Amphibious Trilogies

Personas, movement and the NSR

In Amphibious Trilogies we have looked into ways to connect our disciplinary and transdisciplinary backgrounds as part of investigating how movement can be seen, understood and designed in the world. This also reached into ways in which we could work with making connections between movement, design, ‘language’ modes and narrative. One of the challenges in the project was to find ways to draw together such interests and expertise and to develop participative resources for others to access and adjust according to their own concerns and contexts.

As part PASSAGE we had originally proposed travelling the length of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), from Rotterdam to Yokohama. The NSR is a complex, emerging and contested zone and passage. It is undergoing rapid changes in terms of its eco structure, both marine and coastal, as well as its interiors. 

As is often the case when proposals meet reality and constraints, we discovered that it is almost impossible to board a vessel to transverse this massive emerging waterway. We also found out that options to do so are extremely expensive and unsuited to the role of working to problematize and not make an ultimate journey map or account of an entire physical passage. Conversely, the NSR is an historical set of interlinked and largely seasonal passages, with cities such as Arkhangelsk in Russia central to its life and construction and conceptualisations. Today, the NSR is also a volume of data as it opens out to being a zone of intensive  future planning and extractivist economics, alongside geo-politics, climate change and global trade.

How might we find ways to convey this, through project travel and reflective atistic narrative entries? What role might design fiction and personas play in helping us to communicate some of the dynamics, contraindications and potentials of this hugely important but largely under discussed part of our changing planet? How might we employ and deploy and ‘reploy’ (as in play again)  design fiction and knowledge of choreography to open out the characteristics of the NSR and its future potentials and challenges? 

At AHO we had already built a body of work on design fiction and personas, through Andrew’s work, such as a WiFi cow called Rumina, a rogue female urban drone under the moniker Adrona in the YOUrban project and an eco-critical co-authored narwhal called Naratta in the Future North project. We’d used these personas to connect discourses on narrative, identity, technology critique and human-non human design related discussion and inquiry. This has also been connected to other projects in other venues, such as Fiscilla developed in a project with teachers, students and researchers at CPUT in Cape Town, South Africa (Morrison & Chisin 2017).

Given his work, and connection to it with Amanda at KHiO, with the project team Andrew discussed ways to think and move with a persona to highlight movement and futures in an ironic, speculative and problem generating artistic and design research work. This extended into presentation of design fiction and personas in futures oriented inquiry along with connection to Bastien Kerspern of design friction in France. 

Andrew and Amanda had been discussing potential futures facing personas for the project and landed on a fictive octopus, one layered by bio-effluent and genetic seepage into our environment. OCTOPA referenced prior design fiction personas in name and build but also in her being a designed device to make more apparent and thus move and shift ways of looking into the factual and the contextual in a futures frame.

This was embodied in co-design workshops and project working sessions with Bastien in Oslo and online. It also moved into collaborating with colleagues and external participants in part of the face-to-face PASSAGE seminar/workshop (see Octopa’s Toolkit). The focus here was on using the persona of OCTOPA to highlight amphibiousness, complexity and communication, and connections to the concern with the Northern Sea Route.

The workshop involved working with a paper and movement based session on engaging with embodied interaction and a persona to think about themes and topics in our current, complex connected times, such as climate change. OCTOPA’s arms were already labelled and were then cut out by groups of participants around circular tables. In working in pairs, verbal and written reflections were added to the reverse sides of the arms, then shuffled face up and as a whole group reattached to her body. The connections and disparities to this cut and recombinations assembly provides further points for reflection. 

This activity was also taken up with master’s students in design and their teacher Nina Bjørnstad at AHO where the focus of classes was on 3D form giving. This covered

Unpacking the toolkit (rethinking radical shaping; refreshing vocabularies for futures)

Exploring the tentacles (contexts: languaging the future characteristics: grasping slippery forms)

Engaging in shaping futures (moving from device and words to expression in clay; developing a tentacle as a group).

It was also included as part of a pedagogy of extended choreography with masters choreography students at KHiO. This is elaborated on by Amanda in OCTOPA’s Toolkit (Choreography Workshop)

OCTOPA fast became an extra voice in our project. This led us further into developing an extended choreographic device to connect her persona to language, movement and futures in the context of the Northern Sea Route. OCTOPA’S JOURNEY was the result in an online format that needed to alter elements of the earlier print tool.

In this setting participants and users -individually or in groups – can travel a set of topics through her abilities to shift in shape, time and motion.

Overall, OCTOPA allowed us to use a persona to investigate by artistic research the complex and transdisciplinary challenges of the NSR. It is an example of ‘an extended design fiction choreography’ that also invites online use and further reflection into ways the toolkit, persona, classes and posts here may be taken up and changed.


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