Autonomy

 Collaborated with Minjun Chen over three months to create a typography installation for “Biological Design” (FNAR 268) under the instruction of Orkan Telhan and Karen Hogan | Dec. 2016

Many of us choose to eat bacon. But at some level, this choice is influenced by our evolutionary biology. Our ancestors were drawn to bacon as a fatty, high-calorie food needed for survival. As consumers, we enjoy the taste and the smell of bacon, and we like to believe that we are free in choosing to eat it: yet as animals, it is our basic evolution that creates our desire for bacon and controls us.

Autonomy deals with the inextricable relationship between human beings and free will, with desire and consumption, but also with the great potential of biology and design coming together to form new dimensions. Autonomy aims to simulate discussion amongst audience about the philosophic ideas, such as the right of self-directing freedom as well as the effects of the material transformation and disciplines on the contemporary design.

Background

The eating of bacon is a complex social, cultural and habitual activity. As humans this habit formed over thousands of years, and bacon helped make us who we are. But the symbol of bacon has taken on such cultural and social significance that it is hard to tell where desire stops and marketing starts. We have society tell us we need to keep consuming things. And we like these things. We are told through advertising that we need to always consume more. We need to eat more of it, and it’s getting healthier, and maybe it’s not hurting us as much as we thought it was.

But there is no denying that the relationship between man and bacon, or man and anything, is very complex. We began to wonder whether the desires that we have are really are own: did the companies just tell us to think this way? Did they just tell us it was a breakfast food so that we would eat it every day? We have come to believe that we will love bacon forever. Maybe the companies taught us that too. Where does our desire begin? How has society constructed such a strong cultural symbol that we cannot imagine our lives without it? And yet our experience of the product has totally abstracted it from the real meaning of the product. Have we just let these companies construct our desire?

Research

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Key Findings

  • Companies have socially constructed the human’s sense of need for the product
  • Human taste and need for comfort and understanding drives decision making
  • Bacon is a lens and a litmus paper for the broader societ
  • Autonomous demand does not actually exist because we have been influenced by the company’s way

Goals

  • Tell the story of the human species through the medium of bacon
  • Make a different bacon experience
  • Produce real time interaction
  • Add a meaning to a material (bacon) through biological design
  • Allow the audience to reflect on themselves and critical issues on our societ

Ideation

Idea 1

 

We planned to work with synthetic biology on a material level to create a liquid bacon that would taste and smell of bacon. The point of this liquid bacon was to show the furthest abstraction of the pig itself, and contrast this with a picture of a pig in a field. If consumers could buy liquid bacon, we could construct new meanings around it, and the product could take on its own life form in media, advertisements, and marketing strategies. We might also start to believe that this liquid bacon is a symbol of our culture, our society, and our country. In the exhibition, we would invite viewers to smell, touch and even taste the liquid bacon.

Sketch 1

Idea 2

We wanted to use numerous petri dishes to spell the word "Autonomy". Each letter that consisted of petri dishes would be mounted on one piece of the acrylic board. We would then hang these up on eight pieces of acrylic board in the middle of the gallery. We chose this word "Autonomy" because it indicates the idea of self-directing freedom or free-will of humans.

Final Design

We finally selected Idea 2, Autonomy, as the final design. We thought that the text-based installation had the power to start a discussion around the fundamental assumptions of freedom, free-will and independent choices. We also thought the word autonomy would be accessible to everyone. In addition, visitors could walk around to inspect the petri dishes without necessarily knowing what was inside them. More importantly, reading these pieces from different angles allowed more interpretations of this artwork.

Process

We bought eight types of bacon in the market and grocer, and cooked it all in order to isolate all the fat. The petri dishes contained isolated fat cells of bacon (the human’s favorite part of the pig), solidified in an agar and an Oil Red O indicator. The indicator turned red in the presence of lipids. We wanted to mimic how the brain responds to the stimulus of these fat cells through taste and smell, producing a positive physical and emotional reaction in the body.

Exhibition