Tag Archives: design

Editorial Statement | Decolonising Design

A new network has emerged out of the discipline of design research to further the goal of southern thinking in how we create and manage our worlds.

We welcome all of those who work silently and surely on the edges and outskirts of the discipline to join and contribute to conversations that question and critique the politics of design practice today, where we can discuss strategies and tactics through which to engage with more mainstream discourse, and where we can collectively postulate alternatives and reformulations of contemporary practice.

Source: Editorial Statement | Decolonising Design

The Studio at the Edge of the World

Design theorist Tony Fry has a new studio coming in Tasmania to pursue his concepts of sustainment, borderlands thinking and unsettlement.

The Studio has an interdisciplinary and international focus. It is a new kind of venture and centres on two areas of activity: the creation of learning events; and the development of a design think-tank in partnership with education institutions

Source: The Studio at the Edge of the World

Design Latitudes

Design Latitudes.

Design Studies (Department of Art & Design) at the University of Alberta (Canada) calls for proposals to an exhibition mapping the innovations, influences and future directions of design studies in the north. Many of the specifications reflect a southern perspective, such as ‘Investigate the role and responsibility of designers with respect to northern ecologies’. The key difference seems the history of colonisation, which is much more extensive in the south and is associated with greater self-doubt.

Borderlands – design goes south



How can southern thinking be applied in everyday life? A new publication points towards a new kind of design that might be practiced in the South.
Tony Fry has pioneered a philosophical approach to design, with reference particularly ontological questions of being. With Anne Marie Willis he edited Design Philosophy Papers, which provided a forum for questions of sustainability that went beyond better light bulbs. Fry’s books including the trilogy Design Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics, and New Practice (2009), Design as Politics (2011) and Becoming Human by Design (2012) offer profound insights into the nature of what it is to design in the world. They articulate the practice of ‘sustainment’ as a means of ‘futuring’ a world. Practical extension of this include reductive design, which seeks to eliminate the affordances for consumption that capitalist design has accumulated.
Until recently, Fry has headed the Masters of Design Futures at Griffith University. With colleague Eleni Kalantidou, he has just published a collection of essays Design in the Borderlands that extend the question of design into a southern context. A key concept is Walter Mignolo’s ‘border thinking’. As they define it, ‘By implication, border thinking breaks out of disciplinary boundaries; it crosses borders, is nomadic, as such it is:  a thinking along, within and about borders rather than a thinking of them.’ Within this framework, the volume includes a refreshingly cosmopolitan approach to design.

Chapters consider what design means in different cultural contexts. Perera and Gillet seek to go beyond the colonial school of Lusotropicalism in African design to consider local practices, such as Luanda’s taxi system. Fry’s own chapter on East Timor champions the embedded knowledge in traditional crafts otherwise eclipsed by the technologies brought in by Western specialists.

From the Middle East, Samer Akkach considers the various ways that design can be understood in an Arabic context. He elaborates the concept of ‘sana’ associated with craftsmanship and its eventual replacement by ‘tasmin’ which associates design with an elite skill influenced by Western models.

To extend this approach to political action, Paul James presents a manifesto of urban design from an ontological perspective. This includes principles of action such as ‘Urban settlements should come to terms with the uncomfortable intersections of identity and difference:’

Design in the Borderlines is an essential link between southern theory and design. It offers the conceptual architecture necessary to connect pluralist epistemology with the practice of design across the South.

Can it be applied in the South? This presents a significant challenge. Its publication reminds us how much more there is to be done. There are many more steps necessary before we can get beyond design philosophy to the practical business of design in the ground, including the concrete ethics of relations between designers and their world.

Echoing Raewynn Connell’s call in Southern Theory for a ‘dirty theory’, we need to hit the road to work out how a new design approach might intersect with daily life. Design in the Borderlines is resolutely anti-development in its crude capitalist sense. Yet there may be situations where local communities might resist a call to return to their craft roots. There needs to be dialogue between the practical aspirations of communities in the South and the political values common in southern thinking. The issue of neo-extractivism in Bolivia is an example of this kind of debate. While Design in the Borderlands is an excellent platform, a dialogical approach seems important to reflect the multilateral nature of the South.

Kalantidou, E & Fry, T 2014, Design in the Borderlands 1 edition., Routledge, New York, NY.

Who makes it? A credit crunch for creative labour

Production of work in Hosier Lane for Manifest (ACCA, 2004) a Zaishu project by Matthew Butler

South Ways is a lateral conversation about alternative platforms for creative practice that are particular to the South. The first roundtable in Wellington concerned the connection to Māori practices of koha, or gift-giving, and the emerging field of ‘social practice’. This raised the need to frame creative works so that they might be reciprocated appropriately. The second roundtable in Melbourne dealt with the process of commodification and alternative ways of revealing the otherwise hidden labour that contributes to the cultural product.

The Melbourne roundtable was informed by the work of Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who articulated an epistemology of the South where ‘preference must be given to the form of knowledge that guarantees the greatest level of participation to the social groups involved in its design, execution, and control and in the benefits of the intervention.’ (Santos, 2007)

The roundtable discussed different models for art that reflects the social relations in its production. Matthew Butler presented the Zaishu Project as an attempt to create work that straddles art and design by giving participants a stake in the outcome. Inspired partly by street art in Chile, the project emerged in 2004 when the City of Melbourne with John So as mayor was cracking down on street art. Lanes were continually painted a band of white to deter stencil artists from leaving their work overnight. One day, Butler lined a lane with cheap construction site plywood and with help of curator Andy Mac invited street artists to work on them in a clandestine stencilling event. The results were exhibited as a pop up exhibition in the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, along with DJ. The plywood was laser cut into slot together components to form the 52 stools and each artist was given one made from a random selection of works. The project has since involved hundreds of artists and gone on to include communities that include Bollywood poster painters in India, tribal artists in Fiji and is planned to go to Fitzroy Crossing in a project with Aboriginal youth.

Other projects were discussed:

  • An exhibition of art by refugees to Melbourne will give over curatorial control to the participants (Damian Smith and Trinidad Estay)
  • Work that uses the Mexican walking fish axolotl as a metaphor for cultural crossing (Diego Ramirez)
Installation shot from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action' Sutton Gallery 2013

Installation shot from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action' Sutton Gallery 2013

Ian Burn (1939 - 1993), Documentary wall 1967 - 1996, Digital print, 120 x 150 cm, from 'The Artist and the Social Order' exhibition UWS Art Gallery 2009

Ian Burn (1939 - 1993), Documentary wall 1967 - 1996, Digital print, 120 x 150 cm, from 'The Artist and the Social Order' exhibition UWS Art Gallery 2009

There was broad discussion of artistic labour as a hidden component of public life. This included reflection on the pressure placed on the Sydney Biennale in the 1980s to feature more art and working life, led by artists such as Ian Burn. (Geoff Hogg)

Nathan Gray reflected on the criticism that artists who boycotted the Sydney Biennale because of Transfield sponsorship should also reject anything that has government funding. First, he argued that government funding is public money to be used for common good. ‘You wouldn’t think of banning someone from Medicare because they were critical of Julia Gillard.’ Second, as a payment for services, the artists are in a position of subsidising events such as the biennale. During discussions between the participating artists about the boycott, it was revealed that both Australian and international artists were paid the same rate of $1,500. This discussion highlighted the unpaid contribution many provide for an event that contributes to the value for sponsors such as Transfield.

To build on this discussion, the project What I got paid? was proposed where artists submit information about how much they were paid for their labour. Similar to the Wikileaks strategy, the purpose is to weaken the structures of power that are built on secrecy through a flood of classified information. This would open up lines of conversation by artists about the value of their labour. There is potential for such a venture to now only include information about payments, but also attribution, as the contribution of many technicians and craftspersons to creative products often go unrecognised.

Ceri Hann 'Paradigm Shifter' hermeneutic object

Ceri Hann 'Paradigm Shifter' hermeneutic object

In general, the sentiment of the roundtable was to support art that open about its sources of production. One means of revelation is from the bottom up, through platforms where producers can share information about their contribution to cultural products.


Ceri Hann, Damian Smith, David  Corbet, Diego Ramirez, Geoff Hogg, Laura Carthew, Matthew Butler, Nathan Gray, Nikki Lam, Trinidad Estay


  • Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. 2007. “Beyond Abyssal Thinking: From Global Lines to Ecologies of Knowledges.” Eurozine, July 26
  • ‘Code of Practice for Partnerships in Craft & Design’ Sangam Project 2013