The Open Call for an embedded researcher is an initiative exploring and advancing the possibilities of coupling research and design. With this Open Call, Het Nieuwe Instituut, the Serpentine Galleries, and Studio Formafantasma seek to engage researchers and designers in the development and dissemination of innovative and critical ideas by being part of a collaborative, transnational, design act.
Recently graduated researchers and designers were invited to apply to work together with Studio Formafantasma in the development of their upcoming investigation and exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries in London in Spring 2020. The project will depart from some of the questions explored by Formafantasma in their 2018 e-waste related investigation Ore Streams. The exhibition and its subsequent installments will critically monitor the relationship between design, production and the environment. It will also seek to develop possible design and other interventions in areas that have a broad and varied reach, from education to policy, based on multidisciplinary conversations.
In recent years, the widening notion of the designer as researcher has opened up the possibility of a design practice beyond product making. This understanding of design fosters a twofold paradigm change: on the one hand, research is no longer perceived as an isolated, independent act, but rather as a collaborative endeavor; on the other, the practice of design could lead to objects and materials, as well as to open-ended processes, speculations, even policy changes. This state of affairs demands new methodologies and forms of responsibility, as well as a new role for the designer – an ambition that has been previously manifested in several Het Nieuwe Instituut and Serpentine Galleries initiatives.
This particular approach is also at the core of Studio Formafantasma. While still engaging with the production of objects, their work is coded with references to design’s ecological, political and cultural implications. As a design studio, Formafantasma have developed a peripheral position to the industrial production that allows them to pose questions and at the same time make choices. They look at materials and their origins as the central focus for the development of research subjects that aim to offer moments of reflection and analysis on the meaning of production and the transformation of natural resources into commodities. In order to achieve this aim, they establish relationships with different practitioners, from scientists to engineers, adopting a multidisciplinary approach as a way to elicit new ways of interpreting design as a discipline and expanding its potential.
Between the announcement of the Open Call on 5 December 2018 and the deadline of 7 January 2019, Studio Formafantasma received 120 entries. Proposals came from the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Spain, Czech Republic, The Netherlands and many other countries. The applicants profiles and areas of expertise ranged widely: from multidisciplinary designers, architects and artists with profound interest in research methods, to design curators and writers with in-depth knowledge of the past and current developments of design as a discipline.
The 120 entries were read by Studio Formafantasma (Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin) who made a pre-selection of 15 projects from the total number of submissions that best exemplified the criteria announced in the terms of the call.
The pre-selected proposals were made available to a selection committee comprised of Rebecca Lewin (Curator, Exhibitions and Design, Serpentine Galleries), Lucia Pietroiusti (Curator, Live Programmes and General Ecology, Serpentine Galleries), and Anastasia Kubrak (Researcher, Het Nieuwe Instituut). A shortlist of candidates were called for an interview with Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin (Studio Formafantasma). The subsequent committee meeting was held on 17 January 2019.
Proposals were evaluated on the basis of their engagement with the theme and the aims of the project, depth of investigation, the applicants’ understanding of the economic, political, social and cultural implications of design, their ability to conduct research on multiple media and publications but also in dialogue with third parties (companies, universities, individuals). Due to the specific nature of the project, the selection committee paid additional attention to candidate’s experience and/or interest in research, journalism, criticism, and engagement with recent discourse around ecology, the environment and related fields.
The selection committee would like to take this opportunity of thanking the applicants for their submission to the Open Call, and recognises the urgency to continue to support the widening notion of designer through fellowships, embedded positions and other formats in the future.
Selected Embedded Researcher : Riccardo Badano
Riccardo has a background in architecture, but was able to prove his ability to move between - and understand - multiple disciplines. Importantly for the committee’s decision was a sense that he does so with attention to the historical, political and social forces that have shaped his environment and the disciplines of design and architecture.
With his dissertation ‘Hostile Environment: the design of anti-migrant hostility along the Western Alpine border’, Riccardo has used research and design to identify and unpack the complex relations demanded by national borders, the environment and migration in the EU. The structure of his research and his ability to analyse his findings, was fundamental for the decision of the committee.
Selection Committee Quote
“The ability to structure research and show experience and diligence in the preparation and organisation of a project are crucial qualities that we were looking for in the successful candidate for this position. Most important of all, however, is the ability to identify those invisible patterns that contribute to the shaping of our lives and environment. This approach underpins our shared aims for this cross-disciplinary, transnational project, and Riccardo certainly has these qualities”.