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Speculative by Design.
The convergence of fiction, criticism and design

Kunstlicht, Vol. 35 (2014), no. 4

Deadline proposals: 24 June 2014
Release: December 2014
Guest editor: Rana Ghavami

What does it mean to speculate? The current interest in speculative activity can be explained in terms of its most acute function, as an engine for contemporary capitalism, driven by exploiting potential into value. However, in art and theory, speculation is grounded in questioning the status quo. This becomes apparent in for instance Ettore Sottsass’ The Planet as Festival (1972 -1973), which has as its subject a utopian territory where all of humanity is free from work and social conditioning, and in Studio van Lieshout’s dystopian Slave City (2005), which questions the ideal of the self-sustainable city. Speculative exercises such as these offer alternative vantage points from which to reflect on our current conditions of systems.

Such manifestations of the speculative enterprise also appear in design. Femke Herregravens’ web-game Taxodus (2013), for instance, responds to tax avoidance by multinationals, and in Anthony Dunne’s and Fiona Raby’s United Micro Kingdoms (2013), the designers explore four different fictional perspectives on British governance, lifestyle, and economy, and in doing so reflect on the cultural and ethical impact of new technologies. Speculative design, then, can be seen as an embodied critique or commentary that challenges the status quo through the use of ‘prototypes’ (objects or processes): these allow for a suspension of disbelief concerning the social change under consideration, but they also carry in them the (retrievable) traces of the initial critique on their subject. In this sense, speculative design is also equipped to challenge affirmative – commercial – design and its seemingly inherent belief that for every problem there is an aesthetic solution, as witnessed in for instance military-contracted projects like BigDog, and ‘smart cities’ such as Songdo in South Korea and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. At their core these projects have in common the heralding of a technological, ecological, or social system that has yet to come into fulfillment: they exploit potential into value.

Kunstlicht invites scholars, artists, designers and curators to examine the possibilities and problems of speculative design. How does one understand speculation and make it productive? Is it a theme, a method, or an ideology? Besides reflections on speculative design and theory, we also look forward to receiving proposals for speculative writings and scenarios.

Proposals (200 – 300 words) with attached résumés can be submitted until June 24, 2014 through redactie@tijdschriftkunstlicht.nl. Selected authors will be invited to write a 2,000 – 3,000-word paper (excluding notes). Papers may be written either in English or in Dutch, although we insist that native Dutch speakers write in their native language. As Speculative by Design is conceived to be a full-length bilingual in English and Dutch, all articles will be translated by Kunstlicht. Authors who publish in Kunstlicht will receive three complementary copies. Kunstlicht does not provide an author’s honorarium. Two years following publication, papers will be submitted to the freely accessible online archive.

A pdf version of this call for papers can be downloaded here.