Yoko Akama is an Associate Professor in the School of Design, RMIT University by Naarm, Kulin Nations (now known as Melbourne, Australia). She is a recipient of several national and international awards for collaborative work with self-determining Indigenous nations and regional communities preparing for disaster. Her practice is shaped by exploring ways to enhance inter-relating qualities, respecting differences, and accommodating plurality. While she has lived, studied, and worked in the UK, US, and Australia, her Japanese heritage and ongoing work with collaborators in Asia-Pacific continue to be an essential dimension of her practice. She brings this practice to research, teaching, and various platform leadership through participatory collaboration to address various entrenched issues and explore shared futures.
Learning to Live with Destruction, as Designing
Yoko Akama on Boon Wurrung and Woi Wurrung lands, Kulin nation (now called Melbourne, Australia)
For so long, my pursuit to learn from destructive forces of colonization and climate change led me to confront the arrogance of power wielded to extract, control, and subjugate. Anthropocentricity, by its nature, can over-claim its supremacy. I am not alone in thinking that it’s not the human species that are destroying the planet but perpetual, disconnected ways of thinking, acting, and being that have dominated and cyclically reinforced by those perceived as the centers of the world, knowledges, disciplines. Dominant Design participates in this circularity.
Dominant Design is ensnared in ideologies for progress, obsessed with fixing problems. I think this has made us unable to stay-with-problems (riffing off Haraway), like disasters. I will never forget the shaky footage of tankers, houses, and bridges being guzzled by dark yaws of the 3.11 tsunami in 2011 or the red acrid skies of the Black Summer bushfires of 2019. What can we learn from this, to live with such forces of destruction? Such encounters have begun to haunt me with a longing for how to learn from decay and destruction as designing. I am compelled to practice how we live with destruction by learning from many that do about practices of surrender as a choice. In this talk, I expand on a deeply entangled notion of reciprocity, weaving practices from Japan, permaculture, and wisdoms from rituals that teach us that we are all intertwined in boundless more-than-human worlds.
Heather Davis is an Assistant Professor of Culture and Media at The New School in New York, whose work draws on feminist and queer theory to examine ecology, materiality, and Contemporary Art in the context of settler colonialism. Her most recent book, Plastic Matter (Duke University Press, 2022), explores the transformation of geology, media, and bodies in light of plastic’s saturation. She is the editor of the award-winning Desire Change: Contemporary Feminist Art in Canada (MAWA and McGill Queen’s UP, 2017) and co-editor of Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments, and Epistemologies (Open Humanities Press, 2015). Davis is a member of the Synthetic Collective, an interdisciplinary team of scientists, humanities scholars, and artists who investigate and make visible plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. In 2022–23 she will be a fellow at Princeton University Institute for Advanced Study.
Petro-modernity as Pleasure and Threat
The worlds we have built in the last two centuries have been deeply dependent upon fossil fuels. As such, it is not so easy to disentangle ourselves from fossil fuels, for they are also what has built our lives, our loves, the objects we interact with on a daily basis, and the infrastructures for movement and connection. This version of the good life, founded upon oil’s slick relations, could be described as a form of cruel optimism, which Lauren Berlant defines as being bound to a sustaining relation that is simultaneously both a profound threat and profoundly confirming (Berlant 2011, 2). This lecture will consider the material relations of petro-modernity as both pleasure and threat, using plastic as a primary example. Plastic is particularly important in this context, not only because it is so ubiquitous but also because the materiality of plastic has been transferred to our expectations of matter more broadly: matter itself has come to be produced as inherently pliable, disposable, and consumable. This talk will address plasticity, plastic, and materiality to show its connections to the longer histories of colonialism while also asking after other ways to think about relationality and material ethics, beyond the seductive capture of oil.
Helen V. Pritchard is a designer, geographer, activist, and queer love theorist and Professor and Head of Research at the Institute for Experimental Design and Media Culture, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland FHNW in Basel. Their work considers how computational infrastructures and digital media impact social and environmental practice. Helen works with participatory and creative practice methods for co-research, drawing on trans*feminist and queer approaches. Their research addresses how practices configure the possibilities for life—or who gets to have a life—in intimate and significant ways. As a practitioner, they work together with companions to make propositions and designs for environmental media and computing otherwise, developing methods to uphold a politics of queer survival and practice. Since 2013, Helen has been a member of Citizen Sense, an award-winning group investigating the relationship between technologies and practices of environmental sensing and citizen engagement; and since 2020, has been a co-organizer of The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest (TITiPI), together they convene communities to hold computational infrastructures to account and to create spaces for articulating what technologies in the “public interest” might be. They are the co-editor of Data Browser 06: Executing Practices (Open Humanities Press 2018) and Sensors and Sensing Practices (Science, Technology, & Human Values 2019), and the forthcoming anthology Plants by Numbers: Decolonial Queer Feminist Technoscience (2023). They are working on the book project Animal Hackers and Critter Compilers and are co-editing the book series Future Media (Goldsmiths Press).
Regenerative Energy and Queer GeoChemistries
As a response to the felt endings of carbon-based energy there has been a proliferation of technoutopian design solutions for resilient energy communities. From micro-tracking devices for measuring energy to workshops for off-grid living, the technical and social imaginaries of community energy are of survival, repair and resilience. Despite the ways, in which the end of carbon-based energy demands the recognition of human-earth relations, emerging imaginations and politics of energy transition remain powerfully attached to the individual and the image of the “smooth life.” Instead, in this keynote I discuss our project Regenerative Energy Communities, in which artists, designers and farmers work on queer and feminist practices together for regenerative imaginaries to build and support ties across soils, and damage colonial narratives of the smooth continuity of energy. Exploring practices that arise out of small scale, unstable forms of sustainable energy provision we propose we might take up queer geochemistries to work with material resistances to deep, ongoing damages. I describe our speculative attempts and crossings that emerge as a queer, open-ended set of collectively made regenerative prototypes loitering in between spaces of a seemingly fixed and sealed present, deeptime past and future possibility.