Core77 Design Awards
- Other Years
Future Erasure is a futurescaping workshop created by CIID Research (DK) and Media, Culture, Heritage at Newcastle University (UK) to immerse and engage museums in a difficult but pressing problem: to explore and design possible futures of heritage in a world where there is no universal canon to distinguish what is worth remembering and preserving from what is not.
Based on research about current trends, indicators and technologies, together with researchers from University of Newscastle, we imagine a future where museums are so overwhelmed by the amount of items that should count as heritage; they can no longer keep their full collections and must delete 20% of it every year. To figure out what to delete and how this challenge would affect the museum experience of this future, on the day of the workshop, we invited a group of heritage experts from different museums to form the Deletion Bureau.
We used speculative design and design fiction methods to create materials for this future, such as newspapers, films and a series of physical prototypes, to immerse our participants in this future scenario.
Two major tasks were designed to stimulate debate and push our participants to articulate their values and visions for the futures of their institutions' heritage. The experts came from European museums, thus the activities focused around issues regarding European heritage and personalised the materials around the scenario and the problems their institutions face.
We sought to communicate and demonstrate how our participants might push their own pre-defined assumptions and have a productive discussion about the future of their institutions by using co-creation and speculative design methods. Together, we embraced the potential of speculative design to create a new space for meaningful reflection by inviting participants to tangibly interact with their visions and build new ones. The project demonstrates how futurescaping can be used as a research tool to reflect and spark discussion-- in this case about the current hopes and fears around the digital and a clear need for reshaping the societal value of museums and cultural institutions in the future.
While the workshop is specifically shaped around challenges that the heritage experts and practitioners from various European cultural institutions face, the future challenges that our scenario poses are ones that many organisations can relate to - and the structure could be reconfigured to apply to other sectors. The methodology of futurescaping and its accompanying speculative design tools allowed us to investigate how values, decisions and overall missions do or do not align - in an open, discursive and imaginative way.
Our workshop had a series of steps, from priming before the workshop to immersion in the future, to tackling the challenge of the day through various tasks. The flow of the day was designed such that we stepped one level higher in speculation for each task.
To make our workshop as personal, relevant and immersive as possible, we asked our participants to send us two objects that they believed represented European heritage.
We brought our participants intoFuture Erasureand the challenge of the day by creating a morning newspaper, video and supporting kit - materials that step by step transitioned from 2018 to 2038.
An extract from the video's scenario:
"Protesters will make themselves heard though, and have been chanting "We must remember to forget" in the streets. All parties admit that remembering and building heritage are both grounded in processes of filtering, selecting, obliterating. But 'PreservingEverything' icon Helga Maxwell says 'this is an arbitrary, authoritarian move disguised as a response to the public opinion, we will fight for our heritage and we know that real sustainability can be achieved without getting rid of our collections.' The Deletion Bureau will be composed of highly experienced senior museum professionals, who will take a year off their roles in leading institutions in Europe to embrace the challenge to shape the activities of the newly created institute. They will not be alone though: a team of computer scientists and designers is finalising a set of sophisticated tools to help them with their difficult responsibility of selecting what can now be dismissed."
After understanding the issue and angle of the Deletion Bureau, our participants started in on their work. Their first task was to reflect and negotiate about the heritage-items the Deletion Bureau should keep/discard. Accordingly, they also wrestled with how to define and categorise European heritage-items. As part of our setting, they generated variations on abstract, pseudo-code algorithms to search through their collections.
This task began with a mad search through the room where we laid out the items the participants contributed in the priming. They had to find one thing to keep in 1 minute. This task felt impossible to the participants. While they only had to look at 20 items in 1 minute, it led to the question: what if we had to consider all the items in the 2038 collections in 1 day?
We shared that we had designed tools for them: a special algorithm and accompanying artificial intelligence that could come to their rescue - if they shaped those tools to their needs. We described the positive and negative possibilities of using A.I. in the artistic context, and encouraged them to create guiding structure for our algorithm. At the beginning of the exercise, the A.I. randomly sorted, kept and discarded heritage items without rationale.
Thus, the main problem for this task was to create a rubric, a matrix for the algorithm to follow as it sorted the heritage items. How would it know what these items represented conceptually? The experts sorted and arranged keywords associated with the heritage items they had chosen, finding a common agreement of which concepts (and their associated heritage items) would be most important to keep.
We then put their choices into action, inputting the rubrics into an interactive visualisation that kept or discarded the heritage items the participants had previously contributed. This direct and active method of provoking our participants to choose what to keep and the values that supported those decisions was the first step to enter into their role in the Deletion Bureau. Because the materials they worked with (heritage items they themselves had contributed in the priming exercise) were familiar and close, they felt those items' deletion or preservation more keenly, stepping into the emotional dimension of Future Erasure. The narrowness of the algorithm's rubric and "intelligence" prompted our participants into a reflective discussion of how we can better collaborate with tools such as artificial intelligence.
In the second task of the day, we took a different lens on Future Erasure. We imagined that instead of erasing the 20% of the objects completely, we could use a new Transformation Machine to distill them into their essential qualities. We act out a transformation of the items in a Transformation Machine, and - perhaps paradoxically - create ways to re-experience them.
In groups, the participants agreed upon one item to delete from the collections they had contributed. They noted the crucial attributes to keep about this item, to be re-experienced somehow. They then took their item and crucial attributes to our Transformation Machine, and we compressed the item into a simple token that "now held the crucial attributes to be re-experienced."
As the form and aesthetics had now completely changed, the groups had to imagine how they might still re-experience the crucial attributes. These crucial attributes were as theoretical as "networked knowledge" or as practical as "skills". We presented several near and far future experiential technologies - such as "high-definition touch" and "neural-retina interfaces", handed out a simple kit, and the groups got to work creating re-experiencing devices for their transformed objects.
Next, we asked them to contextualise the transformed object and its device, creating a future museum experience for this kind of heritage item. Each group's token had a special symbol to explain how it had been transformed: into DNA, chips in bodies, deep space messaging. We gave the groups custom collage kits according to their type of transformation-storage.
This was the last and most speculative experience for the experts: they created imaginary visions of a future where satellites contained the heritage they could not store in the museums, and these satellites encircled everywhere in the world except Europe. They imagined a museum on the streets of cities, where upon approaching one another, humans would activate one another's stored heritage items. In both cases, the heritage items had been chosen by the individuals themselves (that is, any inhabitants of the Earth) rather than the museum professionals. These visions communicated their desire for a more universal, shared and personal experience of heritage in the future. While such a vision might be in their museum's missions, the disparity between 2018 reality and 2038 imagination was clear. The underlying needs were articulated and ignited in such a way that the participants pledged to ground the concepts and bring them back to their respective institutions.
Before we wrapped up, everyone walked through the future museum visions and took a stand at the one they felt was problematic, desirable, or a mixture and to describe why. We prompted them to consider issues they have in their institutions and whether they would be resolved or worsened by this scenario-collage.
Our Deletion Bureau articulated hopes, fears and desires around the future of (European) heritage - they designed shared and universally accessible collections, affirmed the subjectivity of heritage artefacts; and fears, such as losing the material object for its digital version.
We createdFuture Erasureto explore the farthest edges heritage and the role of museums now. The workshop was designed to move the group beyond their usual mindsets in order to focus on the essence of heritage. Fictional scenario-setting, diegetic prototypes and machines suspended our participant's disbelief so that they could sincerely consider and speculate about possible futures that stretch beyond the visible horizon.
From dialogue among our workshop participants.
Deep space messaging:
"So officially it means that you don't belong to any country." -> "Well, 20 years isn't enough time for the borders to be abolished. But what's being abolished is access to the cultural heritage itself. So the borders themselves aren't abolished because we still have visa regimes which prevent someone from going to Europe but the objects will travel to them." -- Wayne Modest
"I have some mixed feelings because in a way it's an annihilation of real objects and that worries me. Maybe because I come from the country where 6 million people perished, half of them were Jewish, and it was a destruction not only of humans but also material heritage. So sometimes the only object that's left after these people is a small spoon that's overgrown by a root and we found it in the soil, in the earth. So all of these visions, yes in a way they are funny and I'm aware of the convention, we are here now, but I don't know, I got scared." -- Joanna Krol
Chips in bodies:
"If you know that some other people are carrying something that you also like or something that you might have chosen to carry with you, you might not want to harm them." -- Stamatis Schizakis
"How do those temporalities operate? Especially around the kinds of erasure not necessarily only as digital but the kinds of erasure that happens when we as museums erase certain narratives from the constitution of Europe as a space, such as the colonial, or the lives of the migrant for other celebratory narratives that we feel more comfortable with." -- Wayne Modest