This blog post is partially from a paper I presented Mundane Devices from the Future: Artists Envision Counterfuturist Projects for Survivance at The WiGiP/GiP Conference on Intercultural Philosophy: Demarginalising Futures: rethinking embodiment,community, and culture held 19th-20th of February 2021. Some parts are also drawn from a written interview I did with Mirabelle Jones. I am still looking for a suitable place to publish a longer interview but my PhD (and in my personal life–buying a house) have eaten up all my time.
Happy Pride Month to all LGBTQ2S+ everywhere!
Mirabelle Jones is a queer, non-binary artist, researcher, and creative technologist who creates installations, wearables, mixed reality sculptures, and more. In 2017, in collaboration with Anouk Wipprecht and students at California College of the Arts, they created a wearable robotic device, Hystrix. It uses sensors to detect stress in the wearer to then deploy porcupine-like spikes on the back of the wearer. This type of device could give wearers some safety, or at least some visual warning of stressors.
Their recent project, Future Technology Products, deals with science fiction technologies from a diverse body of authors. So far, the project consists of three devices, each from a different author’s story.
I asked, “What drew you to the specific stories you used to create work for “Future Technology Products”? ”
Jones says, “Future Technology Products is concerned not just with imagining the future (singular) of product design as inspired by science fiction, but instead exploring a plurality of futures. Instead of asking the question, “what will the future world be like?” I ask, “whose world and whose futures are we imagining?” Many designers, even those who work with speculative design (including critical design which is politically charged or design fiction), don’t expressly credit their inspiration to science fiction although the process of designing is always tied up in fictions and imaginaries. Those who do expressly develop their ideas from sci-fi often cite a pretty narrow canon of white cis het Western male authors and directors: Spielberg, Kubrick, Welles, Clarke, Stephenson, Dick.
As a queer, non-binary 3rd generation Romani person who also writes sci-fi, questions of representation are personal for me and much as I enjoy these authors and directors, I spent over a decade being unable to find myself or people like me in their works.
So for Future Technology Products, I wanted to see what kinds of designs other worlds, other fictions, other futures might offer. But which worlds? Which fictions? Selecting the specific stories was perhaps the hardest part of the project because the world of diverse sci-fi (I’m calling it that for lack of a better more fully inclusive term for the works of women, LGBTQAI*, and POC authors) is vast. It isn’t as narrow as many would like to believe. I was looking for stories that had inventions that I could develop in real life, and which stirred up ethical questions about the future that might be lacking in current conversations about developing technologies. The stories I ended up with examine the role of biofeedback and data mining in advertisement, deep fakes, and IoT surveillance”
One of the first works in this project that Jones did came from the world of Nnedi Okorafor’s (Nnedi Okorafor is a Africanfuturist and Africanjujuist author who lives in the US) short story, “From the Lost Diary of Treefrog7”, from it arrives a living hybridized being, the M-CPU which has now become the sculpture e-Protea, 3D printed with embedded LCD screens. . The hybrid cpu plants evolved over thousands of years from mounds of e-waste into a biological, chemical, electronic computer/flower. Smaller versions of the cpu plants are found in Okorafor’s story world in abundance, growing both in the wild and harvested for use by humans. The one that Jones has created mirrors the pinnacle of evolution for the hybrids, a mature wild CPU, growing for thousands of years deep in the wilderness, connecting to networks beyond their world (or is it the deep past?). M-CPU/e-Protea takes the idea of survivance beyond human terms. How will our environment develop, how will plants and other animals evolve through the environmental degradation we’ve sowed in the anthropocene?