Personal Development Plan

This year in Constellation I have had the opportunity to learn a lot of different things that I had not given that much consideration before in both keynote lectures and also through two study groups that I could choose.

The first study group I ended up with was called ‘Things Could Be Otherwise’. This was a study group focused on philosophy. I hadn’t really done philosophy before so I was interested in what it would be like. I found this study group interesting, especially when discussing technology because I am interested in how people interact and live with increasingly smarter technologies such as mobile phones. Admittedly I found some of the required reading a little bit heavy but I still enjoyed looking into the ideas.

Whilst none of the topics we covered were directly linked with my practice, I found that by attending these sessions, I learned how to form better arguments for not only my writing, but when discussing my work and defending certain choices I choose to make.

I also found that when we discussed what drawing is, I was able to open my mind a bit when it came to my attitude towards what drawing is and how I draw. This has led to me being more willing to experiment with how I draw. However I didn’t agree with everything that was said about drawing but I that’s fine because I knew how to structure an argument around why I didn’t always agree.

When it came to the first essay, I decided to write about Asmovian robo-ethics. This was centred around the idea of The Three Laws of Robotics that Isaac Asimov devised in his many works, most notably I, Robot. I found this to be a really difficult essay to do because I couldn’t find much in the way of academic sources. This meant that I ended up sourcing forum sites such as Quora which isn’t really ideal.

The other main problem I had was that I found it extremely difficult to streamline the essay to just answering one question. I ended up asking lots of questions and trying to find answers to them all. I suppose this comes with the territory since the subject of Artificial Intelligence is so big, but I should have been more aware of what I was writing about and which question I was actually going to set out and answer. I think writing that essay was very useful because, for one, it got me wiring in an academic way which is good practice but it also made me become more aware of what I was writing and making sure everything I wrote had a purpose.

The last problem I had with that essay was that it was way over the word limit. This is because I was being too ‘illustrative’ with my words rather than being straight to the point. I have definitely learned from that since my second essay is under the word limit.

The second study group I had was sustainable practices. This study group felt more immediately relevant to me than my first study group. First off I learned about the history behind the unsustainable society we have today. I found that by going through this, it was easier to understand why we think and consume the way we do today.

I also learned about what the ‘sustainability landscape’ is today and the difficulties facing people who are trying to change it. This made me think about what I should be thinking about in my own practice. I don’t consider my practice to be very sustainable at all, the things that I am interested in can be very textile and plastic heavy and through researching my essay and going to the sessions, I was able to get a better sense of the damage and the impact of what I was using for materials.

I feel as though doing sustainable practices has made me aware of a huge problem that my practice has. I am interested in costumes and props and that kind of thing but they’re extremely unsustainable. These tend to use a lot of textiles and plastics and electricity for machines etc. The problem is that they consume a lot of resources but they have a limited usage and aren’t worn again after they’ve served their purpose. I’m mentioning this because one of the things we were discussing is the longevity of items and how willing people are to discard what they have and I think the costume/props area is the same way albeit for different reasons.

Doing this study group has also made me realise that I need to be responsible with the things that I am making and putting into the world. By this I mean that in order to encourage more sustainable behaviours, I should make my objects long wearing and as useful as possible.

I also think that my essay writing has improved a lot. I had done my best to use the advice given by my previous regarding being more concise or answering only one question in the essay. In doing that I was able to be within the word limit this time.

I also had a tutorial with my tutor and we went over a draft of my sustainability essay which was helpful because I learned I had gotten my referencing muddled up so I was able to later fix that. It was also good because I had learned of a few weird turns of phrases I had used. This is a bad habit of mine since I tend to write as I talk which is not really appropriate for academic writing and so some of my sentences my read a little strangely at times. I have also been able to correct these.

Overall my first year of constellation has been good, whilst there were some lectures I found more interesting than others I was able to find things that have helped both my writing and my practice.

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Sustainable Practice 5

For this session we needed to bring in some people who demonstrate sustainable practice.

Sophie Mather Yeh Group

Sophie Mather is an industry leader in sustainable textiles. One of the most environmentally damaging aspects of clothes production is the dying process, specifically water dying. Water dying clothes is responsible for disposing of half the Mediteranian Sea’s worth of water every year. Water dying is also responsible for depositing 200 000 tons of chemicals into rivers that manage to get past water treatment. Often this water is then used to irrigate crops. Sophie Mather’s idea to combat this is something she calls ‘dry dye’. Dry dye is a process that uses absolutely no water and instead uses supercritical carbon dioxide. This process also uses 50% less energy and 50% less chemicals than water dying.

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The ‘dry dye’ machine.

 

This is a brilliant advancement in making one of the world’s most polluting and environmentally damaging industries more sustainable however it still has a ways to go in that it although it uses less energy, it still uses it and chemicals are still needing to be produced for it. It would be very difficult if not impossible to make this process completely, 100% environmentally positive or neutral but I think this is a good start and it’s important that this starts to be the standard method of dying insteed of the exception.

 

Suzanne Lee Biocoutre

The idea of Biocoutre is to develop methods for growing materials for clothes using bacteria culture and bringing them to market. Using bacteria culture instead of cottons and nylons puts less strain on the environment and creates less waste. Fabric can be grown in liquid vats and they will take the shape of the vat. The vision for this is to find ways to grow clothing straight onto a form and to be able to grow functions like waterproofing into the bacteria cells themselves. Since these clothes can be biodegraded, this could help reduce the number of textiles that end up hanging around in landfill sites. The other thing that Lee is looking towards is going back to a culture where we spend more money on one item of clothing and buy less of them and take care of the clothing (in a similar vein to Studio XO and Patagonia) and therefore consume less.

 

I think the main problem that this runs into is that the bio fabrics are made of green tea, sugar and a starter culture. The issue here is that these resources need to be grown and produced somewhere so although it creates amazing opportunity to reduce the chain of waste in the textiles industry, if this method of creating fabric became the norm, there might be an increased strain in other areas.

 

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A skirt that was grown using bacteria culture that has been laser cut with a pattern representing the bacteria cells. 

 

Oleo Sponge

Oleo sponge is a sponge that has been developed to help clean up oil spills in the ocean. The sponge absorbs oil whilst allowing water to pass through thus cleaning the water. The even more interesting part though is that both the oil and the sponge can be reused afterwards. I think this is a really interesting development but it does seem to be more of a ‘band aid’ solution rather than actually solving it. It still encourages the use of oil to start with when really we should be trying to move away from oil.   

oleo sponge 16x9

Sustainable Practices 4

The Origins of Sustainability

Sustainability was first brought to wider attention in the Stockholm agreement of 1972 and since then the UK has produced the ‘Securing the Future’ report that takes into account the economy and social justice.

There are many models on sustainability such as Stahel’s five pillars:

  • Nature Conservation
  • Health and Safety
  • Reduced Flows of Resources
  • Social Ecology
  • Cultural Ecology

There are also circles of sustainability that rate whole cities on their levels of sustainability across different areas.

There was also this idea of dematerialising things. This could mean making things like books and magazines purely digital (which I get but I hate reading digital books it makes my eyes go weird and also goes against the idea of bedtime reading because electronics have blue light which is a leading cause of sleep deprivation in British youngsters which is costing the NHS a lot of money but I digress) instead of using resources like paper to produce them. It could also mean replacing products with services for example rather than every household having a clothes washer, we go back to having laundrettes.

Sustainable Practice 3

Fifty Shades of Green

Before green design was cool, concern for the environment only really applied when the economy was strong. However concern for the environment is now enshrined by law so that the government can not just pick and choose when they do and don’t feel like caring about the environment.

In groups we thought about something we did before coming into university and tried to map out all of the impacts that it had. My group chose having buttered toast with peanut butter.

The bread:

  • Ingredients needed to be grown, processed, transported, made into bread, then packaged and transported to a shop and transported home.
  • The machines used for the steps above need to be produced and transported and take up energy to use.
  • Shops also take up space and energy
  • The transportation needs to be made and the infrastructures for the transport made and all takes space, resources and energy.
  • To toast the bread you need a toaster or a grill, both of which need electricity.

The butter:

  • There needs to be space for cows.
  • Cows need to be breed, feed and vaccinated.
  • Cows need to be pregnant to produce milk.
  • Cows need to be milked.
  • Milk needs to be processed into butter.
  • The butter needs to be packaged and transported.
  • The butter needs to be refrigerated in a shop.
  • It then gets taken home and put in a fridge which takes up energy.

 

The peanut butter:

  • The ingredients for peanut butter need to be grown and harvested.
  • One of the ingredients for some brands is palm oil which comes from the rainforest.
  • The ingredients are made into peanut butter.
  • This is then packaged and taken to a shop
  • The product is bought and placed in the home

In doing this exercise we began to appreciate the huge tangle of chains of processes that go into even the most insignificant product. This made it easier to appreciate part of the reason why some people are reluctant to deal with sustainability because it is such a rabbit hole.

 

 

Sustainable Practices 2

Consumerism and Design

This week we learned about the design tactics used to accelerate consumption.

This began in the 1920’s where people started realise that items needed to look good in order to sell as well as achieve technical perfection for the time.

However even when the aesthetic became more important, actual designers only had very last minute input and the designs were usually done by the manufacturers.

Cars also became more accessible in the 1920’s due to cheap credit. This changed society from a consumer society to a consumerist society and were encourage to carry on buying things (The Great Gatsby does a good job showing this new found materialism in its excessive characters).

The primary tactic used then was something called planned obsolescence. This idea that you would release a product knowing a new model was going to be out in a few months or a year or whenever or in some cases designed to break pretty easily.

There were other tactics used as well such as:

  • Affiliating objects with a certain lifestyle. Often adverts were focused more on the person/people with the item than the item itself. It’s this idea that if you have item x you too can have lots of friends or be the envy of your neighbourhood.
  • Buying into aspirations.
  • Creating a brand new desire, something that we wouldn’t even have thought we wanted but we now want.

We were then given a task to discuss in groups how adverts for a particular product have changed over the years. My group was given the television.

In the 1940’s TV adverts were very much based on the lifestyle that a TV could afford you such as cheering on your favourite team from the comfort of your home. They also talked a lot about being able to have the radio on the TV and also advertised the quality of the cabinet it came inside.

In 1958, TVs started to have a little more variety in terms of what colour the wooden panelling was and that there was more channels and so this is what adverts focused on. Companies also named different models based on beauty icons to help shift units. The screens were also a little bigger at this time.

In 2016 adverts for TVs are found everywhere, not just print. They’re on TVs, billboards, magazines and of course there’s digital advertising. Advertising these days seems to focus on the quality of the screen and how realistic a picture they have. Screens are also gigantic and offer new technologies like 4k and 3D.

 

Sustainable Practices 1

This week in Sustainable Practices we learned where unsustainability came from by looking at before and after the Industrial Revolutions and how they helped shape the way we work and consume things today. We also learned about the aim to take things from a linear economy to one that is more of a circle and reduces consumption and waste.

We first discussed what sustainability meant. Sustainability can mean things to do with:

  • reducing waste
  • recycling
  • ethical sourcing

However it can mean a lot more than just those things and so we learned that sustainability is a huge subject that has many branches and ideas.

Then we learned about how we arrived at the problems we are currently facing. Although there is a lot of debate facing this issue, some people argue it started during the first and second industrial revolutions where things started to be mass produced to meet the needs of all people. This was the starting point for our consumer national identity and arrived at a linear economy.

The linear economy is this model where we take resources from the world e.g. oil, makes a product and then often that product is thrown away.

One of the main goals of sustainability is to make this linear economical model into a closed or looped one where products have a much longer lifespan.

It is projected that in order to sustain everyone in the world at the current level of consumption by people in the UK, we would need four planets worth of resources which is a bit worrying and in some ways causes a few ethical issues.

Trying to lower consumption is meet with opposition from manufacturers and retailers because they feel they would lose out on profit.

However, as someone who is interested in objects, there is a lot that can be done. 80% of the environmental impact of a product can be stopped at the design stage.

This is where we had a little bit of a history lesson and learned about industrialisation though the ages.

First there was pre-industrialisation

  • subsistence based economy
  • local scale production
  • no intensive production
  • harmonious with nature

Then there was The Enlightenment which was an intellectual movement in the late 17th and 18th centuries in which people started finding things out for themselves.

There was also Proto-industrialisation in which the 1689 Bill of Rights was written and in 1694 the Bank of England was established. Around this time new trade routes started to emerge and colonisation started.

During Early Industrialisation a man called Jethro Tull created a machine to more efficiently sew seeds.

Adam Smith established the Laws of Self Interest and Competition which are considered the founding principles of the market economy and capitalism.

  • The Law of Self Interest: Profit should be the first priority, the product comes second.
  • The Law of Competition: This acted as a self regulation so that standards of products remained high whilst prices low.

After this was the First Industrial Revolution which saw the move from handmade goods to mass production. The major energy source for this was coal. There were people around this time that were concerned about the environment, however there was no understanding that the environment was all connected in one big bubble rather than lots of little ones.

Then came the Second Industrial Revolution where mass production started to create products for consumers, not just capital goods. This introduced the idea that more consumption led to cheaper goods which made people more profit.

And that’s roughly how we got to where we are now.

The question to answer this week was how is an understanding of the birth of the industrial and economic paradigms important to my practice?

My studio practice at the moment is all concerning things to do with pollution which is something that was mostly kickstarted by the First Industrial Revolution. I think by learning this I am better equipped to try and solve the problems that are being caused by it and how contemporary society has arrived this expectation of ‘instant consumption’.

To me learning about this stuff makes me think that we almost want to try and deindustrialise things or try to take things to a lower scale and to do that, we need to curb consumption. This relates to my practice because as someone who is interested in objects, I realised that I can choose wether to make people want to consume or not. By that I mean I can create something that I know that people will tire of in a year and then create something new for people to do the same or I can make something that people will keep for longer.

 

 

Things Can Be Otherwise 5

Knowledge, the self and personal development plan

In this session we focused on the idea of the self and our personal development plan.

For the personal development plan I needed to answer some questions about my learning:

  • What went well?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What was my way of being?
  • What did I like/dislike?

What went well?

I think that a few things have gone well. In doing Things Can Be Otherwise I have been able to think about how to strengthen my arguments in debates. I was able to do this though looking at how philosophers like Plato, Nietzsche and Descartes contrasted their arguments and looking at the pros and cons of them. I also did this through discussion with others in a small group or with the class as a whole. This comes in valuable because knowing how to construct argument and discussion in art and design is so important. I need to be able to formulate a sound opinion and narrative for my artwork and writing to stand up for. If I can’t do that, then anything I produce would be weak, unoriginal and just not interesting.

What could have gone better?

The main thing that could have gone better was my preparation for each session. I found it difficult to get the required reading done and I wasn’t very good at keeping up with the blogs.

I also think that I should have spoken up more when I had an opinion so that I could develop my arguments more and be a bit more confident.

What did I like/dislike?

I liked that I got to think about things that I wouldn’t have thought of before because it makes me think about things and not to simply take things at face value.  I also liked the topics that were covered because they were things that I don’t usually get to talk about so it was nice to have a couple of hours out the day to ask questions and discuss them.

I didn’t like the times when we had to write a paragraph as a group. I found that extremely difficult and I prefer to write on my own. It was good in that it got me to think about writing as more of a social thing because in the past, even in exams, I tended to write as if I was explaining something to myself, it’s a private thing to me. I just thought it was easier to write something by myself and then share it with somebody else.

What was my way of being?

I thought of my way of being as an elderly person who’s lost in a supermarket. That is to say I knew what I wanted to get from the supermarket, my degree, but I don’t really know how to get there. It’s a feeling of being lost but not entirely in a bad way. From the time I’ve been here muddling my way around, I’ve encountered a lot of really exciting things through constellation like this idea of the cyborg thesis, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino and critical design. However, there’s a lot of confusing things too like trying to remember who thought what in the world of philosophy and trying to remember all the different terms.

Being lost in this supermarket degree has also been interesting for me because I have been able to observe how other people get through it and learning about other ways of being. For example there are people who are frustrated by the experience and there are others who are laid back and others who get very stressed about the whole thing.

The challenge in this way of being is trying to select the things are interesting and most relevant to me.

 

These are some loose thoughts about the personal development plan and how I feel about things at the moment.