[Osekovo_17_02_23]
same as it ever was

Homo Aquaticus

* An updated and edited version of this text has been published in the book “Designing in Coexistence – Reflections on Systemic Change”.

Homo Aquaticus workshop was hosted by the Arts Academy, University of Split, as a part of the INTERAKCIJE 2023 event in October 2023. Reflections by workshop leaders Valentin Graillat and Olivier Troff (ENS Paris-Saclay).

Brief

Seas and oceans can be viewed as the new frontier territories of the 21st century. For many years, they have been perceived as hard-to-reach and still largely uncharted areas, the discovery of which relies largely on technological advances. Simultaneously, coasts of the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas have been increasingly fetishised as a manifestation of a so-called “everlasting” way of life. This is mainly based on images triggering desire for seafood and crafts, astonishing seabeds, antique heritage and, of course, for landscapes. They are all oriented towards developing mass tourism. 

Homo Aquaticus in Split (Foto: Ivica Mitrović).

Technology and fetishisation, however, are the two sides of a same coin called design. On one hand, the discipline communicates, exhibits, brands cities or regions (place-branding) and, of course, develops artefacts related to the sea. On the other hand, the discipline builds, integrates, or adapts systems that give constraints to the designers and inform the design of the artefact. According to Albert Borgmann and the “device paradigm”[1], it can be said that systems integrate infrastructures, select resources, and are based on a specific geography. They are also impacted by political choices, as well as being related to people who have their own cultures and values. 

Within a community perspective, investigating a system and the artefacts related to it means tracing the materiality of that system. In other words, systems and the landscape partially overlap. The landscape can be understood as a system of “interrelated spaces made by people, on the surface of the Earth, to fit the needs of a community,” according to John Brinckerhoff Jackson.[2] From the regional scale to the scale of architecture and products, local geography is the place where infrastructures can be observed, resources traced, people portrayed, tools and techniques identified.

Such a framework could be promising regarding aquatic landscape issues – especially regarding those related to mass tourism in Split. Tracing the tangibility of the relationship between design artefacts ⟷ systems is a way, for designers, to access how local communities experience their environment. Which means the vernacular, as Jackson called it, towards practices investigating community-based processes, questioning the balance between low-tech and high-tech, promoting bespoke making, as well as the renewal of local values and material culture.

Homo Aquaticus in Split (Foto: Ivica Mitrović).

Process

In order to tackle the issue of sea and human relations, we suggest a methodology that goes back and forth from: design artefacts  landscape.

Such methodology would orient the design process to constantly evaluate ideation in regard to the materiality of systems. The goal was to ask the following questions during the design process: How to understand designed artefacts related to the sea in the lens of space? How to understand aquatic space in the lens of designed artefacts? What kind of relationships does this reveal or generate? In what ways design could address questions considering climate change and other related crises? 

A series of lectures and presentations were organised to inform the views of participants. They included lectures by the Croatian Pavilion curators Mia Roth & Tonči Čerina, social science researcher Gennaro Ascione from Naples and marine biologist Mladen Šolić, critical city tour of Split by sociologist Darija Ivošević and the “Homo Aquaticus” exhibition visit at the Split Museum of Fine Arts by Ivica Mitrović and Oleg Šuran.

Homo Aquaticus in Split (Foto: Jasminka Babić).

The workshop gathered 23 participants coming from seven European countries – mainly including MA students and young practitioners. Four groups composed of four to nine people were formed, and each group was invited to choose from one of six topics, which would help to both orientate the investigations and the design process.

Workshop topics.

To help guide their ideation process, the groups were invited to play a double-entry game, which consists of linking an artefact to its landscape, and vice versa, by choosing what they thought would be a relevant axis of problematisation (cultural, political, climatic). In the following example, “The Aquatists” group first focused on a water ball game called “Picigin” originating from Split, Croatia. They reflected upon how such a game could be played in the entire region and adapted regarding the relationship people have with local bodies of water (rivers, lakes, coasts, seas). Eventually, they extended their reflection to a wider system of artefacts concerned with the utopian idea of local and regional identity.

Process (Valentin Graillat and Olivier Troff).

Outcomes

Of the six tracks proposed, the majority of the groups focused on the complex preservation and re-invention of landscape heritage and identity, with a strong shared interest in the consequences and impact of mass tourism and climate change on Split’s territory. A first group of the participants, with backgrounds in architecture and visual communication, spontaneously approached the brief from a landscape perspective (cruise ship ports, old town), gradually narrowing their attention to the creation of specific scenarios, tools, and artefacts (local events, production devices, ancient crops). Rest of the participants were more interested in initiating their projects by observing local resources or traditions. After that, they started to open up their research to a wider scale (broader region, coast & seabed), and embrace the broader system related to them.

Process (Valentin Graillat and Olivier Troff).

When the “HRSPU” group focused on the material design of port infrastructures adapted to a more ethical and sustainable tourism in Split, for instance, “The Aquatists” group instead designed a renewed immaterial culture focusing on the regional landscape. At the junction of these two material/immaterial perspectives, the work of the “Splitting Split” group was entirely based on the use of a diagram that allows us to speculate on the evolution of antique heritage and the city in the near future, according to the macro-economic and cultural choices that the city will take. Eventually, with a more focused approach, the “Redikul” Project proposed a set of artefacts, tools and methods that articulate precisely identified coastal areas in local geography, and orient bodies and gestures towards the use of a new algae for food consumption.

Reflections

Regarding the relationship between artefacts/systems and landscapes, design and landscape design seem to have a lot to share despite their divergent methods and scale of intervention. As a consequence, the brief is a way to explore how to produce knowledge and landscape perspectives that are useful for designers. It first allows the exploration of the materiality of existing systems ⟷ artefacts, as well as it gives the opportunity for participants to precisely evaluate the scales and modalities of intervention for their projects. 

Homo Aquaticus in Split (Foto: Ivica Mitrović).

As the workshop was condensed into less than four days, reflecting upon landscapes was more of a conceptual exercise for participants than a proper survey. The option of starting the workshop with a more local or global approach enabled participants to mobilise their own design skills and to redefine and re-constrain, in their own terms, the complexity of the aquatic space. In that way, each project initiates, at the least, a unique questioning and non-conventional understanding of the material framework that structures Split’s landscape. We like to think that experiencing such a method during longer workshops could be helpful for an in-depth landscape evaluation.

HRSPU

The HRSPU project aims to tackle cruise tourism in Split, while celebrating the city’s rich heritage. It features floating pavilions dedicated to different eras of the town’s existence. Pavilions enable visitors and tourists to discover Split’s culture in an immersive way, while limiting the pressure on the city’s infrastructure. The project also includes an educational dimension, encouraging curiosity about Split’s heritage and supporting local craftsmanship. Pavilions each offer a different educational experience: from witnessing the production and harvesting of resources, relaxation in a floating park, to curved walls with VR-like projections displaying the city’s industrial past. It even extends its impact underwater, enriching marine life and resources. HRSPU promotes mindful tourism and can help regulate tourism in Split during the visiting season.

Team: Ana Ivanović, Bansi Patel, Petter Habostad and Stefan Raičević.

The Aquatists

This project offers a symbolic reinterpretation of the Balkan peninsula identity in the form of a new cultural utopia. “The Aquatist” can be interpreted as a reversal of the ideal of modern, dominant, capitalist man synthesised by the renowned magazine “The Economist”. Poetic and polyphonic, “The Aquatist” project portrays this new identity in its many facets, both material and immaterial, from home to medicine, from games to arts. The graphic design project related to those reflections is a set of nine laminated cards. The cards reflect what that new identity has become in a hundred years. They could be given to newcomers to provide easier access to the cultural complexity of the region. For that special occasion, “The Aquatists” will write the following manifesto.

Team: Segor Garber, Tina Dernovšek, Katarina Stanojlović, Žiga Vavričuk, Julija Radosavljević, Dejana Ivošević, Katarina Popović, Miloš Ćosović and Isidora Nikolić.

Splitting Split

In this project, we split the future of the city of Split into four possible scenarios for the year 2050. They all explore how the cityscape, and the Docletian palace, at its centre in particular, would evolve regarding two of the main uncertainties affecting the city’s lifestyle. The first one is whether the city will shift its economic activity to manufacturing, or if it will keep on relying on the service economy. With the second uncertainty, we explore if locals will engage or isolate from either tourists or future migrants. The resulting scenarios are: “Segregated shipmakers town” in which Split’s naval industry becomes strong thanks to new housing at the sea; the “Neo-Yugoplastika Era” in which Split rebuilds its plastic industry using bioplastics and cooperative businesses; the “Mediterranean knowledge hub” in which the palace becomes a residence for the exchange of knowledge among coastal communities; and finally, the “Decadent touristic theme park” representing a future in which Split keeps pushing forward the intensive tourism model.

Team: Tico Fuentes, Jelena Ivančević, Iva Žmirak, Anže Zajc and Leticia Fernández Alonso.

Redikul/Redicool

The project idea arises from the question: How can we make humans producers, not just consumers of resources? For many years, the Mediterranean region has been plagued by a toxic algae (Caulerpa taxifolia). Scientists have attempted to develop a system for separating toxic materials from the algae. These experiments have proven successful. Our project is speculation on the possibility of developing a system for separating toxic materials from the algae to transform it into functional food, with the goal of shifting people away from their consumer role. The system consists of two parts: (1) an apparatus that initially preserves the algae at the right temperature and then, through the use of electromagnetic waves, generates the temperature needed to melt the toxic elements, and (2) spatial, site-specific signalling and education about toxic algae and their conversion into non-toxic, fully functional food.           

Team: Eva Popit, Magdalena Štibohar, Urban Šelj and Nia Gombač. 


[1] Borgmann, A. (1998). Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry. Paperback ed., 3. pr. University of Chicago Press.

[2] Jackson, J. B. (1984). Discovering the vernacular landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press.