Disobedient Objects

Class objective: Name an authoritative process of society and imagine a speculative intervention of it, perhaps with a disobedient object (as described by Garnet Hertz)

Asked to choose ‘any authoritative process existing in society’, my partner Yasmine and I settled our minds on something in the familial domestic sphere. I was feeling tired of the highly abstracted, complicated production systems of what we're usually looking at. At the same time it is also difficult to take apart such a relational concept, because it is so apparently natural, overlooked and taken for granted - and personal.


We came to propose the parent-child relationship: the inalienable authority a parent has over their children, because it's one thing that seems more or less unchanged by technological advancements, infrastructure, even the state (in most cases?). Specifically, we named the popular command, "do as I say, not as I do". We felt that this imperative is inherently unfair, unjust, and something that children might be able to challenge through our imaginary disobedient object.

There are many points and observations in commentary around this topic which I think are very instructive for a critical practice. If I am to make work with a satirical or critical aim, these frameworks of thought will be very useful. [examples]

Having said this, there are problems which often arise with any work that self-describes as being satire or criticism. One is that the methods of communication can be so successful that they become too popular and are subsumed by the structures the work operates within or is fighting against, e.g. the tactical media movement of 1980s into the mass network television which it first infiltrated. I would argue that most importantly, art as an individualistic pursuit is unable to affect real social change in the way that an organised mass movement can, for example, and that there is very often some self-aggrandising aspect to work that has a predetermined purpose as such. I think art as protest is most effective if it gives up its status as 'art', and takes on that of protest art in a wider context of a movement.

"Humour is important but often misused. Satire is the goal. But often only parody and pastiche are achieved. These reduce the effectiveness in a number of ways. They are lazy and borrow existing formats, and they signal too clearly that it is ironic and so relieve some burden from the viewer. The viewer should experience a dilemma, is it serious or not? Real or not? For Critical design to be successful they need to make up their own mind."

-Dunne and Raby, 'Design FAQ'

Their Design FAQ, judged on its own terms, comes across as very considered and self-aware. Considering Hertz' judgement of them as [bad], this emphasises the point that while critical art (or, in Dunne and Raby's case, 'not art', but design) is made with consideration and good intentions, those intentions might not carry through in the outcomes.