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Issue #23
December 2020 - June 2021
Towards a Predictable Nature
Maya Ben David / May 30 2021

Our relations with nature have undergone numerous changes over time, which were accelerated following the modern Industrial Revolution and Scientific Revolution. These revolutions positioned machines and technology as the salvation of human society. The power of machines would, it was believed, render our lives more efficient, while providing the information that would enable us to understand the most complex and abstract of all phenomena – Creation and intelligence. That same power has since come to be associated with cloning humans or organs, and solving the problem of our finite existence on Earth – due to the obstinate insistence on attaining immortality. It is also associated with machines endowed with human intelligence and morality.

At some point along the way, nature became a source of inspiration, yet not an end in itself. We see it as a separate sphere that must be controlled and managed, yet things were not always this way. Ancient, indigenous cultures knew how to listen to natural systems and learn from them. They came up with solutions for confronting extreme natural situations by means including materials, topography, the study of changes and movement. As a modern society, however, we have chosen a different path – one involving a separation from nature, which we are no longer intimately familiar with.

The current pandemic has forced us to reexamine our relations with nature, to once again examine the changes it is undergoing, and to consider mechanisms that will ensure our joint survival. The objects we consume are part of the larger system that involves human needs, production processes, and production methods, economic mechanisms and business strategies. Crises pertaining to human values are redefining the relations between these different components, so that the observation of objects is a reflection of numerous processes unfolding around us.

The trajectory that I propose focuses on a number of objects representing changes to our relationship with nature due to the advent of new technologies and the intention to impact and shape future narratives.

 

Naama Agassi for Monkey Business, Nature Sabre, 2015

A silicone handle mounted on a tree branch transforms it into a sabre. This playful act resonates with childhood memories, adventures, and imaginative acts. In addition to the childlike experience and the seductive encounter between the precisely planned industrial silicone handle and the natural branch whose form is shaped by chance occurrences, this object also alludes to the human instinct to create work tools in order to lead, compete, conquer, fight, and survive. The naïve gaze that accompanies us as children studying nature is often coupled with destructive acts – picking, uprooting, or killing – which underscore our perceived supremacy.


Naama Agassi for Monkey Business, Nature Sabre, 2015. Photo: Monkey Business

 

Haim Murro (manufacturer), Pins by KKL-JNF for Israel’s Independence Day, 1965-1968

Designers: Gabriel and Maxim Shamir, Yaakov Zim, unknown designer, unknown designer, Asaf Berg

The olive tree is characteristic of the local Israeli landscape, as of many other landscapes around the Mediterranean. Yet due to its historical and religious significance, it has become a multivalent motif in local culture, which is both respected and fought over. As a designer, I felt that the choice of natural motifs in product design is a-political, since nature is largely objective. It is a product of a certain place, imbued with the forces of the earth and sky, much like the people inhabiting the same area. Over time, I have come to understand that our desire to protect a chosen species, to use a specific plant as a barrier or to uproot another – involves actions that transform the landscape, shaping it in accordance with our needs and preferences while preserving a preferred narrative and producing a politicized natural environment.

 

Haim Murro (manufacturer), Pins by KKL-JNF for Israel’s Independence Day, 1965-1968. Photo: Sharon Murro

 

Studio Under, 3D Printed Ceramics, 2012

3D printing is a production technology that constructs a physical model based on a digital file. A special program slices the file into layers, and the printer prints it in three dimensions, using different techniques, layer upon layer. The growth of the object on the printer surface raises comparisons with natural growth mechanisms, and considerations of 3D printing as a human technology of growth. The use of a material based on a natural resource in 3D printing challenges our ability to control the final result. The material, the creator’s intentions, and the machine entertain an evolving dialogue related to the ability to control, plan, regulate, and shape nature. In most cases, such strategies reveal the challenges faced by contemporary technology, as well as the complex and poetic qualities of natural resources.

 

Studio Under, 3D Printed Ceramics, 2012

 

Guard from Above, Domesticated, Trained Falcon Attacks Drone, since 2013

Who controls whom? Who is superior to whom? Predatory birds trained to attack hostile drones are a form of distorted “biological pest control” created by humans, which exploits the natural function of predatory birds – hunting and survival – by taming and controlling them. The use of falcons for hunting began in ancient Mesopotamia, and continued in Mongolia, Turkey and Europe, where this sport was viewed as an aristocratic status symbol. The transformation of predatory birds into consumer products is based on the power of this cultural heritage, recast as a distorted marketing strategy.

 

Screenshot from: Guard from Above, Domesticated, Trained Falcon Attacks Drone, since 2013.

 

Gal Sharir, You Touch Me More Than Anything, 2018

The keyboard designed by Gal Sharir is a question mark pointing at a possible future in which our skin, as a smart and responsive envelope, will acquire additional functions. Gal’s vision bespeaks a longing for touch and sensuality during a time of accelerated technological mediation, as given expression by keyboards, screens, mice and additional tools that we use to touch, assist, communicate with and even love others. Bodily memory and the senses are a gate to ancient knowledge embedded in us as living creatures. The technologies of the future will be challenged by memory and the human longing for tactility and sensory contact.

 

Screenshot from: Gal Sharir, You Touch Me More Than Anything, 2018

 

Given Imaging (manufacturer), PillCam – a Pill-Camera for Diagnosing Pathologies in the Digestive System, 2013

"To boldly go where no man has gone before" is the sentence most strongly identified with “Star Trek,” the famous TV series that debuted in the 1960s, and which captures the adventures of a space exploration vessel – representing the human thrust to discover new worlds. The Pill-Camera is a recent link in a chain of technological efforts to perceive what remains invisible to the human eye – including the microscope, telescope, colonoscope, and numerous other tools that offer encounters with tiny or vast worlds, close or far, internal or external.


Given Imaging (manufacturer), PillCam – a Pill-Camera for Diagnosing Pathologies in the Digestive System, 2013. Photo courtesy of Medatronic

 

Padwa Design Studio (Alex Padwa, Gilad Davidi), Beresheet Lunar Launcher, 2012

The first step taken on the moon was an exciting moment in human history. It reflected incredible technological achievements, as well as the human ability to transform a vision into reality. The ability of the human species to observe the Earth from an external vantage point enabled us to humbly experience the beauty of the universe. The landing of a spaceship on the moon and the symbolic planting of a flag represent, in many senses, the human desire to control, know, shatter limits, and understand the universe and our place within it. In the case of Beresheet Lunar Launcher, the generous space allotted to commercial logos upon the launcher represents – like the flag planted on the moon in 1969 – the desire to generate a historically unprecedented moment. Today, more than ever, we are traders of moments.

 

Padwa Design Studio (Alex Padwa, Gilad Davidi), Beresheet Lunar Launcher, 2012

 

Koby Levy, Untitled (Manhole Cover), 2010

The image of the flower appearing on this manhole cover is reminiscent of natural forms explained by means of the famous mathematical series known as the Fibonacci sequence. This pattern can be seen in the arrangement of sunflower seeds, of artichoke leaves, of pinecones and more. The steel relief relates to organic three-dimensional structures with a complex morphology, which is abstracted here into a symbol or icon. The connection between the rosette and the functioning of manhole covers is open to interpretation. For me, rosettes communicate an oppressive sense concerning things that are produced in the world without sufficient responsibility, as well as an absence of hope for change.

 

Koby Levy, Untitled (Manhole Cover), 2010. Photo: Koby Levi

 

Ami Drach and Dov Ganchrow, BC-AD, the Yellow Series, 2014

This series of hand-held stones reflects the possibility that, in the future, traditional local knowledge will be applied to technological means, thus allowing for an optimal maximization of resources that is compatible with both contemporary society and with sustainable existence, as well as with scenarios concerning a future catastrophe. The ability of 3-D technologies to fully adapt and customize themselves in relation to an individual human body, as well as to complex natural forms, will allow for new ways of using nature. In the future, the exploitation of local materials for customized production will be an important aspect of 3-D printing technologies.


Ami Drach and Dov Ganchrow, BC-AD, the Yellow Series, 2014. Photo: Moti Fishbain

 

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Maya Ben David product designer, scholar and lecturer in the Department of Industrial Design, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem

* Originally published as one of the itineraries in the exhibition "Black Box".

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