Copyright 2019
Built with Indexhibit

Speculative evidences of a hybrid design practice

Unused/unrealised exhibition premise

As a small studio involved mainly in self-initiated work—ranging from making objects/prototypes, designing/production of printed matter, writing, and conducting research and workshops across several areas of interests and disciplines—we find it challenging not only to position ourselves, but also to communicate that positioning in an unambiguous manner to a broader public (not that we feel there is a need to, but it is often a practical necessity for grant applications, institutional requirements, or even just something as minor as family/parental expectations). This is especially so within Singapore, where we are currently based in, and where design is understood almost entirely as a service for driving businesses and economy. For that reason, any opportunity to think about our practice as a whole (introspectively yet with an expanded perspective) is as valuable to us as any other project of any nature. Beyond the opportunity to—in all honesty—situate our work within a larger cultural landscape, we are also very interested to use our experiences, work involvements, interests, and even failures as departures into speculating and reflecting on possibilities of hybrid practices in/from design. We also acknowledge that notions of the “hybrid” present in our practice is something we might have otherwise overlooked if not pointed out by the curators of this exhibition. These are ideas we now hope to explore and represent—the approaches and processes, ways of thinking, and interconnected areas of interests within the studio—over a mere showcasing of works, which also does not add up to a significant amount yet for that matter. How can we communicate our thinking, motivations, and attitudes that are partially fuelled by a resistance towards categorical tendencies that are in our view, both sustained and generated by systems that “safe-keep” modes of practices that are status quo?

Thinking along these lines, we came to a provisional understanding of the “hybridity” present in our practice so far. Instead of being a simple mix or addition of disciplines or activities (and can be described as doing design and/or research and/or teaching), it is more a way of working that navigates multiple lines of inquiry through interchangeable modes of engagement not limited by existing boundaries (disciplinary or format-based) or divides (academic/non-academic or institutional/non-institutional). This, in contrast to the earlier statement, can be described as doing design as research as teaching/learning, where there are no specific modes of engagement tied to any line of inquiry; areas of interests are developed equally distinctively through lectures, workshops, independent projects, writings, and of course also practical explorations like prototyping, photography, drawing, or graphic design. Each mode of engagement allows us to develop a specific interest in different ways situated in different contexts; they are not so much repeated representations but extensions and networks of/with each other. In other words, a teaching or design activity can in itself be research, as much as a research activity can in itself be design; this happens when each mode of engagement is seen as creative acts in themselves and not a means to something else (“teaching” as inquiry rather than teaching as instruction, or publishing/exhibiting as content production rather making a publication/exhibition about past contents). These are, in part, connected to academic terms like design/artistic research or practice- based research, where research can happen in-and-through art/design. In that same way, design/ research/teaching can very well happen in-and-through (inter-connectedly) design/research/ teaching. This way of working—something developed semi-consciously even before the studio started—allows us to tap on other platforms and formats that are related to but not necessarily specific to design(ers), hence the possibility to develop and communicate the studio’s involvement in design across various types of discourses, settings, and spaces.

Contained within this way of working is a challenge against binaries common to design as well as in general—between theory and practice, thinking and making, service-providing and content-creation, visual and textual modes of communication, academic research and artistic research, teaching and learning, etc. In this sense, we see no need to differentiate ourselves as either practitioners or theoreticians (if we are allowed to put it this way) in design, even if our education falls under either of those categories. Yet, we do see the need for self-education and constant learning beyond what current design education offer—with curriculums and courses divided between, broadly speaking, theory and practice. Going back to the way of working we described earlier, it is clear that a major part of this self-education is in itself achieved through our work:setting up parameters for collective inquiry that also generates content and understanding for ourselves and others. Our way of seeing materialised through casually photographing everyday observations in the urban environment could contribute to an academic discourse when carefully contextualised but it is at the same time a way of researching and learning about our environment; an aggregation of outcomes embody knowledge and understanding about aspects of the city revealed through an ever-expanding collection of photographic fragments. In the same way, a project exploring connections between drawing processes and thinking can start out as a simple reflection on past sketches and drawings, then extend into a student-initiated workshop inviting participants to experiment with quick drawing exercises prepared beforehand as a collective inquiry into the subject, or as a masterclass inviting students to design their own drawing exercises as a way to develop personal iterative methods. This way of investigation through designing and experimenting with drawing activities could also be applied into a specific context—mapping the city—and again, have its process and outcomes discussed within an academic discourse on visual methods, artistic research, and the urban environment.

It is also probably not coincidental that the term “hybridity” in theoretical discourse (postcolonial theory in specific) points to notions of “in-between-ness” that challenges binary thinking and provides some kind of agency to a “subaltern” against the “hegemonic”. We thought this contains interesting parallels to our current position or any other designers operating from the margins, always against a backdrop of shifting commercial markets and trends. Although this does not grant immediate legitimacy (cultural, intellectual, etc.) to peripheral practices—recently popularised through exhibitions and publications echoing terms like “inquiry”, “periphery”, “alternative”, “critical”, “speculative”, “fiction”, etc. and which also received much criticism—they should not be altogether dismissed. With that, we hope to present what we feel is another perspective to the discourse: the early beginnings of a possible hybrid design practice that is sustained by cutting across—and not just combining—mediums, disciplines, and modes of engagement. The former emphasises on the designer being someone who is equally able and interested to design (reflect and articulate) his or her own practice and considers how a hybridity of involvements allows for that practice to critically engage and affect wider communities. In response, we propose exhibiting a small curated selection of items from the processes and outcomes of the studio. These range from (1) photographic documentation of time/event-based activities, (2) object-based explorations and prototypes, (3) printouts of supporting materials for workshops and excerpts from written works, (4) visual materials ranging from drawings, sketches/plans, or photographs generated from independent projects or workshops, and also (5) the materials published under our publishing imprint Temporary Press.

Although a (re)presentation of our works in the form of contextually removed and to some extent abstracted fragments might at first seem to contradict any critical intention present in the earlier descriptions, we find its mode of presentation reflective of yet another non-binary that is characteristic of our work—between speculative (empirical) and de facto (theoretical or conjectural) knowledge—and asserts a different kind of criticality. Instead of avoiding ambiguity, we approach it as a strategy to create an open-ended representation of the range of activities from the studio, hence allowing for subjective reinterpretation and imagination of what constitutes a critically self- aware, hybrid practice. Despite this, we are not discrediting the potential criticality of any coherent wholes within our practice, but temporarily removing emphasis on specificity while acknowledging that many of the projects are in-progress and will do better with more maturity. This way, our intention is far from claiming to be practitioners of what we are putting out for discussion, but a conceptualisation of a self-appropriated, auto-biographical work that embody the ideas and propositions of such a practice, and where thematic or conceptual connections are left open to interpretation.

gideon-jamie, July 2018