Vibrant Matter: The Political Ecology of Things By Jane Bennett (2010) Vibrant Matter is one of those books that I read and reread and pull something new from each time. Bennett argues that non-human stuff—from a pile of trash in the street to bacteria in our gut—is vibrant, alive, and able to affect us in “not quite human” ways. She coins the term thing-power to describe how stuff affects us, how we notice it, and how noticing it changes our relationship to the world around us. As an interaction designer, I find that many compelling ideas emerge from a treatment of non-human matter as active or alive. Bennett’s book prompts questions like how technology can call attention to the livelihood of things and what matter-centered design might look like.
Silence: Lectures and Writings By John Cage (1961) In Silence, John Cage splices together essays, reflections, and variations on texts to illustrate his approach to composition. He continually returns to a narrative where he enters an anechoic chamber in order to experience silence, only to hear sounds created by his own body. Drawing from this experience, he concludes that there is no such thing as silence and advocates for an experimental compositional style that engages chance, “noise,” and otherwise unpredictable or naturally occurring sounds. This approach—limiting authorial control in order to let the sounds of nature, people, and things determine the composition—was profoundly influential in Post-WWII art. It offers an interesting take on how creativity and making are conceptualized differently by different audiences. It also highlights the unique formal and aesthetic qualities that emerge through experimental practices where the creator is no longer a visionary looking to realize his or her vision, but rather a participant among human and non-human beings that mutually give rise to new, in this case sonic, forms.
Bennett argues that non-human stuff is vibrant, alive, and able to affect us in “not quite human” ways.
Irving Penn Regards the Work of Issey Miyake By Irving Penn (1999) This collection of photographs showcases an ongoing collaboration between photographer Irving Penn and fashion designer Issey Miyake. The striking images present Miyake’s designs in a way that elevates clothing to the level of sculpture, or even monument. Miyake’s attention to the interplay between the human body and richly textured fabrics honors textiles as a sculptural medium and the human body as a (literal) platform for art. As technology enters the fashion landscape, Miyake’s innovative approach to design adds fresh insights into the interplay between geometry, fabric, and body, and how form and movement can combine in surprisingly beautiful ways.
I Want My Hat Back By John Klassen (2011) and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole By Mac Barnett and John Klassen (2014)
I have a toddler at home, so I’m reading a lot of children’s books. I Want My Hat Back and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole are two of my favorite books. Reading these books offers a refreshing reminder of how good visual design can engage children (and adults) in an unfolding narrative and lead them to a surprising ending. By balancing repetition with variation and contrasting text and image, Klassen creates opportunities for children to participate in his story by letting them know something that the characters in the book do not. The result is an experience that produces a kind of maniacal toddler laughter.
Laura Devendorf is an artist and HCI researcher who sees uncertainty and unpredictability as assets that enrich daily life. She explores how technologies can leverage these qualities to provoke surprising and enchanting experiences with people, materials, and places. email@example.com
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