THINKING FUNGALLY

Speculative Design + Alternative World Building
SUMMER 2019
Exploring the possibilities for multi-species design and mutual well-being.

I joined a cohort of multidisciplinary students during the Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities at the University of Washington. We were each tasked with creating an alternative world through research, making, and writing. Through these world building practices I explored ways in which design and collaboration could consider and involve other living systems.

MENTORS:

_ Tyler Fox, PhD | Human Centered Design & Engineering
_ Audrey Desjardins, PhD | Interaction Design

CONTEXT:

_ 8 weeks
_ Individual Project
_ Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities

SPECIAL THANKS:

_ The Mary Gates Endowment For Students
_ Simpson Center for the Humanities
_ The University of Washington Undergraduate Research Program

THINKING FUNGALLY

Exploring the possibilities for multi-species design and mutual well-being.

I joined a cohort of multidisciplinary students during the eight week long Summer Institute in the Arts and Humanities at the University of Washington. We were each tasked with creating an alternative world through research, making, and writing. Through these world building practices I questioned the ways in which humans and nonhumans engage with one another. I considered what possibilities there could be for collaboration amongst a variety of beings and what the experience might feel like.

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SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

I began by examining my own life-world. I considered my personal journey as a designer and a maker. A common aspect I found was collaboration. However, it can be hard for me, and probably many others, to open up and let others in. But when we do, beautiful things happen. This feeling led me to explore the benefits and tensions embedded within a collaborative process.

I chose to explore collaboration with nonhumans because I have a passion for those that go unnoticed. With emerging technologies changing the way we navigate the world, it is increasingly important to consider those who may get excluded and forgotten.

I began by examining my own life-world. I considered my personal journey as a designer and a maker. A common aspect I found was collaboration.

I chose to explore collaboration with nonhumans because I have a passion for those that go unnoticed. With emerging technologies changing the way we navigate the world, it is increasingly important to consider those who may get excluded and forgotten.

PROBLEMATIC

PROBLEMATIC

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

To continue reading please revisit on a desktop browser.

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

HOW MIGHT HUMANS AND NONHUMANS COLLABORATE TOGETHER?

SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

RESEARCH

My research began with considering our positionality in the world in relation to nonhumans. I studied posthumanism theory and Bruno Latour’s views on nonhuman agency and intellectual culture. I found that in order to include other entities in our collaborative processes, our nature of thought must change and shift past human-centeredness. These findings led me to consider more in depth how we interact with all beings.undefined

IDEATION

PROBLEMATIC

During my ideation I threw the conceptual net wide and really explored what a mutually beneficial, multi-species collaboration could be like. I brainstormed ideas that would integrate technology within a biological setting. Some ideas leaned towards functionality, while others relied heavily on metaphorical symbolism. As I narrowed down my ideas, I sought a balance between the two spectrums.

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

"We really need each other’s sensibilities to collect upon the range of skill, affect, and commitment that will enable us to live in a thick present; a complex tangle of times and places in which cultivating response-abilities, capacities to respond, matters.”
— Donna Haraway, Reflections on the Plantationocene
SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

CYBORG FUNGI ?!?!

As I was contemplating our relationship with other beings, I began researching existing living systems that successfully embrace collaborative relationships as their foundation for living and ongoingness. I found that Mycorrhizal fungi-plant communities utilize their unique abilities within their world to gather nutrients and organic molecules for one another. Suzanne Simard’s work on the kinship and communication among forest systems helped me create the framework for how to intensify communication among humans and nonhumans. And a found quote inspired the orientation of my alternative world artifact:

"Like dung beetles and flies, and microbes in general, root fungi are the largely unsung heroes of nature, cryptic creatures that make the world work.”
— Colin Tudge
PROBLEMATIC

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

HOW DO I DESIGN AN EXPERIENCE THAT IS ALL-BEING CENTERED?

SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

TENSION AND QUESTIONS

One of the main struggles I encountered throughout this project was creating an experience that was not human centered, but all being centered. I wanted to represent nonhumans in a respectful way without anthropomorphizing them. I contemplated how to avoid assuming and humanizing their motives and behaviors. I concluded that all beings try to understand their world and those they share it with. This led to the collaboration as a sharing of spirit and energy from individual life-worlds to a connected system of beings.

PROBLEMATIC

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

RESPONSE

SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

THE ALTERNATIVE WORLD

In the Age of Novus, Mycorrhizal fungi have absorbed electricity, gifted to them by a Mother Tree. The hyper electric fungi-plant network is stretching with curiosity through the divisions between in-earth and on-earth. Mushrooms offer themselves as a cognitive portal for humans to experience what it is like think fungally; to live within a collective consciousness that is propelled by the capacity for beings to respond to one another in a mutually beneficial way.

PROBLEMATIC

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

THE ARTIFACT

I designed the interaction with the mushroom to encourage humans to not only notice, but to also care about cultivating relationships with nonhumans and to express curiosity for other beings’ life-worlds. Vibrations in the mushroom’s cap signify the transferring of energy and spirit with another being. The collaboration is a mutual effort among many beings to better understand each other and the world around them. Essentially opening up to one another.

PROBLEMATIC

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

WORLDVIEW

I express this worldview through a series of journal entries with illustrations. They are written from a gardener’s perspective who has recently discovered a mysterious mushroom. In this story, the electric, cyborg fungi intensify the need for interconnected and diversified networks of beings. Similar to our world, there is an unresolved tension in balancing individualism and togetherness within collaborative settings. However, this alternative world lens opens a passageway into the possibilities for shifting our nature of thought to include the perspectives of nonhuman entities.

PROBLEMATIC

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

MUSHROOM, MEET HUMAN.

SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

SHOWCASE

Presenting at Artefact, a strategy and design firm in Seattle, was an incredibly heartening experience. I loved sharing the magic of my electric fungi world and watching people's faces light up with intrigue.

I asked people to think about what response they'd like to put forth into the connected network of beings. They were delighted when they touched the cap, felt the vibration, and watched the lights flash in different colors, as if their message was being heard and responded to.

PROBLEMATIC

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

WORLD BUILDING AS A DESIGN METHOD

SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

LEARNING THROUGH MAKING

My initial prototype included experimentations with sculptor's wire, fabric dyeing, and sewing. The process of prototyping an imperfect design allowed me to explore tangible forms and to receive feedback from my critique group. Making intermingling with research helped me immerse myself in the context of my world, both mentally and tangibly.

The final making process included hand sewing conductive material, basic Arduino programming: light show loop, fabric and paper dyeing, painting, and creative writing.

PROBLEMATIC

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

SELF AND WORLD ANALYSIS

ONGOING THOUGHTS

Overall, this extensive research and design project has shown me the importance of diversity and inclusivity within collaboration. As the problems within our world grow in complexity, all earthly beings will need to rely on and contribute to one another in mutually beneficial ways.

Design can play an important role in this collaboration by considering and involving other living systems in our process and production, and by implementing interactive experiences that encourage compassion and concern for both humans and nonhumans alike.

PROBLEMATIC

Nonhuman beings may not be readily noticeable, but their contributions to each other and our world are vast. They may be unseen, unheard, or unmoving to the human eye, but they are creating and sustaining symbiotic relationships within a plurality of species. And yet, we don’t often acknowledge these nonhumans when we think about collaborative problem solving, design and resilience within the world.