations fall under the larger umbrella of Research by Design; “Hauberg calls it strategy, is used to describe the various ways in which design and research are interconnected when new knowledge is produced about the world through the act of designing” (Roggema, 2016, p3). The same article discusses the different stages of research through design with analysis, projection and synthesis being the most ground level form of the research models that exist or can be conceived. Joanne Mendel’s journal article on ‘Taxonomy of Research Models’ brings a four stage model –Discover-Reframe-Envision-Create. The author also gives us methodologies used in each stage of the design process, where the latter stages are defined by the nature of the design outcome.

As an example to aptly describe and differentiate these terms I would like to look at the process of designing a user experience. User experience as a term has gained immense importance in the last decade with the growth of HCI (Human Computer Interaction) in the Knowledge Age. The process or evolution of advancement in this field has come about by revisiting the ‘ontological aspects’ (Godin, Zahedi) of an ‘experience’. How can a physical act of accessing a service or product digitally, which might be linked to the consumer’s mind emotionally, be differentiated in the market space from other competitors?

In this case Research through design could be used to envision scenarios, create SWOT analysis, trend reports, customer journey maps and so on to find a golden link between the consumer and the emotional appeal of the brand. These action based frameworks and tools are often supported by theory grounded in research and creation of a new knowledge base – “In user experience model, the UX construct can be well-defined with a set of indicators. The first part is the user satisfaction towards the product..It is created when the user can easily and comfortably reach his or her usage goals with the product, when a smooth interaction is created by a seamless change of operation and system feedback, and when information is presented in an innovative, clever way” (Smith, 2017)

Thus we can pick out two to three points in the above statement that form a base for further research into design for the same context (brand landscape) with separate brands. For e.g. if Nike and Adidas were to launch a new store, their goals or ontological view of  what they want to achieve would be same. However, they would have different approaches based on their brand vision, their tools for insight generation and their outcome.

Research into design would be taking a deep dive into the epistemological and ontological aspects of user experience and looking at it from a socio cultural perspective. There are academic papers and journals articles that explore the underlying layers of user experience design and might have a more critical outlook towards the same. “Given experience’s psychological nature, a starting point for this research has been the question: What is user experience? The main approach of this work has been the development of empirical and analytic methods for evaluating qualitative representations of UXs” (Rousi, 2013, p 17) In her doctorate research paper titled ‘From Cute to Content – User Experience from a Cognitive Semiotic Perspective’ Rousi underpins the way users perceive experience, and critically examines research through design itself with a scenario that a certain experience could be shaped momentarily according to the user’s state of mind, having little to do with the physical experience he or she is meant to be encountering. Research through design, in a way, questions and provides new perspectives on the existing knowledge base.

Research for Design as pointed out by Frayling is constitutes research with a small r- “what Picasso considered was gathering of reference materials rather than the research proper” (Frayling, 93/94, p 5). Thus this would be research done while assimilating all the different visual or other sensory elements of the outcome of the user experience. In this case the research is projected in the outcome itself. In a way the weight of the term ‘design’ in this case has a lot more weightage. If a customer walks into a Nike store and successfully makes a purchase, then research for design could be proven insightful.

10b48dd33d67601a6e26e722b8607ed1A critically humorous take on user experience from Dilbert Comics


Simon Grand, Wolfgang Jonas Mapping Design Research

D. Godin and M. Zahedi Aspects of Research through Design

R. Roggema Research by Design

Joanne Mendel – Taxonomy of research models

R Rousi From Cute to Content – User experience from a cognitive semiotic perspective



Workshop with Design Council

When I signed up for the Design Council ‘Aging Wall’ workshop I was really impressed from the first email that I was sent as to how professional and well organized the entire experience was. With visual and informative slides on Design Academy and what it stood for, a brief on each group and the kind of topic we would be working on; I knew it was going to be something that would make Wednesdays worthwhile. The Design Council workshop was held over a month spanning four Wednesdays (from 17th January to 7th February 2018).

‘Service Design’ and ‘Design thinking’ have been terms that have gained a lot of traction in corporates and non corporates over the years. As the concept of design moved from aesthetic to function, centering more around human needs a number of design bodies have begun to really explore and create work based on design research, qualitative data and system and product based solutions. Design Council is one such company that is largely know in the UK for their stretch of work in this sphere.

The first day was about familiarising ourselves with Design Council and associations with value, product and design. We looked at possible definitions of design and how it has evolved over a period of time. Over the period of the day we were asked to get familiar with our respective group challenges by using the Opportunity Tool and Stakeholder Map. The engagement with these tools enabled us to realize we were inherently informed of our topics and had a certain degree of basic understanding.


Stakeholder map


Opportunity tool

The topic we were given was ‘Tackling Fear of Crime and preventing door step scams.’ It was  fairly challenging as the topic covered such large ground. We tried to build an ‘ecology’ of the ‘problem area’ and our facilitator Daniel Letts took us through design research methods like Interviews, Alternative Mapping, Journey Mapping and documentation through journals. We discussed our individual understanding of what the stakeholder ecosystem was like which also acted like an ice breaker for the group. Our personalities and our respective design backgrounds ranging from Graphic Branding and Identity, Service Design to Illustration, Interaction Design and Design Management brought a varied set of opinions and skills to the table. The classroom was set up in such a way facilitate feedback where after every exercise we were required to discuss our insights from the particular tool which created an active feedback loop.

The learning approach and curve was swift, enriching and motivated at every level. The next week we a really interesting session with Revealing Reality where we had one of their researchers come and talk to us about the importance of generating insights and how that can really determine the impact of the solutions of any particular design research question. This session gave us a break through in terms of direction as he asked us to look at the perceived fear of crime as opposed to the reality of ‘crime’ itself. What are the triggers? What causes it? It helped us map about our project canvas (another service design tool that broke down the different project aspects) and narrow down to what factors like – what kind of target audience were we looking at? Could we focus on one ‘section’ or group of the elderly, those whose movements were restricted and they were often confined to the space within their homes (extreme users)?


Insights after a session with Revealing Reality


Front cover mock up


Project Canvas

By the end of the second day we had formed a more holistic picture of our team projects through the ‘How Might we’ questions (recommended by the Harvard Business Review), a front page newspaper mockup of what the possible solution could look like. These were all tools to enable us to populate our project canvas and move forward speculatively to the ideation stage of the project.

Daniel also placed emphasis on us understanding the importance of design research and how it was different from ‘classic’ or ‘market’ design research. There is always a need for both while developing product for a consumer group, Design research was more qualitative in nature, could be micro/macro and subjective to the user. Classic or market research, which comprises statistics and quantitative analysis of generic user groups is something that can be applied after insight generation and application of design research methods.


How might we questions

The third and final day of the teaching and interaction bit of the workshop comprised further reframing and contextualisation of our challenges. We explored the colourful rose-bud-thorn method we clustered our insights into strength(pink), weakness(blue) and opportunity post its. These helped to form a roadway into the big ideas or solution areas we could possibly address. The tools we used in the session that followed was brainstorming and the difficulty matrix. Our ideas, insights and understanding of the project seemed to elevate with the help of these tools and by the end of the third day we had managed to successfully get a descriptive idea of multiple touch points that we wanted our service to access, frequently used by our target audience group.






The Difficulty Matrix

Our presentation at the end was a definitive process and how we arrived at the product. We also showed a conceptual cycle of the various touch points the service intended to cover and a service blueprint of the service- covering the various stages of the B2B idea including tie ups, packaging, distribution and final outcome. Winning a commendation out of the 6 teams for our efforts was a cherry on the cake but the entire experience with Design Council was one of the best learning stints while doing my masters in UAL. It also gave me a taste of successful collaboration and how there was always a chance of creating something greater in a team when a set of dedicated individuals put their heads together.


Prototype of our envisaged service



The team with the commendations

Design Council Website: https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/

Cre – formation, Info – tivity

Creativity is often seen as a niche since the days of the Renaissance. Painters, sculptors, musicians were seen as people who exuded different qualities and had reveled in certain experiences that made them ‘creative.’ Creativity was often seen synonymous with fine art, theatre and expression; even though artists like Leonardo Da Vinci had a strong knowledge in anatomy, mathematics and engineering. Art or ‘creativity’ was always romanticized, and placed in boxes away from logic, reason and the dreary information. 

The Industrial Era as well saw this general notion further institutionalised in work and education. Before the Digital Revolution and the disillusionment with the Corporate State, being creative was almost opposite inversely proportional to the amount of information consumed by an individual. Confirmation bias was prevalent as lots of students who ‘failed’ at in academic subjects, excelled in art school. 

This is again a subjective viewpoint, where the epistemological roots of creativity and information had not been questioned over a period of time; though each of these terms could mean a variety of things, their perceptions were hardly exploited.  

Information began to be seen as a binary of creativity when design thinking began to gain popularity in the 1990s. Information was being used to fuel solutions creatively, at a point where industries retail, technology were struggling to stand out due to the over saturation of products in the marketplace. As the Machine Age gave way to the Knowledge Era businesses and companies began to see creativity as an essential tool to help their employees connect and engage with information they are exposed to on a daily basis. Multinational corporations like IBM, Deloitte were all investing into this idea of design thinking.  

Information is now linked to the generation of new ideas. In the Digital Age there is no longer a discord between the ‘creative’ and the ‘informative’. Creativity could be a giant sheet of paper used to relay information, or information could be a smart chip on a clothing tag produced after years of creative brainstorming. The lines are blurred and rightfully so.  

On a personal note I have always used information or ‘research’ to fuel my creative practice. My learning from the very beginning (in my undergrad) was about validating ideas, using information to form a base or plateau for the form of expression. Being informed enhances one’s creativity. It gives them more fodder for new ways of thinking, iterating  and exploring. The way creative practitioners treat information also categorizes them as an ‘artist’ or a ‘designer’. An artist tends to be more attached to the stream of information they expose themselves to. There is again confirmation bias at work here, when they dig into a certain pool of knowledge that others might not care to get involved with to such  a degree of complexity. Thus the final result is seen as a subjective interpretation, a display of opinion or thoughts without any necessary outcome. Designers on the other hand use this information to create something useful, or translate it in such a way that such that it becomes more universal.  

The future though is being perceived as information driven. With the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, coders and technologists are re imagining the landscape of creative industries. The debate is ongoing: can the uncertainty and creative wonder of the human brain be replaced or largely taken over by something created by humans themselves? 

Big Data for Big Ideas

The article “A World without Causation: Big Data and the Coming of Age of Post humanism” explores  the idea of Big Data being a tool for communities using data as a source for knowledge rather than an objective distant technological advancement restricted for coders to understand user patterns. It almost gives Big Data a socialist whitewash where “The failure of centralized and bureaucratized forms of international intervention and external attempts to address international questions of peace, conflict, rights and development, has led to the imagination of Big Data as both an effective and an ethical substitute for traditional forms of international intervention, which are seen as too slow, too unwieldy and too reductionist to adequately engage with the concrete contextual realities of the world.”  

Big Data bestows communities with the power to foresee disasters, conflict and consequences. In fact it eliminates the need for causation. It champions correlation and provides possible permutations and combinations for the future without generalising complex systems. It gives us the tool of bringing about social change, although it is not powerful enough yet to bring about change itself.  

“Data enables our embedded relationalities to become knowable.” As we move away from assembly line production widespread in the Industrial Age where development was linear and the complexities of humanitarian aspects of life were undermined to acquire materialistic wealth; this article indicates the possibility of Big Data transcending this feared limitation of linear predictable growth.  

Big Data “works the other way around, not ‘up’ to general laws but ‘down’ to the contextualisation of the individual case, thereby promising  personalised  or individualised health care, political campaigning or product purchasing information. Big Data ‘drills’ or ‘mines’ down from the mass of data to the individual case rather than fitting the individual into a set of deterministic or causal understandings based on selecting a small number of social or cultural attributes.”  

Reading this article has enabled me to polish my idea of what ‘Big Data’ is and how it’s utilization can be optimized, and it’s almost comforting to know that there are social scientists working towards this goal. However the challenge really rests with us to determine how (as correctly pointed out in the article) marginalized societies can really use Big Data to their advantage. Is there a way Big Data can co relate and establish which are some of the places that refugees are most likely to migrate to and which countries are in a state, economically and ethically are in a position to provide shelter to these populations?  

In an article by Anirudh V. S. Ruhil, Professor of Leadership & Public Affairs, Ohio University he points out, “As a long-standing practitioner of predictive analytics, I know the field is ready to take on this challenge. But political and financial roadblocks are keeping us from addressing the crisis.” There are multiple data collecting tools like “national population censuses, sample surveys, smart phones, border crossings” which can help collate information and feed it into the Big Data landscape, to help policy makers and officials guide migrant populations in a way that they can be provided the quickest and best alternative life that they seek.  

“Sophisticated analytics could help experts confidently chart where refugees are likely to head next. Policymakers, spotting signs of a future influx, might reroute refugees to different countries. This real-time data could also help organizations quickly and accurately shunt money and goods to the locales that need them the most.” 

He also points out that privacy is a big threat that might delay the use of big data in overcoming the refugee challenge as it is imperative for this Data not to fall into the hands of groups that might threaten the well being of these “vulnerable populations”.  

‘Big Data’ today is also one of those talked about entities that artists and creative practitioners are eager to get their heads about. I came across a young artist called Simon Denny, originally from Auckland who has left a distinctive mark already by exhibiting his work on platforms such as the Venice Biennale, MoMa New York and so on. His work tries to understand the relationship between technology and human life, the dystopian visual culture that is representative of our times. His installation “All you need is Data” “cleverly deconstructs the 2012 incarnation of Digital Life Design, or DLD, an elite invitation-only media conference that has been held annually in Munich since 2005.” His website gives an insight into his fascinating visual and epistemological viewpoint where he displays all the evident questions and interpretations that have risen in the mind of a 20 something creative practitioner(you can view it here: http://simondenny.net/). 

Many may mistake (as I must have done at some point) Big Data as something akin to information overload. It is important to distinguish the two and present the concept of it in a manner that does not paint it in a generalised light. Big Data is HUGE but unlike information it is not readily available. It needs to be accessed, analysed and harnessed. It is not static like information but dynamic in the sense that is has the power to predict the future. Big Data might seem like a concept that is difficult to grasp but the more accessible it is made as a concept, the more good it can bring to the world and its people. 






Re harnessing the Future

The core of the Future shock Systems helped us underpin some important ideas that encompass the broader question of using technology and data in an ethical way in communities around the world. All three speakers spoke about topics that not only highlighted their research and perspective on their knowledge in their respective fields, but also linked together to give the audience diverge, well researched insights into the macro phenomena that researchers and designers are exploring today.

The first speaker Greta Byrum from the Digital Equity Lab, from the New School, New York spoke about the importance of communication and transparency (a topic widely discussed in class) and how that should not become a matter of privilege which is the case in a lot of first world countries. On reading about the Digital Equity Lab I found some of their insights resonating with mine about how people who might be holding the key to change through technology might not have experienced some of the ‘issues’ or challenges they are dealing with directly. Maya Wiley, senior vice president for Social Justice at The New School says, “One of the huge disconnects we have right now between the tech sector and some of our social problems is that technologists don’t understand what the real problems are because they haven’t lived them. And if you don’t understand all of the kinds of divides we have — race, gender, class — then you can’t think effectively about how technology can help bridge those gaps rather than exacerbate them.” This effectively sums up why it’s often scary being a designer or change maker – you’re determined to see a better future, but might not be aware of the small nuances that form a part of the community and its future that you’re trying to address through your efforts and ideas.

It is refreshing to see people question the attitude of technology and the internet being the answer to all the problems the world is facing today. Alison Powell in her thought provoking talk about the non human sense, addresses that there is a need for human beings to stop wanting to find answers for everything that occurs in our ecosystem. We have an insatiable drive for knowledge which has clearly set our kind apart from the rest of the animal kingdom and enabled us to build a world where progress is an unstoppable, rapidly multiplying phenomena, but it is important to consider that we might not be able to ‘fix’ everything? Technology in the broader sense should not be projected as a magic wand that can turn rags into riches or wasteland into fodder? There is a definite need for us to slow down, again highlighting the trend the possibility of a slower economy. We can keep making ‘things’ in general sleeker, faster, more efficient but what are we creating for the future? Alison points out through an example of a hotel room in Bangkok which could ‘actually be anywhere else in the world’ that monoculture is a bleak future. By often trying to replicate and simplify experiences we are losing out on the essence and culture of activity or community itself – the story is sometimes the greater hero and is essential for a life where overcoming hurdles feel like a meaningful feat and we are still able to talk, share and feel things as a race.


Backcasting tool

I chose to look into the voice recognition and assistant trend and projected the ultimate use as something more related to emotional human needs.

Artboard 1-100 (1)