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Brief Published: 7 May 2014

RCA: Mapping Post-Digital Futures

Norwegian Seabird Centre exhibition

Speakers discussed the concept of post-digital and the interplay between technology and life at the Mapping Post-Digital Futures symposium last week, held at London's Royal College of Art.

  • Belgian artist Régine Debatty considered the collision of biology and art in her lecture Organic Data. She mapped the development of biological machines in art – from Jacques de Vaucanson's mechanical Canard Digerateur (Digesting Duck) in 1739, to Wim Delvoye's Cloaca machine in 2002.

    She also discussed the emerging practice of storing data in DNA, considering whether one day we might become living depositories for our own personal data.

  • Alison Powell, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, addressed the idea of "bloody data" – the unconscious leaking of personal data. "All of these subconscious, unconscious records of our existence... are being captured and aggregated and valued in ways that we don't necessarily agree to," she said.

    She suggested ideas such as infrastructure inversion (bringing infrastructure to the foreground) are one way to make data visible, transparent, and meaningful once more. Initiatives such as the 596 Acres project in Brooklyn, New York – which collates public data about unused land to create community spaces – show how this could manifest.

  • Iceland-based interaction designer Nils Wiberg discussed his experiences of creating experience-led design. With a background in cognitive psychology, he said that complete efficiency was a flawed design aim, arguing instead that design needs to be "post-optimal" in order to embrace human vulnerability.

    "You have to bring it back to the person," he said, urging designers to construct a narrative for every interaction. He highlighted the design of an exhibition at the Norwegian Seabird Centre – part of his work with Icelandic design agency Gagarin – as an example of this approach. The exhibition focused on the power of interactivity, using provocative, physical installations to connect visitors with the plight of the seabirds.

For more on the interplay between the digital and biological, see Biological Blueprints. For further insights into data and citizenship, see The Playful City and DLD 14: Rethinking Data. For more on experiential design, see Immersive Environments and Experiential Museum Design.