Oh Hai! We are A Parede, a brazilian design research duo currently living in Berlin. Our research interests fall within decolonial thought, radical pedagogies, gender, and sound studies.

Drop us a line for collaborations, requests, ideas and/or general friendliness: hello@a-pare.de

On “World-Creation”: Talk at the School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe (2015)

In September 2015 we were invited by Rachel Uwa from the School of Machines, Making & Make-Believe to give a talk on “world-creation”, under their 2015 Program “Fabricating Empathy.” Joining us in this talk/panel was designer and former RCA alumni Sascha Pohflepp, as well as the program’s instructors Sitraka Rakotoniaina and Andrew Friend.

We decided to shift the theme’s focus to “world negation” instead, particularly focusing on the refugee crisis (at the time only starting to be discussed in Germany/EU), and the negation of human rights in Brazil. This is the text we read to the audience:

Speculative and Critical Design needs to acknowledge its past in order to be accountable for the futures it yields. And by that we mean not only SCD’s recent, specific past – we’re talking about a fairly young discipline – but also the time, place and values it was created from, that it perpetuates and keeps on reproducing. When doing this super quick, super short and by no means comprehensive summary of the idea that the past is as important as the future for the creation of speculative proposals, we’d like to present one instance in which we tried to address this question, and then – also very quickly – assess its impact.

If we place the idea of future-creation on a timeline, we assume that it departs from the world as it is towards a future-yet-to-be, whether possible, probable or preferable; but from the moment we do not acknowledge the world as it is as a speculative construction, we fail to project our speculations further than a perpetuation and propagation of the same problematic values that construct our reality. What we mean with that? you ask: we mean that we carry with us the marks of our past – some of us are able to forget it, to dismiss it as something “behind in time, far in space”, as Walter Mignolo would say [1]. Most of us, who are still subjected to remain behind in time and far in space, cannot; our colonial past is always prefiguring our future – or lack thereof.

Asylum seekers on a boat at the coast of the Mediterranean

Historically, we’ve seen Europe creating the very notion of the human – enlightened, modern, etc. – by putting itself above Others in what is technology and what is magic, in what it means to be “developed”, in what literacy means – and also in what history – its past and its future – means for the rest of the world around it. The recent “refugee crisis” and the constant bordering and negation of certain bodies is nothing but the continuation of that same project. The world as we live in today is but a construction based on negating the right to be human from Others: the “primitive”, “uncultured”, “underdeveloped”, or, if you will, the “undesigned”.

Then what happens with the “undesigned”?

A refugee shelter set on fire in Nauen, just outside Berlin. Luckily, the expected 300 refugees were not installed there yet. This happened a few days before our talk so the subject was very fresh.

Well, we think that the impact and ramifications of this imposed mode of being in the world is far too complex for this short talk – as you can see –, but we’d like to focus, for the sake of making sense within this panel, on where SCD falls in – and falls short, for that matter. Despite much of what has been said in these past year’s discussions, this future-creation aspect of the discipline, very often dressed in autopoietic white-cube aesthetics, is indeed responsible for the perpetuation of a political agenda, in the shape of a performative assertion of sovereignty. It is as simple as it gets: Speculative Design fears that the “undesigned” will subsume the “designed” to the same belated fate the latter have imposed on them for centuries now. Speculative Design wants its subject – the WEIRD (Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic) [2] – to fear its loss of sovereignty, to fear famine, political turmoil, negation of human rights, to fear becoming less human (and here I give a nod to Tony Fry).

We think that our role today in this panel is to keep the conversation alive: Speculative Design needs to account for the past in order to understand the worlds it wants to create. It seems to me that disaster only becomes real if it knocks on the door of the privileged; SCD’s MO consciously decides to portray it in a representational, imagetic, and very often solutionist fashion – one in which the disaster has come this close but remains always at bay, because it has been dispatched to somewhere else. Granted, its preoccupations lie precisely on the uncanniness that normalcy yields.

Last year we decided to take a step back from the make-and-think-later motto and spent a fair amount of time trying to understand where to situate our designerly knowledge. Brazil has been, for the past few years, facing one of the most intense political turmoils in its fairly young democratic period – it is exactly as old as both of us are. Acknowledging our recent past, we decided to create a speculative world as a way to make sense of everything that was going around us: if everything fails, what’s left for us to act on? So we crafted this super simple project trying to see our world become more and more “undesigned”: we imagined our country 24 years in the future, and what would have happened if a highly conservative power took over the country. With that, we wanted to start a conversation about our political future and how we, as designers, may position ourselves in its creation. To our surprise, our speculation has stood in its own head so far: our so-called “leftist” government has been scaring us stiff with how close it is coming from our disastrous portrayal. Funny enough, we decided to craft this scenario using news stories, OP-ed pieces, reports, etc.

We then showed a few slides from our “Brazil, July 2038” project, paired side-by-side with real news published after we put the project online. Here are a few of them:

“Gladiadores do Altar” (Altar’s Gladiators) is a paramilitary group created by the The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

The number of schools administered by the Military Police in Brazil is increasing.
The number of schools administered by the Military Police in Brazil is increasing. Rules enforced by the police include prohibiting “extravagant colors” in glasses, chewing gum, or letting hair grow.

A 33 year-old man was stabbed and bludgeoned to death in Belford Roxo, Rio de Janeiro. Police suspects homophobia and religious intolerance as the motivation for the crime.
A 33 year-old person was stabbed and bludgeoned to death in Belford Roxo, Rio de Janeiro. Police suspects homophobia and religious intolerance as the motivation for the crime.

Brazilian women resort to desperate measures after abortion crackdown.

Six Haitian immigrants were violently attack in the city center of São Paulo.
Six Haitian immigrants were violently attacked in the city center of São Paulo.

When we put this online, a few blogs and news outlets were interested in talking with us about it. But no stories were published, as far as we know. Nevertheless, as part of our doctoral researches, we have a few upcoming projects which are placed within this near future we created; but in all honesty, we are slightly afraid that our speculative projects might be getting closer and closer to the present reality. All in all, the future seems quite comfortable for some people, as it always was the case. For others, our little speculation is getting closer to coming true than we expected. We’ll let the moral of this talk hanging in the air for the round of questions. By now, we leave you with this quote from Tony Fry:

“Crucially, what begs to be understood is that the future is not that which has to be completed, but rather that which must be secured against all that would negate it.” [3]