The Antenna Conference 2017

Leaning into the Future.

Written by Craig Berry
Former Junior Designer at VBAT

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antenna – The World’s Best Design Graduates

Before the Dutch Design Week started and to effectively ‘kick off’ the week of festivities, the antenna conference was held in Eindhoven. This was a curated interactive platform conference showcasing 20 of the world’s best design graduates, all presenting unique and innovative projects completed at their respective schools.

I hadn’t heard of any of the speakers prior to the event but I guess that was the point, they were all aged under 30 and had recently graduated from internationally renowned art and design design schools such as The Massachussets Insitute of Technology (MIT), The Royal College of Art (RCA), Design Academy Eindhoven, Ecole Cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL), Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Parsons The New School for Design and many other great institutions. These schools are known for their ways of studying, their facilities and their professors which is proven and reinforced by the fact they are regularly ranked as the top art and design schools, universities and academies in the world. Below is the proof, the official QS rankings for 2017.

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Antenna is a part of the World Design Event programme during Dutch Design Week and is organised by Design Indaba and Dutch Design Week. Much like Dutch Design Week, Design Indaba is an acclaimed design festival that takes place in South Africa to also celebrate creativity, innovation, ideas, technology and all things design. Launched in 1995, Design Indaba was developed and founded with a drive to promote design as a tool for communication which is vitally important in industry and commerce.

During the Antenna conference, each of the speakers (a total of 20) was given around 10–15 minutes to present themselves, their practice and their graduation projects with most showing primarily on screen but others using interactivity, audience participation, on-stage demonstrations and more. Here I want to share who and what I found most interesting as a designer myself; the majority of work shown was something I hadn’t seen or considered before so it was refreshing to learn and experience new things.

CARGO – Björn Steinar Blumenstein & Johanna Seelemann (Iceland Academy of the Arts)

CARGO is a project and installation by two designers who wanted to explore through research, the complex system of transporting goods around the world; due to them being from the remote island of Iceland this transportation of goods across the globe is fundamental to them. For this project they chose to eventually focus on the journey in which aluminium and fish take as they (as well as tourism) are the main sources of economy in Iceland. This beautifully shot film shows the scale of the import/export shipping industry.

CARGO/Film–Björn Steinar Blumenstein & Johanna Seelemann

Their project was initiated after the pair found discarded bananas behind a supermarket and were intrigued as to how this fruit had arrived in the remote country. The result of their investigation as to how the banana(s) got there resulted in a ‘banana passport’ showing all the places the individual banana visited before being thrown away. All the consumer ever knows is that the banana was once grown in Ecuador and that’s if the sticker is still attached.

“Products appear in front of us bearing no traces of the travel they have undertaken”

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CARGO/Banana Passport–Björn Steinar Blumenstein & Johanna Seelemann

From this, the pair explored how fish and aluminium take similar routes for their preparation and production with the overriding message that we as consumers should understand and appreciate how many hands touch our products, how many places they visit, how many miles they travel until they finally reach us – only to be potentially discarded. The pair also created a number of pieces made from fish and aluminium related materials referencing shipping and transport ephemera but also a ‘made-in label’ which explains to consumers, through elaborate and detailed illustrations, where the product has been and how it ends up there. They have the belief that we should broaden our perspective of mundane products and achieve this by objectifying the complex mechanisms of consumerism.

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CARGO/End Products–Björn Steinar Blumenstein & Johanna Seelemann

PROPS PAPER – Lucy Siyao Liu (MIT)

Lucy Siyao Liu is the founder and co-editor of PROPS PAPER which is a weekly newspaper on contemporary image making from art, design, architecture, science, philosophy and beyond. Each issue is a simple doubled-sided broadsheet featuring the research work of the contributor with the common theme of asking about image making through the question:

“What is the role of images in your research?”

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PROPS 11–DRY SALVAGES–François Lanusse–Lucy Siyao Liu

François Lanusse: “To a cosmologist like me, imaging the night sky through powerful telescopes opens an invaluable yet indirect window into the content of our Universe. Why indirect? Because the billions of galaxies that we do observe are just the tip of the iceberg. They are sprinkled onto a massive underlying cosmic web of dark matter that, despite accounting for most of the total matter of the Universe, is completely invisible.”

Lucy and her design partner were and are inspired by how people from all backgrounds and careers use and make images in their own way but also the project is a rejection of traditional graphic ‘institutional’ hard-bound, annual, publications and instead their publication is much more accessible and quicker whilst also being fairly uncensored.

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PROPS 6–DIAGRAMS WITHOUT CONTEXT–Nikolaus Gansterer–Lucy Siyao Liu

Nikolaus Gansterer: “For years I have had a strong fascination with diagrams (in German “Schaubilder”) and I was questioning how these relational visual artefacts — graphic forms visualizing complex associations — could be comprehended from an artistic point of view. In an intensive exchange with artists and scientists, I developed new forms of narratives and hypotheses by tracing the speculative potential of diagrams.”

Due to them asking people from different backgrounds and careers, each issue of the publication is radically different. From a graphic design perspective there is no continuity or clear theme from issue to issue although this gives it an inherently ‘punk-zine’ feeling. They are making affordable printed content exploring themes that the mainstream media choose not to address or acknowledge. It also brings attention to the images that people make through their research which would otherwise go unnoticed, celebrating this important work.

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PROPS 18–DISCIPLINING IMAGES–Shannon Mattern–Lucy Siyao Liu

Shannon Mattern: “In this age of Instagram and iCloud, most of us carry image-making and -summoning machines with us at all times. Billions of users are continuously supplementing and searching our grand global stock of imagery: a reservoir of bits and pixels that floats in the ionosphere, somewhere behind an archival interface. At least that’s how we commonly imagine it. That is, on the rare occasions when we give any thought at all to the architectures and protocols constituting this seemingly boundless archive.”

For the Dutch Design Week there was a special issue: PROPS 25 which explores The Why Factory, a research and education institute, belonging to the Faculty of Architecture at Delft University of Technology, and led by professor Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV. It explores themes of architecture, urbanism and representation and exists online as a digital video format.

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PROPS 25–CALLING ALL VISIONARIES–The Why Factory–Lucy Siyao Liu

The Why Factory: For over 10 years, we have worked on the future agenda of our cities. We produce observations, hypotheses and statements in a visual and direct manner. The images we produce are a true combination of science and fiction: they provoke amazement and make us wonder. One can observe — what begins as a fantasy in the imagination of the designer could one day be reality.

This project was the only project that was related to graphic design and that term is used loosely. The project however is a unique method of distributing information and knowledge through imagery, on the PROPS website you can read in-depth about how each of the contributors use images and the role that they play in their research; these are fascinating to read as they are often from professions you wouldn’t expect such a visual outcome to stem from.

Hooded – Myles Loftin (Parsons School of Design)

Hooded is a project by 19 year old freelance photographer Myles Loftin. It is based around his photo series and film which explore the racial profiling of black men who choose to wear hoodies and the negative connotations in which the media portrays them.

Hooded/Film–Myles Loftin

Being a racially charged project, Myles gave context to the project by explaining how for decades the American media has demonised and oppressed black men creating this negative image through films, cartoons and various other forms of popular culture.

Myle’s work as a photographer focuses on the documentation and representation of black people through images of black families, black masculinity and black culture. He sees his photography as a tool not only for artistic purposes but also political purposes.

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Hooded–Myles Loftin

The inspiration for the project came from him seeing a viral video where the user searches for “four black teenagers” and “four white teenagers”. The video shows how that “four black teenagers” brings up negative images such as mugshots and crime-scene photographs whereas “four white teenagers” brings up positive and happy images of white people having fun.

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Hooded/Research–Myles Loftin

He also mentions the police brutality situation that has been and still is happening in America where black un-armed teenagers are being killed unlawfully by police officers as another reference for his project with the sorry statistic that black people are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white people.

“Society’s standards placed against black males need to be erased because they are extremely harmful and divisive. It contributes to the reason black males are targeted more by police, why we receive longer jail sentences than our white counterparts and the discrimination that we receive.”

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Hooded–Myles Loftin

With his photographs and film for Hooded, he attempts to shift perceptions of black boys wearing hoodies; all the models in his photos are wearing neon coloured hoodies on equally vibrant backdrops so as to subvert the negative imagery of the subject. He wants people to understand how negative and inaccurate representations of people can have serious consequences; he sees his project as an accurate representation of himself and other black men like him. In simple terms he wants to see that black people are more than the negative representation that exists.

My opinion on this project is that as a photographer it is somewhat of an easy subject to focus on although the outcome and the way in which it is addressed is unique and unconventional and stems from a personal experience; its also an important and topical issue which makes it more appealing and successful.

Nicolas Kisic Aguirre – Modular Rhythm Machine (MIT)

Nicolas Kisic’s project, Modular Rhythm Machine is his exploration into the power of sound, not only for music, but also as a weapon; particularly through how sound is used in rituals for marching drumming and rhythm. His Modular Rhythm Machine can be used in multiple ways, taking away pieces adding more pieces; hence the use of the world modular.

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Modular Rhythm Machine – Nicolas Kisic Aguirre

For the antenna conference he chose to show 8 machines however the ideal number is 36 and they can be arranged in various ways to increase or decrease the noise they create. Each individual machine is a a self-playing wooden box-drum with a servo-motor attached to power sticks to hit the machine. Another feature of the machine is that they are equipped with motion sensors meaning they can be activated randomly through the motion of somebody walking up to them or past them. Otherwise, they can be programmed to play a specific rhythm through a program.

Modular Rhythm Machine — Nicolas Kisic Aguirre

The reasoning behind the project is how Nicolas was interested in how sound can be used as a weapon, referencing how during wartimes people (The Ghost Army) would use machines to play the sounds of tanks to deter or attract the enemy when they themselves would be in another location and be able to attack. Also the use of sound cannon machines (long range acoustic devices/LRAD) can be used to deter protesters and rioters in city environments where its not necessary or safe to use seriously harmful or potentially fatal weapons and sound can be used to prevent people from carrying out particular actions by being so loud or aggressive that it renders them weak.

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The Ghost Army & LRAD

The idea behind his machine and the idea of his rhythm machine is also derived from how rhythm (particularly drums and percussion) is used in warfare and marches to create order but also to create a continual deafening beat but also as a rudimentary method of communication.

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Modular Rhythm Machine — Nicolas Kisic Aguirre

Nicolas gave us a demonstration of his modular rhythm machine using the 8 on stage in a specially created sequence for the antenna event which was “small but intense”. My thoughts on this project was that it was a interesting way of creating sound using a rudimentary way (hitting a drum stick on a wooden drum) but through computer programming and the fact it is still somewhat analogue its a nice juxtaposition. The noise they make isn’t necessarily the nicest or most appealing but the idea behind it is what makes it.

IV-WALK – Alissa Rees (Design Academy Eindhoven)

Alissa Rees started her presentation by telling the heart-warming story about how she once wanted to travel to South Africa for a photographic competition but before her planned trip she became ill and quickly found out she had leukaemia therefore cancelling her trip and any travel plans as she became hospitalised for a year and a half; this was the introduction to her project.

During her time in hospital she became aware of the problems that existed in that environent such as lack of communication and ease of medical aids and equipment but not being a designer she could not do anything about it. Leaving hospital she learnt she could be a designer and use her unique status as a former leukaemia patient to help potential other prospective patients.

Through the book she made ‘Humanising of the white building’ she addresses 20 issues and with that 20 solutions, of which at antenna she presented 3 and to me 1 stood out by far: IV-WALK.

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Alissa Rees–IV Walk

The IV-WALK is a portable IV pole that stimulates mobility at hospitals with the aim to accelerate recovery. Through her experience of having to wear an IV pole for weeks she became aware of how difficult it is to function as a human being attached to this pole. She wanted to explore how this task could be more functional and human that can fit various body forms.

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Alissa Rees–IV Walk

The shape of the IV-WALK product is also irregular, possibly quirky and non-obvious for a reason; she explained how upon leaving hospital you don’t want to be reminded of the thing you had to wear during your sickness. The strange shape of this product is unlike anything you would normally encounter in your day-to-day life outside the hospital.

The physical design allows you to be comfortable whilst wearing the product yet it still providing you the assistance it needs to. It is equally balanced so as not to put strain on the user’s body and as much as it hides the IV equipment it also exposes part of it as a way of letting the user see what they are wearing and using – they are exposed to it and are able to become aware of their illness as a way of acceptance.

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Alissa Rees–IV Walk

The IV-WALK is effectively designed for mobility and simply allows the user to live normally and particularly allows the user to go outside and get fresh air, see and touch nature; going outside allows them to refresh themselves and feel better.

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Alissa Rees–IV Walk

I thought this particular project of her wider collection of ‘healthcare design’ was incredibly simple and clever; sure it means that the already simple and probably chef IV pole would be replaced, it would be replaced for a reason. It’s not often that you get someone creating a project based so clearly and heartedly on their own experiences and instead of seeing this a negative time in their life, using it as a positive inspiration. It was also nice to hear that once she was cured from her illness she was able to go on that trip that she couldn’t go on initially.

Many other graduates spoke at the antenna conference and these where just 5 of my favourites. I found each of the projects presented fascinating as they were all in their own way addressing issues that are not obvious to us in today’s society; there were no projects just on solving world poverty, trying to achieve world peace and for once, it was refreshing not to see a project on or about Donald Trump (I’ve seen one too many now).

It was also refreshing to hear people of a my age group speak so professionally and clearly about their projects and in some cases their passions; from looking around the audience at the event I felt like I was the youngest there by a considerable amount. I did wonder how other members (much older), of the audience perceived the projects and ideas as at times they were somewhat conceptual and not concrete and clear. But speaking to Graham (VBAT CD) he shared similar feelings about what he saw and felt – that of the work shown being forward thinking.

The phrase that was used at the event which stood out for me was that these graduates are ‘leaning into the future’; here the next generation of designers, and many like it (including myself) are able to forecast and predict what issues are going to come up in the future and how we can solve these issues. Today their ideas and concepts may seem far-fetched and at times unnecessary or ludicrous but they are thinking so far ahead that we are not aware yet of their importance and also challenging things that we take as a given.

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written by
Craig Berry, Creative at VBAT
edited by Connie Fluhme, PR at VBAT

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