13 August 2015

Life Is Good for Now

Text: Carolin Blöink

In the Focus section of form 261, we are looking at the topic of Design meets Health. The discipline of design does not only play a role in developing medical equipment and innovative process solutions but can also create scenarios that highlight future perspectives on new technologies and societal trends.


This the goal that Bernd Hopfengärtner and Ludwig Zeller pursue in their film “Life is Good for Now” that tackles “speculative scenarios concerning the effects of big data in the area of health”. We spoke to the pair about how their project came about and present a preview of their film.


What was the initiative for “Life Is Good for Now“?


The basic impulse came from the initiative by Sabine Himmelsbach, Director at the House of Electronic Arts Basel, and Claudia Mareis, Director of the Institute for Experimental Design and Media Cultures at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwestern Switzerland, to set up an exhibition project together on the poetics and politics of data. The Swiss Centre for Technology Assessment (TA-SWISS) came on board as another partner which wished to include in the exhibition a project with speculative scenarios concerning the effects of big data in the area of health. This led to our being commissioned by TA-SWISS and effectively being given a carte blanche to present the video sequences to a public podium discussion.

We have both already developed a few other projects in the context of data culture and so, this commission corresponded with our personal interests. Above all, these include the interferences of emerging technologies and new or changing cultural techniques. The rapid speed with which the computational and physical have drawn closer together in recent years naturally inspires the imagination as to how it will continue in the affected areas. In addition, interest was nurtured in understanding the changes digital technologies have already initiated in our society.

In this regard it is important to us to look into personal areas of everyday life and for our project to tackle the topic of changes of the ways in which we as individuals, families or society live. Generally, we are interested in juxtaposing these comparatively small moments with the big promises of technological innovation. In this respect, hopes and fears are mixed with factual information in an ideally ambivalent rhetoric. 


What were the stages in developing the film?


Naturally, we created an image of the status quo of the fusion emanating from data and health culture. And of course, academic papers are as eligible as current product releases, quirky reports in newspapers or news portals. In ths regard, the latter show where there could be a fascinating potential for developing a fictional story - or even better - a thought experiment. Furthermore, we also spoke to Bruno Baeriswyl (data protection officer for the canton of Zurich) and Ernst Hafen (ETH Zurich), both of whom work in this area and whose positions we wanted to integrate into our scenarios. We are not interested in pure fiction, rather we prefer to maintain a certain relevance and understanding. Based on these preparations, we then divided the project up into individual scenes and images.



How did you develop the visual language of the scenarios?


A challenge in developing the visual language was that the evaluation of huge quantities of data does not have a visual form at all, and so cannot be experienced. Objects play a large part in as far as they facilitate or motivate actions that can be measured. You could say that we have attempted to visualise a computer programme’s perspective of a situation. The objects are reduced to a few qualities and should remain general on the one hand in order to represent a class of objects or actions, but be specific enough on the other hand that you can imagine what to do with them. In this way, they create a space for further interpretation. Disassociation is one of our strategies. This is how the curious proportions of many objects are explained, such as the small mountain that appears in every scene.


How did you come to use design as a means of speculation in general terms?


Artefacts (designed objects) have the quality of offering an interpretation in very different ways. Be they aesthetic styles, suggested ways of usage, associated values or simply material wear and tear. Material cultural research, archeology and ethnology use this term in materialised knowledge. And, naturally, people have the intuitive ability to understand the world through things. And not only in the sense of materially using tools but also as materially structuring and recognising the world.

If we speculate for example about non-existing events such as future technology and society, then formed things are appropriate to bring these fictitious worlds closer to an audience. In this case, almost offering an insight into the material everyday life of another time and world.

While the above-mentioned disciplines are traditionally concerned above all with analysing the world of objects we encounter, we must, of course, emphasise that design is also interested in generating new artefacts. This is where productive interfaces between fictional literature, speculative scenario developments and the design of artefacts, interactions and images emerge. This is an area that has already provoked some discussion in recent years under the heading of speculative design or design fiction.

By designing a thing, you always design a context or even a world with it. Sometimes this world is as congruent as possible with that which already exists, then you can use and understand these things well in the here and now. In the case of speculative design however, a possible world about which the things tell a story, should be addressed. This is our understanding of this type of speculative thing. Speculation is an intrinsic strength of design that can reach into the fictional.



Are there further plans for the film once the exhibition is over?


We would like to show the film in more contexts.



Life Is Good For Now (Preview) from Ludwig Zeller on Vimeo.


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