Welcome to Propela's first News Blast.
From shape-shifting architecture to deep-sea singing and multisensory food aesthetics, our line-up of misfits and mavericks prove once again that they are on the bleeding edge of science and culture. Here is an update on their start to 2016.
Lucy McRae Body Architect
Jamming Bodies and Architectural Skin
Having pioneered the sci-fi frontiers of Body Architecture with everything from electronic tattoos to high-tech haute couture made out of tubes and liquids, Lucy McRae now turns her attention to buildings that can actually morph between states. Creating a living environment able to shift between liquid, gas and solid to create different uses has led Lucy to pursue a series of fascinating experiments…
Lucy has been named one of the next big names in innovation for 2016 by Intel, Wired and TED. And her exploration of morphable architecture is a good example of why. This collaboration with Skylar Tibbits and MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, involves pneumatic architectural skins that could have applications for health and fitness and affect feelings, behaviour and the physiology of the human body.
The experiment incorporates a process called granular jamming, which means compressing fluids or powders so they become dense and hard – like a vacuum-packed bag of coffee becoming as strong as cement until you decide to pop it open. Lucy’s ground-breaking research at the Storefront gallery in New York includes large-scale versions of jamming, which look ahead to the idea of 'soft' robots, or factories producing new forms on demand.
“I feel like I’m designing the connective tissue between imagination and creativity,” says Lucy. She is known as the world’s premier Body Architect, a former classical ballerina who then trained in interior design and over the years has worked with everyone from Philips Design to pop star Robyn, inventing witty, playful and sometimes grotesquely beautiful imagery.
Alexa Clay Culture Hacker
Lessons From The Dark Side
Do you think live streaming came from TED Talks? No, that was the porn industry. Do you think McDonalds invented the franchise model? No, that was the mafia reveals Alexa Clay.
Having spent time with Somali Pirates, LA drug dealers, hacker collectives and New York con artists, it’s safe to say Alexa Clay is a specialist in misfit subcultures. And now she is about to tour the world with a series of talks explaining her explosive insights.
She wrote about her experiences in The Misfit Economy, which was named best business book of 2015 by the likes of Huffington Post, TechRepublic and the World Economic Forum. Her mischievous aim is to teach people to think like the underworld’s innovators, bringing the lessons into the mainstream so criminal expertise can be repurposed for society’s benefit.
Alexa’s latest research has taken her deep into neo-tribalism, whether that be eco-villages, spiritualists, festival entrepreneurs, or new forms of media networks. Her investigations include the esoteric, the quasi-political and even the occult, with these often-ignored fringes proving hugely valuable in understanding the way communities can operate in the ever-mutating 21st century.
Last year, Alexa held a series of sell-out workshops on these topics in Brasil, and will continue in 2016 with talks across Germany, France and the USA.
Click here for an interview with Alexa where she shares her philosophy of cultural bridge-building
Nelly Ben Hayoun Designer of Experiences
To The Ends Of The Earth
Having recently conquered the stars with her International Space Orchestra, “designer of the impossible” Nelly Ben Hayoun now sets her sights on the bottom of the deep blue sea. This year she will take scientists and musicians, including Iceland’s iconic band Sigur Ros, inside a submersible on a fantastic voyage into the abyss.
This is an art-fuelled exploration for extremophiles – 11km under the ocean surface! – which promises to ask as many questions as it answers, while combining music, marine biology, terraforming and astrobiology. It may sound nuts, but follows logically from Nelly’s 2015 quest to take music beyond our stratosphere. With the help of people like Beck, Bobby Womack, Damon Albarn, the Penguin Café plus a host of other musicians, artists and scientists, Nelly launched a unique musical message into space as part of a project that was called “spine-tingling” by The Guardian and a “masterpiece” by the ICO. Click here for more info on International Space Orchestra.
As Nelly says: “I design ‘extreme’ experiences for the public to access the surreal and fantastical in science.”
And to prove it, she’s also made films of similarly impossible projects in the wastelands around Chernobyl and inside the guts of the Large Hadron Collider. You can also watch her epically mental movie Disaster Playground about what might happen if an asteroid smashed into the earth. It was named as one of the highlights of SXSW in 2015 and described by MoMA’s Paola Antonelli as “Dr Strangelove meets This Is Spinal Tap.” Click here to watch the trailer.
No wonder Nelly was nominated for a Women of the Year Achievement Award in 2015, or that she likes to quote Audrey Hepburn’s line: “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I'm possible!”.
Liam Young Speculative Architect
To The Ends Of The Earth
Speculative architectural storyteller Liam Young aims to understand our cities and where they might be going by exploring the very furthest reaches of the planet. His latest trip has been to the fashion factories of India and Bangladesh where iconic rivers run with the colours of the season as chemicals used in the dye process are dumped untreated to poison the land along their rainbow banks…
Liam charts the cost of globalization, taking films and photographs, and reporting from the back of beyond about exactly how far-away countries play a key part and a heavy price in the consumer culture so many of us take for granted.
Named by Blueprint magazine as one of the top 25 people who will change architecture and design, Liam is an explorer-thinker who can’t help but get under the skin of how we live today. His nomadic workshop Unknown Fields travels to these extreme destinations and terrifying mega-factories to examine alternative futures that most of us in the well-charted cities can barely imagine.
This month, in India and Bangladesh, he has been visiting sites from field to factory, filming vast cotton crops and industrialised silk worm cocoons, as yarns draw across deafening shuttles, and row upon row of automated looms weave the fashion fads of distant busyers. Liam has chronicled the conditions and is now working with costume designers and performance artists to weave this material into powerful new stories about the future of fashion.
Over the years, Liam’s work has taken him from the Mordor-like landscapes of southern China where rare earth is processed, to the gargantuan ports of South Korea, and the sapphire mines of Madagascar. And back in London, his projects reflect these new realities. From a drone orchestra he concocted with musician John Cale, to his blinking models of futuristic living cities, it’s clear why he is one to watch (and learn from).
Caroline Hopkinson Food Artist
Spoon, Knife, Fork at the V&A Museum London
This month, there’s a chance to see curious epicurean Caroline Hobkinson discussing, in her own unusual way, the politics of the dining table. At Spoon, Knife, Fork, this month’s free V&A Late held on 29 January, Caroline will be examining the methods and madness of the etiquette we’ve inherited and the history of table manners.
She’ll also be working with the Royal Academy to create a culinary guide to their upcoming exhibition about art and horticulture Painting The Modern Garden: Monet To Matisse, which runs from 30 January to 20 April. And as part of the exhibition, she’ll be involved with a series of immersive sensory nights in the newly designed Academicians room that will transports visitors right into the gardens that inspired the evocative paintings on display.
Caroline’s events have to be experienced to be believed: she previously transformed the Hoxton Hotel into a Scandinavian forest, and presented a blue banquet for Bombay Sapphire at Design Week.
Charles Spence Experiential Psychologist
Making Your Mind Water
Seducing the mind as well as the taste-buds with food is as much about science and design as it is about cooking. And experimental psychologist Charles Spence knows better than most, having worked with the world’s greatest chefs from Heston Blumenthal to elBulli’s Ferran Adria.
Charles is a pioneer of multisensory effects with his latest research exploring whether Western ideas of symmetry of Eastern ideas of asymmetry serve to enhance the food on a dinner plate to make it more appealing.
Delving deep into questions of arrangement and aesthetics to get real information about what we respond and why, Charles’s research also seeks to understand how taste, smell, vision and chemical responses all entwine to make simple ingredients become an irresistible meltdown of sensations. It’s fascinating research for everyone involved in the dining experience: from the gardener to the chef to the people who design the overall culinary experience. And the implications of his studies into aesthetics will be important to anyone interested in the pursuit of perfection – from design to fashion and architecture.
As well as advising professionals from Lyon to Bogota, Spence also advises a number of multi-national brands on how an understanding of multisensory perception can be used to affect consumer psychology and he heads up the Crossmodal Research group at the University of Oxford.