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  • The Department of Seaweed: co-speculative design in a museum residency

Lohmann, Julia, 2018, Thesis, The Department of Seaweed: co-speculative design in a museum residency PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This practice-led PhD explores ‘how highly specialised and innovative new design practice is made accessible to new audiences in the context of the museum’ (AHRC CDA Award call, RCA, 2010). Innovative new design was further specified as ‘highly academic, speculative, critical and experimental, often dealing with new technologies or ways of working, developing design as an agent of social or cultural change.’The call challenged designers to ‘articulate their processes and practices in ways that can be understood by, and influence, the general public.’ This PhD consists of a case study in the form of a six-month residency at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in 2013, entitled ‘The
Department of Seaweed’ (DoS), as well as a design theoretical contextualisation of its framework, methods and outcomes.
Among these are insights into how to co-develop design outcomes and knowledge by working with natural resources. This led me to propose a new method for cospeculative design that integrates open ended material exploration and systems level speculation through participatory critical practice in a museum residency. The outlook of design thus shifts from critical speculation towards design for transition, set
against the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.
The setting for this thesis is the interrelation of the following three subjects: Methods of Making, Transition Design and Museum Residencies.
I established the DoS as a community of practice (CoP) around the development of seaweed as a material for making. Our approach connected making, practice-based research and generative material development with participatory methods and speculation — exploring perspectives from critical, speculative and transition design — and enabling
multiple, interlinked forms of participation through dialogue, speculation, making and reflection, both on design practice and the museum.
The museum, in the context of this PhD, is understood as a public place of sensemaking and knowledge sharing. As a cultural node, both analogue and digitally networked, it enables the community it is embedded within to access its own past. This thesis proposes that by means
of resident and mobile CoP, museums also present ideal places for shared knowing, speculation about and actively shaping preferable futures.
I propose using museum residencies as public research and development labs for nonnormative practices, enabling participants to develop a field of visions, identify the inherent potentials of a project and link multiple
projects up into an infrastructure by growing a community of practice.
Museum residencies can be ideal settings for practice-led research projects that are informed by — and inform— the museum and its community and can link up individual ideas and concepts into communities of practice intent on collaborating to pursue the next steps.
The thesis also outlines how ethical, value-based frameworks may govern co-operation — particularly important relating to the use of natural resources such as seaweed. Suggest a system of departments in flux for integrated practices, that can dock on and off existing institutions.
This PhD is aimed at practitioners who want to engage with a
community in a participatory design process or wish to work with natural materials such as seaweed. It is also aimed at theorists engaged or interested
in practice-led design research, participation, generative material innovation, museum residencies, reflexive practice in immersive environments and critical- and transition design.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W240 Industrial/Product Design
School or Centre: School of Design
Funders: Arts Foundation, Clothworkers' Foundation, Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2018 11:36
Last Modified: 26 Nov 2018 11:36
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/3704

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