Interview: Fara Peluso
Italian artist/designer based in Berlin: “Speculative Design is a great learning tool which analyses and studies our society”.
Fara Peluso is an artist/designer based in Berlin with a strong interest in biological processes and other living organisms. Since 2014 she has been pursuing deep research on algae, working through a speculative approach on how to envision new forms of relationships between human beings and other organisms. The synergistic collaboration with researchers and institutions plays a fundamental role in her work, developing hybrid artefacts which are intended to cross borders between the fields and knowledges involved. In 2017 she was part of Talent Pressure Cooker at BioArt Laboratories in Eindhoven. In June 2018 she exhibited at Futurium in Berlin and from October she is artist in residence for Mind the Fungi, a collaborative project between the Technische Universität Berlin, Institute for Biotechnology and Art Laboratory Berlin. In June 2019 she was artist in residence for the Imagining Ecological Futures Residency organised by the Goethe Institute of Brussels, KIKK Festival Namur and the Cultural Center of Namur – Abattoirs Bomel.
How connected was your education with the Speculative Design (or related) approach you are using in your work today?
During the period of my university education in Italy, unfortunately, it was still difficult to have the possibility of combining the academic programme with a speculative and experimental approach. Coming from a classical education in industrial design, at a certain point I decided to work alone through a speculative approach because the pursuit of research had started to be extremely important for my working method. I began to be strongly fascinated by the forms and structures present in nature, considering them a great strategy for design. But this was still the moment when I was considering my work from a human point of view, thinking of doing something to satisfy the needs coming from a human sphere. Then I decided to change this position and do something for a whole system in which not only humans are present, but also all living organisms on Earth.
Could you please select one of your favourite Speculative Design projects and tell us what you like about it?
weaReactor, a project developed by me in 2017 during a residency period at BioArt Laboratories in Eindhoven (NL), talks about the values of society of the future, remarking on the relationship between human beings, nature and technology. It’s a tool and a new typology of accessory which connects the algae’s photosynthesis process with the breath of the wearer, exemplifying how the work of artists and designers can contribute to raising critical questions. This accessory contributes to creating a symbiotic relationship between human beings and algae, both part of a biological process or elements exchange process like CO2 and oxygen. What makes weaReactor special for me is the experiential aspect connected with a fashion accessory. This project wants to move away from the aesthetic codes celebrated until now, contributing instead to changing public awareness about other living organisms and creating a new experience of wearing an accessory. It’s a fictional artefact which tells the story of a possible future scenario and symbolises the new research and designing methodologies emerging in the field of art and science.
Also, I would like to add a project by Daisy Ginsberg – Designing for the Sixth Extinction – which is a speculative idea of how to “preserve” in the face of an extinction event which may be caused by humans. It’s a project which places at its centre a question of ecosystems changing and being destroyed, where the human can not only be the main cause but also the mind behind the solution. It’s fiction, design, biology, research and new fields like synthetic biology and design cooperation. It asks what it means today to be a biologist and a designer; what if both these disciplines start to cooperate and develop a new synthetic biological future. Designing for the Sixth Extinction wants to investigate the potential and the impact of biology and design on biodiversity and conservation.
Also questions concerning ethics and what humans consider tolerable are posed when new species are designed by synthetic biologists to support endangered natural species and ecosystems. Designed species are released into the wild, compensating for the biodiversity lost due to farming and chemical production activities. They are modeled on fungus, bacteria, invertebrates and mammals, machines that substitute vanished organisms offering also protection against harmful invasive species, diseases and pollution. This project sees a deep cooperation between diverse professional figures and asks what is important not only from a human point of view but taking into consideration a whole system that has been in place forever. It gives a clear example of a possible future solution where design, biology and technology are well synthesised, keeping and respecting the roles of all actors. But at the same time also other questions are raised, thinking about how designed organisms would have consequences on biological control, risks and ownership. If nature is totally industrialised for the benefit of society will nature still exist to save us?
Photos by Anna Freitag.
If students asked about the practical or professional applications of this type of design, what would you say? (Or what are the practical and professional aspects?)
Starting to work with a Speculative Design approach means considering design’s important role in the study of society and its future. It means that there’s not a big division between art and design practices which together share methods, materials, know-how and environments. Speculative Design is of course a great tool for experimenting with new aesthetic codes and developing original ideas, but I think the most important aspect is the learning possibilities we can take from it. Being speculative means being critical about the contemporary condition, asking what future we want and who we want to become as people in relation to nature and new technologies. Speculative Design, we can say, is a great learning tool which analyses and studies our society with a great capacity for future projection. That as a consequence of this working method there’s the possibility to collaborate with diverse figures coming from other fields and backgrounds. Because to speculate with design it is also important to look at other “playgrounds” coming from art, literature, science, technology and cinema; not only borrowing things but creating new collaborations and crossing the borders of working specialisations.
Speculative practice could contribute to creating more awareness about the consumer system, giving more value to the relationships and experiences we can have between us and the environment.
In your opinion what is the purpose of Speculative Design? Please suggest up to three key metrics for evaluating the success of a project.
I think that one of the important purposes related to Speculative Design is the possibility of being critical minded and pursuing a democratic attitude. What we’ve learned to date is that designing an object can also mean taking a precise position as a designer, asking the user to make a choice – but, unfortunately, most of the time, these choices are manipulated by something that is difficult to stop and which has shaped our attitudes and contemporary life. I’m talking about the market laws that have governed our capitalist society, even dominating political and social choices. I think that today speculative practice could contribute to starting to change this reality, or at least contribute to creating more awareness about the consumer system, giving more value to the relationships and experiences we can have between us and the environment. This for me means being democratic, open to new relationships, knowing more about other living entities and accepting any kind of diversity. Being democratic means being critical thinkers, something that today can help to destroy the conformity which is always so powerful and predominant in our society.
I would consider a successful speculative project one that falls within these parameters:
- A collaborative project between at least two different fields, e.g. design/art with tech or design/art with science;
- Being critical about a specific topic;
- Being of a highly visionary nature;
- Being experimental through the use of different tools, knowledges and aesthetic codes;
- Being somehow connected with research, invention or new technology.