Object.Space.Body

In Autumn and Winter 2021 I have been teaching a product design course aimed at first-year students at the State University of Art and Design Karlsruhe.
The goal of the course was for the freshmen to unlearn the rigidity and stiffness they might have acquired at school, to learn how to listen to their bodies, and to introduce them to a body-first design process – designing objects that through their idiosyncrasies choreograph the user in a particular way.

The course was structured as 14 weekly 3-hour sessions, each session focused on a specific new topic. This is a diary of what we did during this time.

№1

Warmup: voice, being loud and speaking in a low voice. Standing in a circle and being louder than the person to the left.

Topic: exploring the spaces of the university, since the building itself is very new to most participants. Take 20 minutes to explore the space, find a place you particularly like and find/invent a gesture or a pose that suits the place well. We then went to each found place and tried the gesture/place combination as a group.

№2

Warmup: balancing head on the shoulders like a 3-year-old; writing your name on white duct tape and going swiftly through the room, greeting each other loudly as you meet each other.

Exploration: I brought large, 1 meter long, bulrush grass stems to class. Each person could take a few, extending their body and their senses with them. Where would you add them? How do they change perception? Are they just for perception (like cat whiskers) or can they be used actively?


Topic: exploring how tools extend our bodies. Go through the university and find some architectural detail / trash / furniture and extend your body through it. Try to find words to talk about how it felt.

№3

Warmup was based on eye exercises; imagine your eyes positioned very deep inside your head, not on the outside. Look up and walk around the room trying not to run into each other.
Group exercise: one person tries to look directly in the eyes of their partner, the partner looks away. Switch roles.
Stage two: One person tries to look away while the person looking directly into the eyes tries to actively move where the first person is looking.
Playful exploration of being seen / being seen too much / being ignored.

Topic: Chindogu, useless inventions. Mostly useless inventions that try to solve a social/corporeal pain point with technical means. Fascinating in its useless overengineering. Each were to develop 7 proposals for Chindogus, and select one to build a model for next week.

№4

Warmup: imagining an animal. Walking around the room with while taking on 1/10 of the qualities of that animal. Exploring what changes.
Then: walking around speaking gibberish, expressive but senseless sounds. (wasn’t easy).
Then: Pointing at objects and calling them by the wrong name. Like pointing at a chair and pronouncing loudly ‘River!’. (Keith Johnstone exercise, worked well).

Topic: Presentation of Chindogu models, a lot of great ideas and models!


№5

Warmup: Very slow movements of the head, then the shoulders, then each part of the body ending with the toes. Doing it again, but this time trying to do it unnoticeably, with tiny movements. Created a great atmosphere of highly concentrated but hardly moving bodies.

Then: Pair exercise, use way too much body language, mimic and gestures to tell your partner about your day. Really overdo it. Then switched roles. Worked well and we had a good discussion about the difficulties some people had.

Then: Taking up space around you with your gaze. Using your eyes to take space, own that space.

Then: In pairs, walking towards each other slowly, until one person says ‘stop!’ as the border to personal space is reached. Talked about the different but mostly similar distances everyone reached. Repeat the exercise but this time not trying to take up space with your gaze.

Then: A group exercise in miming an object. One half of the class agrees on an object they want to build, then someone mimes building the basic of it. The others go to the empty space where the person mimed it and mime adding other parts to it. The group that watches on tries to sketch the object being built. We then repeated the exercise a few times, sometime not agreeing beforehand on what is being built.

Talked about the importance of documentation and the impossibility of a perfect reproduction. Talked about websites and an easy way to build them. Homework: create a website for the chindogus you sketched/made. Here are some:
https://mmm.page/jinhyung.main
https://mmm.page/lilith163
https://mmm.page/obshistory.main
https://mmm.page/lorenz.main
https://mmm.page/cornelia
https://mmm.page/kakotkina
https://mmm.page/lhlz.main
https://mmm.page/ruesselwaermer.main
https://mmm.page/nikolauskudlek
https://mmm.page/wiggleagainstboredom

№6

Class was held online.

Topic: introduction to defensive architecture, showing different kinds of seating arrangements in the city that disallow their use for lying and sleeping, as well as anti-skateboard designs.

Exercise: go for a walk for 30 minutes and find approaches that rethink the use of public space that allows (or disallows) specific things.


We then talked about the findings and as homework the ideas should be presented as websites. Here are some:

https://mmm.page/momomo
https://mmm.page/obshistory
https://mmm.page/kakotkina.defensive_architecture
https://mmm.page/lhlz.ampel
https://mmm.page/lorenz.public_toilets
https://build.mmm.page/jensmartin.main
https://mmm.page/lilith163.baskettoshare
https://mmm.page/cornelia.choreographie_urban_space

№7

Class was held online.

Topic: Ikea effect and kintsugi. How objects gain subjective value by being built or by being mended, by having a history.

Exercise: build an object from discarded material (should have no text on it, and possibly no flat surfaces) and to give it a name. Later, slowly push it off the table to see how you want or don’t want it to break, how attached you feel to the object, just after a few minutes after creating it from trash.
Then we talked about IKEA effect – things that were in part created by the user get much more value assigned by the user. And kintsugi – how things may gain value after being destroyed and repaired.

Each participant then gathered ideas for objects that get created by the user (and gain IKEA effect) or objects that have to be destroyed and then mended/recreated by users to get kintsugi effect.

№8

Class was held online, as it is two days before Christmas and half the class is at their families.

The homework was to find ways to use text as a medium to talk about the kintsugi/ IKEA effect project ideas. Lots of interesting texts and even concrete poetry!

For the end of the year, we talked about what worked well in the seminar. Some feedback:

  • many different approaches to try, draft, document
  • walking around the city and asking themselves what else could exist in that specific place was interesting and helpful
  • many ideas gathered each time, learned to not be afraid of too many ideas
  • asking how things felt was good (doesn’t happen in other seminars!)
  • sometimes hard to get ideas
  • not all bodily exercises work (voices are hard)

№9

Topic was slowness - objects that would cause slowness – and how to build them.

Exercise: From a standing position, move down to the floor, to a sitting or lying position, but take 7 minutes to do it. Move up in 1 minute. This worked very well, the durations to get down and up were amazingly precise, even though there was no clock to tell the time.

Then: walking slowly around the second floor of the university, with 20% of normal speed. Stay silent, and pay attention to each step and to the space around you.
This spontaneously turned into 5% speed instead, silence was hard to keep.

Then: Asked people to form trios. Two of the people will stand tightly side to side and the third one a couple of meters away facing them. The pair will start moving their outside arms slowly and the task of the third person is to mirror these movements with her arms. After a while, change the roles so that each person gets to mirror the movement.

Lorenz did an impromptu presentation on his thoughts about Zwischenräume – space in between. Had a good discussion.

Each gathered slow ideas for slow objects. Also talked about a possible publication proposed by Moritz.

№10

Worked with huge back pain. Remained seated the whole time. Fun.

Topic: publication and how to do it in a way that involves bodies.

Exercises: Soft eyes. Relax, perhaps slightly defocus your eyes and walk around the room with relaxed eyes. Observe how it feels.

Then: find a person in the group and copy their movements in a slightly more inflated way. -> worked great as usual, as people start copying the copyist and there is an overinflation of movement.

Then: go around the university and every time you read something you change bodily position or posture. -> the idea was to observe how much written text there is. Participants complained that they got a bit disoriented and got a headache.

Moritz presented how he envisions a publication. Everyone gathered ideas about reading things differently, lots of ideas. Here are some:

– Langes Format, unendlicher Papierstreifen
– Text auf mehrere Kissen drucken und der Text ergibt erst Sinn wenn man die Kissen richtig sortiert
– Text als Fenstertattoo zum aufkleben
– Text auf einem Handtuch, dass sich entfaltet wenn man es in Wasser legt
– Text in 3D Optik (evt blaue und rote Schrift übereinander) -> Lichtfarbe wechseln
– Text den man frei radieren muss
– Zeilen gehen über ganze Wand -> laufen um zu lesen
– Puzzle Buch
– Text wird durch pusten sichtbar
– etwas wackeln damit man es lesen kann
– dreck bleibt an schrift kleben (z.b. große Installation in der Öffentlichkeit mit drüberlaufen)
– etwas sauber waschen das text erscheint
– durch Abnutzung erscheint Text (Geländer oder Statuen in der Öffentlichkeit)
– durch akustische Geräusche (wie den Spiegel anschreien)
– durch Luftfeuchtigkeit wie anhauchen (oder Regen auf der Straße)
– Aktivieren durch Wärme/Kälte
– Aktivierung bei Kontakt durch Chemikalien (Verunreinigung - zb. als Sicherheitsvorkehrung)

№11

Topic: Status (in the impro theater meaning), playing high and low status characters. Products for status. Warmup: Started with everyone going through space and saying hello to each other. Some time looking away immediately, some times holding eye contact. Talked about how different it felt, and what it did with rest of the body.

Talked about impro theater. Showed a sketch and a video of a US politicians playing high and low status. Showed interview of Keith Johnstone talking about being seen on screen, and about not trying to do your very best (it fails) but instead just doing good work.

Did partner exercise when people tried to explore how one could play a bit higher status, then tried a bit lower status.

Spent the rest of the time working on the publication.

№12

Class was held online. Topic: Choreography of things. Talked about the bodily positions that things make us take. Like in a church, going through a very slim door or some contraption that forces the believer to get on their knees in order to kiss the icons.

The group had a long discussion about how to present our findings at the end of the semester.

№13

Topic: how to do the presentation.

Moritz showed the printed booklet. Very nice. The format is chosen so that in order to leaf through the booklet one has to really use the full range of motion of the arms, opening up the body of the reader. Beautiful inconvenience.

We then split in two groups to develop the ‘ideal’ presentation, then combined the ideas.

Exercise: Experimented with having a benevolent gaze as a helpful way to deal with stage fright when presenting. Benevolent towards the viewers.
Also did an exercise on authentic movement in pairs. Where one person simply looks at the other, while the second explores how their body wants to move right now. Worked really well. Tried with holding eye contact between the partners, and without. Interestingly enough it was harder for the moving partner to move without holding eye contact.

№14


Video of all the chindogu websites edited by Moritz, shown at the presentation.

The day of the presentation. The group presented their view of the seminar without my intervention, and even integrated a few exercises (repeating the movement of another person in an inflated way & miming the process of building something together).
Exciting to see what the group prepared. All around a great experience.