Sands Fish is an artist, designer, and engineer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, working with the MIT Media Lab and independently. Operating at the intersection of art and technology, Sands’ work explores representations of power, and how creative processes and speculative design strategies might intervene or complicate these, particularly in a highly mediated world.
The talk I’d like to give explores the potential of speculative design to help artists, designers, and citizens critically reimagine technical and social infrastructures. Specifically, I’d interrogate a series of works from both artists and designers that show how speculative design has been used to explore issues (using representation, provocation, and satire), prompt questions, and examine the viewer’s own beliefs and values. To delve into what this looks like in practice, I’ll share my own series of recent works and workshops, under the subject of “Designing the Police”, and my experiences engaging citizens in speculative design workshops around this topic. Briefly, this work addresses the fact that A.) the police are designed and these design choices are very consequential, B.) that citizens are never involved in this design space (in general, it has been the domain of the military industrial complex and governments, operating from the status quo, and without empathy as a design principle), and C.) that citizens and communities should have a voice in how policing futures are constructed and considered, particularly in this political climate. The talk would look at a series of speculative design objects for the police and review the values at work in them. It would consider the challenges of using media and making to explore socially sensitive topics. A focus on new media and technology in broader efforts for social change would convey the unique challenges and potentials of imagining the future with contemporary tools and mediums. The belief driving my work is that enabling citizens to use art and design to ask questions and suggest possibilities can have a profound impact on how they perceive their agency. It can empower them to dream and advocate for better future worlds. It can reveal possibilities that haven’t been explored or seen as possible before. For these reasons, it is my intention to inspire the audience to weave these particular speculative design and critical making modalities into their own practice, and give them a framework in which to think about provocation, possibility, and action. When it comes to seemingly insurmountable problems, methods that allow for conversation and hope are what we need.