Resistance and the unexpected

The second dialogue deals with the designing of systems or plays, as well as the constraints and the freedom they need to work.

AZ: In the last section you were talking about the resistance of the system or the machine. That reminds me of sociology of knowledge, where resistance is an important concept for understanding the development of knowledge. Ludwik Fleck talks about the situation when some evidence doesn't fit the theory: either it is just considered as noise or the group of scientists accepts it as a sign of resistance to their theory. Only then it can generate new thinking. And also for Bruno Latour the resistance of objects – he would call them actants – is crucial for the building of socio-technical networks. I don't want to go in details, but ask you: what is your interest in resistance?

LM: When a system has no boundaries, no limitations, it gets boring soon. The friction and resistance instead lead to engagement. We start to play with a system in order to find our freedom within the limits it sets. Look for instance at twitter: the limitation of 140 characters fuels the creativity of people and sharpens their message.
When I design I try to balance freedom and constraints. You could say that resistance goes along with constraints and freedom allows space for the unexpected. That is the reason why I am less interested in designing fixed shapes. I prefer to design machines, and I am more curious to discover a process that unfolds once I press the 'play' button and the machine starts running. With machine I mean all kinds of systems: it can even be a physical game.

AZ: I guess the idea behind these machines must be more that of a children's play with no particular goal than a game where you can win and loose, isn't it?

LM: Right, my work revolves much around the idea of play. You have rules, you have participants and you have unexpected developments. This dialogue is similar in a way. One reacts upon another, within given boundaries, and it can go anywhere within the given framework. There are so many paths and junctions where to go, and we will just use one, although there are many possibilities. This is one of many possible dialogues.

AZ: In history we often talk about contingency. That means that the development of things is neither predetermined, according to rules of nature and society, nor is it totally random and unpredictable. When you look back you can see causes and effects. It can make sense, although you could not have been sure about the outcome beforehand. History is an open structure, it can be influenced, there are millions of interactions going on which have effects on the course of events.

LM: Some of my projects also focus on the idea of many possible outcomes, and I actually like those the most. I try to design systems that are open to influence from outside, the real world. In our Conditional Design Manifesto we stated this importance of the input from outside, mostly human interaction.
If we are talking about our dialogue or play: we, our brains are the real world – the undefined, undetermined and surprising input. That also is the intriguing part of participation: when people are part of the system, you never know what to expect.

AZ: Do you like the design you are creating in your plays?

LM: When I first saw the pictures of Red Fungus I was even a bit disappointed. The rules I set out were quite tight, but still gave a lot of freedom to play. But what I saw was only nodes and edges, people glued a network structure with the stickers. This was the most obvious shape. Only later on when it evolved more and more it got very fascinating. The stickers were glued all over the floor and walls and even on top pf other art works, almost hijacking them. Then you also saw more variety in what people made with these four stickers they got. I don't know what is more intriguing: the patterns or the idea that so many people are part of the piece and the power that it expresses.

AZ: But I don't think its about the power of the masses, like for instance in the films of Leni Riefenstahl. It's rather a fascination for the multitude: every statement is singular and unique. It can express individuality. But together they form a bigger picture.

Luna Maurer , Andreas Zangger