Impact! @ the RCA


Some quick notes from my visit to the Royal College of Art to see the Impact! exhibition. This presented a series of projects in which RCA-connected designers (linked primarily with the Design Interactions department) were put together with scientists working on projects funded by the EPSRC. The overarching goal, as with much of the work on Design Interactions students, is to draw attention to, and help the public imagine, the potential impact of new forms of science on our futures through the development of artefacts and stories that help us see forward.

In some cases, the projects seemed even more ambitious, namely to help further the actual science. There is a reflective thing going on here, of course, where this isn’t just about communicating outwards to the public. Much of the works looks inward, too, allowing scientists themselves to see the potential impact of their own work, enabling a deeper form of insight onto what it is they’re doing (for better or worst).

First, a gratuitous shot of my daughter enjoying the multi-media experience of Zoe Papadopoulou’s Nuclear Dialogues.



Fabulous Fabbers, from David Benque, really caught my attention. David imagines a radical shifting in the way we acquire our “things” brought on by new fabrication technologies (such as 3D printing), new ecological imperatives, new forms of technological crafting and so on. In his project he imagine nomadic factories that, like the big top circus, travel from town to town producing and replicating a communities needs on demand.



Pathogen Hunter by Susana Soares and Mikael Metthey. A beautiful and fictional set of tools for the budding microbe hunter.



Revital Cohen’s Phantom Recorder. A device for catching the electrical echoes of phantom limbs (the feeling that a limb is still there after it has been lost).



James Auger’s Happylife is exploring the use of thermal imaging technology as a security instrument that, through heat signatures of the body, can assess a person’s physiological state, and therefore potentially the subtle cues that might give away the mental state. Could imagery like this identify the guilty? This is a working system. As you stand in front of the camera (at the bottom-right of the first image) your face appears on the large screen, freezes for a few seconds, then the dials on the device in the second image start to turn. I like how James has left their meaning ambiguous. They’re not labelled. To some extent that speaks to the tension between the confidence we seem to have in technology by default, that it CAN do this sort of prediction accurately, and the reality that in the end we’re assigning deeply meaningful personal traits to the random changes in digits.




The 5th Dimensional Camera from Jon Ardern and Anab Jain. As usual, Anab’s work is beautifully supported by storytelling. This is a fictional camera that “sees” into 50 parallel dimensions at once, through the “power” of quantum mechanics. The work tells the story of 3 test subjects who live with the camera, each of which use it in quite different ways. The subject in the second shot below points the camera at themselves, writing messages daily of what they’re feeling. This doesn’t feel unlike the sort of public naval-gazing that takes place on sights like Flickaday, except the audience in this case is the subject herself. The camera shows her, and a myriad of different messages, across all these parallel dimensions at the same moment. Each life and message is subtly or wholy different from the “original” as it corresponds to a different branch in space-time.




Policing Genes by Thomas Thwaites. Thomas imagines a world that doesn’t seem at all implausible, even as it seems slightly ridiculous. Field trials for plants that are being genetically modified to produce vaccines are already taking place. This is the science that Thomas is focussed on. He assumes perfectly reasonably that, humans being humans, this is simply another technology ripe for hacking, and that suburbs the world over will soon be filled with little patches of English Country Gardens, hiding away narcotics and controlled pharmaceuticals in their greenery. Naturally, the Police will need a team of crack bees to sniff them out.


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