There is nothing inevitable about the way we organise our societies, and we now recognise that transnational and historically embedded structures of economic efficiency are killing the habitable planet. In this studio we explore the trade-off between efficiency and creative flourishing in structures of extraction, production, property, commerce and law, and ask where these efficiencies sit in our bodies, behaviours and feelings as both long-standing cultural legacies and contemporary harms.
The biosphere is being pushed beyond the conditions of life for many species, taken there by the agglomeration effects of the way we live as the industrialised polluter elite. In April 2021 the Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour Change reported that ‘over the period 1990–2015, nearly half of the growth in absolute global emissions was due to the richest 10%, with the wealthiest 5% alone contributing over a third (37%).’ At present, a common strategy to bring about behaviour change is to exhort the polluter elite to consume less or consume more wisely and to do so within an apocalyptic framing of the end of the world
Our recently globalised culture of industrialised work and consumption is the zone of contention: fifty percent of the gases contributing to global temperature rises since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution have been pumped into the atmosphere since the end of the 1980s. This culture requires a turbo-charged structure of efficiency. The structural, emotional and psychological efficiencies of work and production culture require us to absorb our inability to manage overwhelming demands, and ignore or suppress our caring responsibilities because we all have far too much to manage, far too much to do and far too much to risk in saying no. There are whole industries devoted to developing ever greater resilience and grit in the face of ever greater efficiencies. These industries and techniques are covers designed to make us feel better about being increasingly less able to care.
Economies of Objects vs Ecologies of Feeling
In this studio we will explore what economic efficiency means in human, historical and environmental terms. We must start imagining possibilities for scalable change that undo climate disaster but these are not going to be found primarily through thinking about lumps of stuff (even in the mode of creating friendlier lumps of stuff or fewer lumps of stuff or cleverer lumps of stuff that can clean up the mess). The solution can only arrive in terms of human feelings of relatedness to one another and care for other beings. We will consider the obstacles to and levers for a more equitable and distributive practice of care through the way we work, create and relate to others.
We will ask ourselves what we feel, why we feel it, how we feel it, and work out how these patterns of feeling are plugged into the object production and distribution structures we want to change (and their environmental agglomeration effects). We can easily understand ecological harms when we think about microplastics, heavy metals and dumping, excess consumerism and excess waste but these are only the external signs of the problem, and not the problem itself. We might stop seeing the ecological problem primarily in terms of a massively distributed economy of physical objects and see it for what it is: a dysregulated ecology of feeling that disrupts our connections to each other and to other living beings in the world.
Rather than set readings, the studio offers a broad range of resources for students to explore and select from in support of the seminar syllabus. To see the full set of sources and texts, view the Studio Reading List on Talis.
- Extractivism and the Anthropocene: What do we mean by the anthropocene as geological period, and what does it have to do with the extraction of mineral resources from the earth? How can we understand and complicate the concept?
- Agrilogistics and Moralism: Where do our structures of moral judgement originate, and what roles do shame and the threat of exclusion play in our psychic lives? Do we need to dispel shame as a sociopolitical tool? If so, what replaces shame as a lever of change?
- Lives of Property: How can we understand the way historical structures of ownership, including racialised structures of enslavement and colonising occupations, determine the horizons of our behaviour, actions and judgements?
- Limited Liability: Property, ownership, our sense of self, and our sense of accountability to others and to the state are intertwined. We will examine some historical stages and institutional developments that determine how we understand these relations today.
- Indigeneity and Belonging: What does it mean to belong to the earth in an indigenous sense? Is it possible, from the perspective of our industrialised modernity, to recuperate a sense of environmental belonging without falling into naivety, appropriation, nativism and ethno-populism?
- Feeling and Risk: Macro-economic structures and transnational cultural forms may appear to us to be too vast to transform. What can neuroscience, psychology, philosophy and cultural critique tell us about the nature of our feelings, and about what is at stake when we consider change?
Studio image: Code of Hammourabi, stele, Musée du Louvre. Banner: Hans Op de Beeck, Staging Silence (3), video still (detail), 2019
Dissertation Studios 2021–22
Studio 01: Another Place
Out of a direct treatment of place, whether subjective or objective, emerges another place. It is neither new, nor fixed in time, but it has remained unexplored, scarcely documented – piles of lime and useless cicadas.
Studio 02: The Critical Thinker’s Guide to You: Making Sense of Writing in Creative Cultures
This studio focuses on the relationship between creative practice and criticism – and how theories and cultural and social networks help shape and define the creative process.
Studio 03: Fashioning the African Diaspora
Elli Michaela Young
Exploring the fashioning of the African diaspora and with a particular focus on the Caribbean Island of Jamaica, this studio aims to think through how fashion and dress is used to grapple with ideas of self.
Studio 04: Meaningful Work
This studio will consider the value of making in itself, independent of the product or outcome, exploring the idea of craft as meaningful work.
Studio 05: Thinking with Ruins
Thinking With Ruins begins with the idea that to think about ruination allows us to approach subjects that are of interest materially, aesthetically and politically and it allows us to work across scales - from dust to debris to object to landscape.
Studio 06: The Practice of Space – Writing Atmospheres in Art and Architecture
Nico de Oliveira
Dissertation Studio 06 looks at space as practice, since each location is a mutable entity framed as a moment in time, populated by individuals and shaped by their actions as artists, musicians, curators, designers, architects, writers and spectators.
Studio 07: Suck it up
This studio takes a sideways looks at the intersection of youth culture and late capitalism considering the impacts and influences of desire, the cartoon, consumerism and cuteness in shaping our lived contemporary experience.
Studio 08: The Conquest of Joy
This studio encourages dialogues around the cultural production at a time when narratives founded on certainty have ceased to make sense.
Studio 09: Paths of Desire
“Design needs to be plugged into human behaviour. Design dissolves in behaviour.” Naoto Fukasawa
Studio 10: The Hammer without a Master
Studio 10 explores the strange space between individual and collective, ecological action. It embraces the idea that we think, remember and decide ‘in the world’, rather than in our heads; that we are connected in unexpected ways; and that this connection may be a key to navigating life in an increasingly paradox present.
Studio 11: Sport and Aesthetics
Dissertation Studio 10 will examine the concept of aesthetics as applied within that most everyday activity: sport.
Studio 12: Curating Interiors: The Studio Becoming Museum
This studio explores key concepts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries – from questions of knowledge, history and nationhood, through to authenticity, agency and value – by means of an exploration of the particular interiors worked in by artists, makers and other practitioners.
Studio 13: Visualising the Future
Cultural history, from high art to kitsch, is littered with visions of the future; some inspiring, some ridiculous, almost all of them wrong.
Studio 14: Technical Pitches: Outside is free
Outside is indeed free, but you need the skills, the kit, the knowledge and ideally ‘the look’ to fit into this world. This Studio will investigate how architecture, furniture, clothing and product design shape the work, living and leisure cultures they support. How these have influenced our relationship to our environment and indeed how this relates to resources at a local and geo-political level.
Studio 15: The Voice of Things
This studio will offer a challenge to the idea that objects are unruly things and need to be brought to heel by labelling, categorising, taxonomising. Instead, it offers an invitation to give voice to the mute and invisible, by listening to objects and treating them as allies.
Studio 16: “If I stay silent nothing will change”: Identity, Politics, Social Change and Creative Culture(s)
This cross-disciplinary studio considers how power, culture, politics, identity, representation, activism, social media, and mass culture theory intersect with a range of arts practices, including photography, architecture, design and fine art, film studies, fashion and music, sound, pop art, and theatre.
Studio 17: A History of Efficiency
There is nothing inevitable about the way we organise our societies, and we now recognise that transnational and historically embedded structures of economic efficiency are killing the habitable planet. This Studio explores the trade-off between efficiency and creative flourishing in structures of extraction, production, property, commerce and law; and asks where these efficiencies sit in our bodies, behaviours and feelings as both long-standing cultural legacies and contemporary harms.
Studio 18: A Material World
The Studio will consider how textiles in fashion, furnishing, art, and beyond are embedded in our cultural traditions and give us insight into ourselves and our society. We will ask about their relevance in terms of the environment, gender issues, wellbeing and consumption.