The Walker is temporarily closed closed due to statewide COVID-19 restrictions, but we are happy to present many of the films in the exhibition Designs for Different Futures for you to watch from home. The exhibition examines the role of designers in shaping how we think about possible futures—creatively and critically—bringing together some 80 dynamic works that address the challenges and opportunities that humans may encounter in the years ahead.
Many of the works in the exhibition engage moving image to further illustrate the designers' imagined worlds, utilizing the power of narrative, world-building, and visual prototyping to immerse the viewers in their speculative propositions. Please enjoy these works from home, and visit the exhibition (when we reopen) to learn more about how designers are envisioning, critiquing, and conjuring vibrant and vital futures.
Hyper-reality follows a contracted personal shopper as she navigates a world in which AR interfaces have gamified or commodified almost every aspect of her daily life. As her AR system starts to crash, she is led to a terrifying revelation: her interfaces are in fact controlling her, not the other way around. Matsuda’s 2016 film resonates even more today, illustrating not only the problematic nature of the gig economy, which leaves groups of laborers susceptible to disaster, but also the highly likely future of AR that Facebook, Google, and other companies have already started to create. Learn more about Keiichi Matsuda here.
Merger presents a more fantastical near-future, set in a corporate workplace controlled by computer algorithms. A young consultant, seen managing her tasks and social life, talks with an interviewer about her next step: leaving the limitations of her human body to merge with the network, to better serve her clients. The reality presented here seems futuristic but resonates with our society’s contemporary obsession with work-life balance and productivity. Many of the consultant’s lines are taken from real-world self-help books and blogs that focus on maximizing efficiency. Learn more about Keiichi Matsuda here.
Catherine D’Ignazio, Alexis Hope, and Courtney Lord
Directed by Elizabeth Gray Bayne
Make the Breast Pump Not Suck
During a hackathon (a term combining the words “hacking” and “marathon”), people meet for a short period of time for intense collaboration on a specific project or theme. In 2014 the “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck” Hackathon brought together a multidisciplinary group of designers, technologists, and community partners at MIT’s Media Lab to look at the breast pump, a technology that has rarely been a focus of industrial design. In 2018 a second gathering widened the scope to include policies about paid family leave, public breastfeeding, and postpartum health care.
Teams produced concrete design prototypes for new services and technologies, while attendees of the policy summit envisioned new pathways to advocate for paid family and medical leave. The event’s organizers made a documentary and a poster to communicate these ideas and preferable outcomes to a broad audience. Learn more about the project here.
Urtzi Grau, Guillermo Fernández-Abascal, Daniel Perlin, and Max Lauter
(Make Good, New York)
Driver Less Vision
Driver Less Vision examines how cities of the future might be shaped for and by autonomous transport, and the resulting tensions between artificial intelligence and humans. The installation allows you to experience the city—in this case, a postapocalyptic Seoul, South Korea—from the perspective of a self-driving car. Its navigation relies upon a combination of radar, cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and lidar (light detection and ranging) scanners, rather than traditional wayfinding designed for human sight.
The vehicle narrates its wanderings in a story inspired by US poet Sara Teasdale’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1918), which anticipates nature healing the scars of World War I in such a way as to completely override human destructiveness. Teasdale’s poem suggests, “Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree / If mankind perished utterly,” foreshadowing a world where humans are gone and other ecosystems flourish. Learn more about the project here.
Olalekan Jeyifous and Wale Lawal
Mad Horse City (Parts 1–3)
Mad Horse City explores issues of freedom and mobility, and of agency and surveillance, in one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. The work—titled after a phrase writer Wale Lawal uses to describe the energy of Lagos, Nigeria—offers a futuristic vision of that city in the year 2115.
These videos, which are part of artist Olalekan Jeyifous’s ongoing project Improvised Shanty-Megastructures, imagine a dystopian world where improvised settlements expand vertically into the air like luxury high-rises. The videos presented here offer windows into what such a future would be like, with all of its eases, burdens, innovations, and setbacks.
Lawal’s stories unfold in each vignette. Offline is the story of a woman who pays to disconnect from the internet in an illegal botanical garden. Òminíra is set in a community that resembles Lagos’s Makoko neighborhood, located on the lagoon, but where fishing has been privatized. Dreamscape describes how dreams can be purchased as consolation at the time of one’s prescribed death. Learn more about Olalekan Jeyifous here.
The Performers: Act VII (Uncanny Valley)
Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor and director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University in Japan, is dedicated to making the world’s first fully autonomous, sentient android. He has created multiple versions—including one modeled on himself—but perhaps his most famous is Erica. Her appearance is photorealistic, with skin appearing soft and flushed, and eyes able to track movement around a room. She even gets real world jobs: Erica is slated to be the first fully autonomous AI actor to star in a major Hollywood film, currently in preproduction. She trained for the role for two years.
Filmmaker Barbara Anastacio considers Ishiguro’s work in a short film set on the grounds of a Shinto temple, reflecting on Shintoism’s belief that every object has an innate spiritual quality, drawing connections between animate and inanimate objects. As robotics and AI technologies continue to evolve, how will our relationships with inanimate objects evolve as well? Learn more about Barbara Anastacio here.
Mary Maggic with Mango Chijo Tree and The Jayder, featuring Jade Phoenix and Jade Renegade
Housewives Making Drugs
The video Housewives Making Drugs nods subversively to the genre of television programs made popular by cookbook author Julia Child and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart. Instead of offering tips on how to perfectly poach an egg, Mary Maggic’s fictional cooking show features the transfemme stars Maria and Maria teaching viewers how to whip up their own estrogen hormones at home, rather than access them through a health care system that might be expensive, restrictive, and discriminatory toward transgender communities. The project recognizes hormones as a tool of biosurveillance (a system that monitors and interprets biological, chemical, and agricultural data): “These molecules are controlled by governments, manufactured and marketed by corporations and thereby dictate our health, body autonomy, and definitions of normal and natural.” Learn more about Mary Maggic here.
AI, Ain't I A Woman?
Joy Buolamwini is a computer scientist, digital activist, and poet. With her collaborative team, the Algorithmic Justice League, Buolamwini highlights and challenges racial bias embedded within systems powered by algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI). This video illustrates how prominent facial recognition software programs run my large companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, disproportionately misgender Black women. Even celebrities such as Oprah, Serena Williams, and Michelle Obama are misidentified as male, despite the millions of images available of each woman online.
These systems tend to reinforce the logic and cultural perspectives of those who create and use them, at the expense of other groups, which can lead to more than just visual confusion. Unchecked digital technologies have been shown to discriminate against underrepresented cultures in everything from sentencing decisions to targeted online advertising, hiring practices, DNA analysis, and health care. As the world becomes more reliant on AI-informed systems, how will designers of the future ensure that their tools are fair and just? Learn more about the Algorithmic Justice League here.
Supasorn Suwajanakorn, Steven M. Seitz, and Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman (GRAIL: UW Imaging and Graphics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle)
Synthesizing Obama: Learning Lip-Sync from Audio
While Photoshop has encouraged skepticism about photographs, video is still often presumed to be a truthful record. Synthesizing Obama questions this assumption. The researchers trained their software program to recognize the mouth shapes for words and sounds; audio files could then be translated into moving lips and blended with a video of the speaker, literally putting words in their mouth. One potential positive use would be to create video using the audio from telephone calls, for hearing-impaired people to lip-read.
In this video, the designers remixed video and audio of former president Barack Obama to create a new mashup, producing a misleading video—adding new meaning to the term “fake news.” It is widely anticipated that such deepfake technologies will be weaponized far beyond the 2020 US election cycle, and some states (such as California and Texas) have already prohibited these deceptive and manipulative strategies. While experts debate the exact level of threat these kinds of videos pose, one cannot help but wonder about the longevity of their impact on the public.
“Every minute little fruit fly or gnat or bacterium—I will go so far as to say—is an event upon which this whole cosmos depends.” —Alan Watts
The video game Everything invites players to experience a vividly rendered digital world as one of 3,000 possible nonhuman entities, from subatomic particles to microbes, animals, forests, planets, and even galaxies. The game’s designer intended players to see the world around them in new ways by considering what it might be to partially inhabit other species’ points of view. If left idle, the game starts to generate its own play, mimicking the way nature’s dramas unfold, independent of human intervention. Snippets from hypnotic lectures given in the 1960s and 1970s by Alan Watts, who popularized Eastern philosophy in the Western world, speak to the interconnectedness of all beings and the recognition that we are all a small component of the greater “game” that is the cosmos. Learn more about David OReilly here.
Future Library is a public art project that depends on our human capacity to trust—and hope—as we plan for the future. Conceived by artist Katie Paterson, the project began in 2014 when she planted 1,000 spruce saplings outside Oslo. In 100 years, they will be felled to produce enough paper to print books that are being written for the library, one per year, by 100 different authors. Most of us will not be alive to read them.
Until the year 2114, the only things known about each manuscript will be the title and the author’s name. The first is a new book by Margaret Atwood, best known for her dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). The project raised profound questions for the author: “I am sending a manuscript into time. ... Will any human beings be waiting there to receive it?” Learn more about Future Library here.
Killing in Umm al-Hiran
View the film here.
The research agency Forensic Architecture undertakes investigations on behalf of international prosecutors and human rights organizations. They define “forensic architecture” as an emerging field of practice that introduces architectural evidence into legal and political processes. Their team deploys a wide range of methodologies in their investigations, such as 3D modeling, audio analysis, virtual reality, machine learning, and in-person field work, to name a few.
Killing in Umm al-Hiran addresses two deaths that occurred in 2017, when Israeli police raided the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran to demolish several houses. During the incident, a teacher in the village was shot and killed by an Israeli police officer, who was subsequently struck and killed by the teacher’s car. The Israeli government asserted that the officer acted in self-defense, but eyewitness reports contradicted this claim. Forensic Architecture believes their investigation using footage and audio recovered from the scene, alongside 3D models reconstructing the site and reenactments of the events, proves the innocence of the teacher. The investigation indicates the future potential of digital tools that, in the hands of architects and academic researchers, can reveal truths otherwise hidden by competing interests. Learn more about Forensic Architecture here.
Ore Streams, Design Strategies
The Ore Streams project was inspired by the statistic that, by 2080, the largest reserves of metal will no longer be underground but rather stored above-ground as blocks or as part of manufactured products. Design studio Formafantasma explored the concept of “above-ground mining” in a multipart work that includes films on the topic and furniture composed of e-waste, such as computer parts, phones, and other discarded electronic devices.
The film Design Strategies highlights the complicated relationship between large electronics companies, like Apple and Samsung, and consumers in the developed and developing worlds. Extensive interviews with recyclers, nongovernmental organizations, lawmakers, manufacturers, and scholars suggest e-waste recycling is most commonly practiced ad hoc in countries without the capabilities to safely disassemble many of the toxic parts that make up these mass-produced items. Learn more about the project here.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York; Laura Kurgan (Columbia Center for Spatial Research); and Robert Gerard Pietrusko (Warning Office)
In Plain Sight
In Plain Sight presents composited nighttime images of the world’s electric lights based on satellite data. The images call attention to zones without light as much as to the illuminated areas. The densely inhabited poor urban areas contrast with sparsely populated wealthy ones. The work puts specific, local environments into a global context, offering a portrait of economic, political, and environmental disparities and, for the unilluminated expanses, the political and social realities of being invisible.
This post contains label texts written by staff members at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Walker Art Center.