Role: Design Strategist
Collaborators: Elena Habre, Corey Chao
FORMING A PRACTICE
In the face of environmental crisis, the fields of sustainable and human-centered design have lacked a holistic perception of the planet and its actors, and have thus failed to reimagine their scope at the scale demanded by the challenges at hand. If this is the result of a cognitive failure, how might we design new thinking? In changing our perception, how might we redesign our relation with the world to address the roots of our misbehavior?
MiddleTable is a team of transdisciplinary designers using tactical Media, critical frameworks, and collaborative workshops to challenge the human-nature dichotomy toward an ecocentric future. We aim to articulate ways designers might intervene to rethink our relationship with nonhumans. In series of co-speculation sessions, we challenged our audience to envision de-centering of the human and a deeper consideration for the nonhuman in different contexts using speculative design.
A THEATER FOR RIVER
Dinner Theater was a workshop with designers, technologists, and social activists, in a dinner setting. In this workshop, we used 'anthropomorphization' and 'embodiment' to challenge participants' assumptions about the hard mechanics of communicating with rivers.
Participants were asked to embody the role of a river and challenge their Anthropocentric assumptions about nonhumans' rights. In response, four professionals- a Lawyer, a River Doctor, a Spiritual guide, and a Politician- from an alternative world, where rivers have been represented the legal agency, talk to the participants and engage them in a conversation.
In all four cases, the professionals (and the river characters) had to collectively debate how we frame what the river is; what methods we might have to speak with it and judge its preference.
“How are you going to solve the problem with international rights that I’m facing? Because I live between two countries...how are they going to agree about something that pertains to my body and my rights?”
At the end of the session, participants were asked to brainstorm on new communication tools for understanding and representing rivers.
Snapshots of Dinner Table, including participants embodying river roles, the River Doctor and prototypes.
ASSUMPTIONS IN THE ANTROPOCENE
We argue that many forms of institutionalized education reinforce a separation between human and nonhuman actors. As a first attempt to explore other ways to represent learning tools and how they shape our perception, we hosted 'Assumptions in the Anthropocene', a transdisciplinary design workshop hosted at VergeNYC. We led teams of teachers, designers, and other professionals to reinvent the ways we teach about nonhumans, specifically by investigating and subverting the process of othering nonhumans.
We designed frameworks for participants to deconstruct three science models: a flood map, an anatomical diagram of a frog, and the water cycle. First, we asked people to list the human elements (broadly defined) represented within those diagrams, then list the nonhumans. Next, participants discussed the overlap of those categories, discussed our interconnectedness, listed relevant parts of those non/human systems that were not originally represented, and finally redesigned more inclusive models.
Isfahan, a eulogy for river.
As once Judith Butler said:
“One way of posing the question of who ‘we’ are in these times of war is by asking whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned, and whose lives are considered ungrievable…An ungrievable life is one that cannot be mourned because it has never lived, that is, it has never counted as a life at all.”
We questioned if nonhumans life could be greivable? On the Iranian Plateau, the city of Isfahan spreads out from Zayanderud river—literally, “Life-Giving River”—, where damming upstream has left its footprint dry most of the year. This was the case when we traveled to Isfahan to interview locals about their experience of the drought (the death of the river). We centered our research on three questions: What were your memories with the river? Do you still have hope for it to come back? What did the river mean to Isfahan?