Welcome to the third in a series of public seminars on the ethics and politics of design engagement across borders, bodies and environments. In the third seminar, Maryam Fanni,Thandi Loewenson and Abdoumaliq Simone discuss with Mahmoud Keshavarz, around how vulnerabilities are formed through different spatial practices of urban regeneration, infrastructural development and commercialization of life in the city. How do the designs that are conceived to reduce the precarity of urban environments in turn may impose new forms of vulnerabilities upon all human and non-human species who reside, work or move through the city? And how do different groups, communities and individuals resist against such developments and reconfigure their own fragile but urgent infrastructures for life and work in cities?
Thandi Loewenson and AbdouMaliq Simone will participate online.
Vulnerability by Design explores the intersections of what forms of human, animal and environmental vulnerabilities are engaged, resisted and/or produced by design and designing and how the vulnerability, partiality and limits of design and designing are exposed through various tactics and techniques. It poses an urgent question: what methodologies and knowledge are required to recognize the ethics and politics of design engagement with our and others’ vulnerable conditions? Through three main themes of borders, bodies and environments, these questions and concerns will be highlighted and discussed in a series of seminars with Swedish and international guests.
In the recent decade there has been a proliferation of design practices that engage with the vulnerability of different individuals, groups and beings from humans to animals and environments. These design practices often aim to overcome or resist the vulnerable conditions in which they intervene. In doing so, they often rely on one of the main capacities of designing, in speculating, imagining or envisioning possible relations, arrangements and configurations between existing situations and possible futures.
In these processes, however, there are many assumptions and ambiguities around what constitutes a status as vulnerable which calls for a designerly intervention. Who and under what conditions claims the less vulnerable position from which others can be approached as more vulnerable and in need of a better design? Is design merely a tool separated from the conditions of vulnerability, which it seeks to address? Is there a risk that through engaging with such conditions, the act of designing would generate other vulnerabilities often not recognized by the designers? Furthermore, how does materiality, partiality and limits of designing make design also vulnerable in its own way?
Maryam Fanni is a graphic designer based in Stockholm and educated at Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design, Rhode Island School of Design and Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. She runs her own studio focusing on printed matter and book design, parallell with individual and collaborative projects on topics related to democracy, distribution of resources, ownership and public space. In her practice, Fanni is interested in material conditions and the relation between visible–invisible in our shared spaces and history-writing. She is a co-founder and member of collectives Söderorts Institut För Andra Visioner (SIFAV) working on issues around the city and commons between 2013–2017, MMS, a collective of graphic designers working on design history-writing from a feminist perspective since 2012, and Mapping the Unjust City, investigating civil rights in relation to ownership in the built environment since 2015. Maryam is currently a PhD student in Design at HDK-Valand, Gothenburg University with a project on signage systems as technology of control of the aesthetic order in the city. She is a co-editor of ”Vi ska totalt dominera – om utomhusreklam som demokratifråga” (Dokument Press, 2021), ”Natural Enemies of Books – A Messy History of Women in Printing and Typography” (Occasional Papers, 2020) and a member of the editorial board of Swedish journal of culture and political theory Fronesis.
Thandi Loewenson is an architectural designer/researcher, Tutor at the Royal College of Art and a Visiting Professor at the Aarhus School of Architecture. She mobilises design, fiction and performance to stoke embers of emancipatory political thought and fires of collective action, and to feel for the contours of other, possible worlds. Using fiction as a design tool and tactic, and operating in the overlapping realms of the weird, the tender, the earthly and the airborne, Thandi engages in projects which provoke questioning of the status-quo, whilst working with communities, policy makers, unions, artists and architects towards acting on those provocations. Thandi holds a PhD in Architectural Design from The Bartlett, UCL, through which she developed a form of architectural practice – weird and tender – to excavate and contest the extractive agendas driving the urban development of Lusaka. Central to this research was a live project, investigating how insertions of the other worldly and the downright weird – inspired by the Zambian Space Program – could support the City Council and the Chunga Waste Recycler’s Association to produce a ‘Weird-Tender’ recognizing them as partners of the state.
AbdouMaliq Simone is Senior Professorial Fellow at the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield and Visiting Professor of Urban Studies at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. He has worked with practices of social interchange, technical arrangements, local economy, and the constitution of power relations that affect how heterogeneous cities are lived. He has worked on remaking municipal systems, training local government personnel, designing collaborative partnerships among technicians, residents, artists, and politicians. The focus of these efforts has to been to build viable institutions capable of engaging with the complexities of life across the so-called “majority world.” His work deals with a multiplicity of propositions and capacities for relationships that remain untapped in popular districts across urban Asia and Africa, even though they are deployed everyday under the rubric of “popular economies.” His present research examine unconventional processes of urbanization across extended urban regions in South and Southeast Asia, exploring particularly the kinds of analytical and governance frameworks necessary to address the disparate conjunctions of landscapes, aspirations, and economies prevalent in these regions. He also explores the effects of globalized generic blackness as an organizing instrument of urban life and the kinds of political instruments that are entailed in circumventing racialized control systems.
Vulnerability by Design is part of a public events programme at IASPIS, critically looking at how socially engaged practices within design, craft and architecture may engage with urgent societal issues. The programme has unfolded through various themes and formats from the autumn 2019. Vulnerability by Design is developed by IASPIS through Magnus Ericson, Head of Applied Arts at IASPIS with Mahmoud Keshavarz, Associate Professor in Design Studies, University of Gothenburg and Researcher at the Engaging Vulnerability Programme, the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Uppsala University.