This DESIS Philosophy Talk belongs to a series of travelling talks (www.desis-philosophytalks.org) developed in collaboration with Z33 Research STUDIOTIME (http://z33research.be/studiotime), which started in New York, continued in San Francisco and Milan, and will carry on in October at Istanbul Design Week. This talk brings the experience developed within a discussion from last year, which focused particularly on the idea of the collection as a dispositive for breaking the linear idea of time, and serves as as a reflective moment within the summer school Atlantic Wonder ( https://maddschool.tumblr.com). In this session we will focus on the value of the metaphor of the explorer for contemporary design research. The isle of Madeira offers designers a setting for a different approach towards nature, and presents the possibility of experiencing, though an exploration of its natural environment, non linear and non anthropocentric ideas of temporality. This leads us to a variety of questions: What does it mean to be an “explorer” today? In what ways is this metaphor explored by contemporary researchers working in diverse fields such as biology and design? Both botanists and designers still travel for their research and explore, yet in different ways. What can they learn from each other’s perspectives? What do they find in their explorations? How do they explore? To whom do they communicate their explorations? Who are their audiences? What do their explorations lead to? And how do collections work in both cases as dispositives, allowing “explorers” to experience different kinds of temporalities?

In the past islands have often been considered as places where the linear, anthropocentric idea of time was questioned, and time was experienced in suspension. To step out of linear time and to spend time walking into nature, observing it and collecting it (in the form of insects, plants and animals) is not only a topos that has been romanticised in literature, but a theory with a rich tradition that continues to be developed. Indeed the notion of the collection is a much debated, complex philosophical concept.

The philosophers Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben agree that each collection is an attempt to break linear time. As elements are taken out of their traditional context, they are removed from their hystoricistic, or the reading of the past according to a linear understanding of history. In this sense, the future can be understood as the successful prolongation of the past, therefore giving us a precious indication of what collections can mean for explorers, and how they can represent a dispositive for questioning the linear nature of time. If any collection represents a break in the linear narrative of time, by removing elements from their historicistical or antropocentrical contexts and inserting them into another temporality, naturalistic collections have the capability to subtract humans from linear time and project them into a peculiar idea of temporality, dictated by nature rather than by humans. Collections, together with explorations in natural environments in virgin islands, were used in the past as a dispositive for stepping out of linear time. Envisioning instead an alternative idea of time, in which humans could be “hosted”.  

In contemporary design research, one can also observe similar pursuits, where researchers attempt to step out of a linear idea of time, formulate “what ifs” and envision future scenarios that question the linear concept of time. By doing so, they can create archipelagos where one can experience alternative ideas of temporality. Therefore, in this talk we propose to reflect on how metaphors of explorations and collections might be fertile ground for contemporary design research; especially research dealing with the creation and co-creation of critical, speculative dispositives that question the now.

The explorer of the past could deconstruct an anthropocentric, bourgeois, linear reading of past, present and future, whereas contemporary design researchers can deconstruct the perception that there is only one possible viable future, namely the logical continuation of our perception of the now. By extracting elements from everyday life, and providing another interpretation, designers can create “collections” that allow them to experience another idea of temporality. This experience is similar to that of the naturalist explorer, who subtracts him/herself from linear time and moves in a different temporality by passing time observing and collecting natural elements. Thus others are enabled to experience different temporalities, by making these visions tangible. Therefore, collections represent dispositives for experiencing other temporalities, subtracting elements from the historical flow, and breaking the linear idea of time by the same act of collecting.

These considerations lead us to further questions: Can designers today be considered explorers, and break the linear idea of the future as a prolongation of the past? If yes, how can they be inspired by the idea of the explorer and his/her diapositive practice of exploring nature and gathering collections? Explorations can be long and slow, but also punctual and quick. However, to opt for slowness in certain explorations can be considered resistant to an increasingly accelerated perception of the now. How do you relate to time in your own explorations? How do you move? Do you deliberately choose a slow strategy? Is walking on foot also to be considered as one of these dispositives?

Thinking about the island as a place of suspension that attracts many travellers, we can also consider time as a parenthesis created by visitors during their journeys. This phenomenon demonstrates that there is a shared longing for stepping out of the perception of time in our contemporary Western societies that are today characterised by speed and a projection towards progress. How can the observation of nature – plants, minerals, insects and animals – reflect on these concerns? How can designers learn with their feet, by walking into nature, as contemporary “explorers”?

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