Close Encounters of the Third Kind was being shown on TV this weekend. I happened across it accidently, and sat glued to it for a couple of hours, realising perhaps how burnt into my subconcious some of the images in it are for me.
I started watching it not for the story (of which there is not much, admittedly) but trying to watch the imagery, the iconography.
So many of my hot buttons pressed! One of the first issues of Starlog I ever bought, about 1978/79 / a classic 2000ad cover by Brian Bolland / The Goodies / Syd-Mead-esque prefabricated pods and silky tracksuits / 1975 NASA Ames /Stanford Torus research illustrations / the italian-supermodern furniture aesthetic of Space 1999 /
I’m currently reading Ken Holling’s excellent “Welcome To Mars”, in which the golden age of flying saucer culture is juxtaposed with the rise of suburbia and the military-industrial-entertainment complex.
One could conside Close Encounters as the end of that trajectory – and the end of other trajectories: the last freak-out LSD scifi, the last ‘serious’ 70’s scifi before/during the starwarsification of the scifi movie.
And the beginning of trajectories: the scifi conspiracy movie, the beginning of the industrial light-and-magic revolution, and an in-joke that would play out more than 25 years later in Alias.
Aside from being lost in the imagery, one piece of dialog I had never heard before floated through as soon as I’d switched on. It’s the scene where a young boy, Barry is about to be abducted.
His mother tries to block all the doors, windows and ducts but cannot stop screws being unscrewed and their hiding place being unwrapped by light, noise and apparent unseen malevolence.
Barry stands smiling, points at the UFOs and cries with joy: “TOYS!!”
This time it was all 1st years from the course, and in collaboration with Vodafone, with Ian Curson and others from their User-Experience group helping set the brief and getting involved with workshops set by the students.
The brief was deliberately wide and intended to steer us all from thinking about mobile phones. It was entitled “Tribal Futures”, and asked the group to:
“…focus in on the mundane and the extremes of our behaviour in groups and propose design interventions to support, subvert and celebrate our tribal connections. We encourage you to extrapolate the current trends in mobile, social and other technologies in terms of their failures as well as successes, and examine what technologies intended and unintended consequences might be.”
I quoted Clay Shirky later on in the brief:
“Groups are a run-time effect. You cannot specify in advance what the group will do, and so you can’t substantiate in software everything you expect to have happen”
Clay made time on a trip to London to give a talk to the group and answer their questions, early on in the project. Enormously grateful to him for that!
It was a short project, just 4 weeks – and the wide brief inspired a wide range of responses, from Andy Friend’s “Nuisance Machines”: playful devices for creating incidental groups…
…to some that found a theme of flocking and swarming in group dynamics such asHiromi Ozaki’s swarming, archigram-inspired tribal search engine…
And Louise O’Connor’s lovely The Singing Flock which I really hope gets pursued into a larger project.
There were projects that encompassed the poetic, the playful and the semi-practical: like Derv Heaney’s “Constructive Hold Space” – part audio-architecture and part social network for those stuck on hold for call centres…
…to the pure poetic-playful – like Helge Fischer’s Ceremonies for Agnostics
Despite the punishing time-scale of the project, a few of the students managed to get out and do some design research in the field, including Oliver Goodhall’s investigation of Jaywick
…and Alison Thomson’s fantastic Waltz of the Orange Men – she actually got certified as a member of the local council waste disposal crew she spent time with! Dedication!
All of the projects can be found at http://beta.interaction.rca.ac.uk/ft/ and we’ve kept the project blog that the group used for research and work-in-progress live (but with comments closed) at http://beta.interaction.rca.ac.uk/futuretribes/ to show some of the process along the way.
And, talking of which, the Design Interactions course is having it’s annual Work-In-Progress show this week, along with the Animation, Architecture and Industrial Design Engineering courses (sorry, can’t find a better link), where both the 1st and 2nd years will be showing off their work so far. Looking forward to it.
Now it’s all going to get a bit Kate Winslet.
Many thanks to Anthony Dunne, Onkar Kular, Noam Toran and Nina Pope from Design Interactions for the invitation, the support and the great conversations about the Jason Bourne movies; Ian Curson and his group at Vodafone for all their support, Clay Shirky, Will Davies and Richard Pope for being great speakers to kick-off the project with – and of course, the students for both putting up with me and creating such great work and surprises along the way.
Hopefully I’ll get to do it again…