Week 8 was a busy work week for me, but I did spend quite a lot of my free time doing some readings as well as reaching out to people to get some deeper insight on the subject of my project. With a mind full of questions and thoughts from the week before, I decided on building a mind map to see if there were any gaps in my research and thinking thus far that I could possibly fill before proceeding. In week 8, we’re expected to ideate and seek feedback. My mind was rushing with all sorts of ideas, none of which I was able to rationalize in the context of what I had learned so far. So let’s look at this mind map first, and extract important points from it.
In a video I watched about creating a mind map, I learned that it’s useful to ask the questions “Who, What, When Where, Why, and How”. This would lay the foundation for the map and the project overall.
In last week’s brief, the research question was “Can our natural adaption of technology allow us to reclaim the amulets [in the context of the Science Museum’s digital archive] and recontextualize them?”
Based on this question, I set out a list of objectives to answer the question “why”:
- Engage thoughtfully and sensitively
- Restore meaning and purpose [to the amulets]
- Reclaim narratives of history
- Make room for deeper insight
- [from the SMG brief] Make the digital platform more interactive
For engagement, it was important that I laid out some ground rules before blindly going into ideation.
(1) don’t discredit the story of any one person
(2) don’t belittle the significance of the amulets
(3) don’t make assumptions
This was especially important for me as I’m not a believer in superstition, so I needed to set my biases aside to go into this project with a pure heart and unadulterated intentions.
Restating the thought process going into this project is crucial to remain true to my original intentions and my core beliefs and ethics. Let’s look at those areas and reflect on what they mean for the amulets in the digital archive:
I’ve touched on the importance of tapping into the collective memory in a previous blog post. To reiterate the question I had asked, how can the digital archive be reflective of our collective memories while also remaining relevant in the current time? The objects in focus are Palestinian amulets, once collected by Dr. Tawfiq Canaan, sold to Henry Wellcome, and now only accessible through the Science Museum’s digital archive. What can the collective memory tell us about these amulets? Are they relevant for today’s society, and more importantly, do we consider them to be culturally significant to us?
“The archive has to be read from below, from a position of solidarity with those displaced, deformed, silenced or made invisible by the machineries of profit and progress.” Allan Sekula – Reading an Archive(Sekula, 2007)
This quote has been the anchor for my project thus far, and whenever I feel like I’m straying from the objectives, I read this quote again and again. In an article titled “An Anti Archival Impulse”, the author states that we must remain skeptical when an archival photograph is presented to us as a keyhole through which we are to spy the truth of historical events. (Van Gelder, 2012) Although Sekula and Van Gelder focused on photographic archives as their main points of criticism, it can be true for other forms of archives as well. Photography and collecting objects are both forms of recording history. The point to be made here is that archival, as a capitalistic Western tool, can easily erase real narratives from the subjects they hold.
“Critical design is critical thought translated into materiality. It is about thinking through design rather than through words and using the language and structure of design to engage people.” – Speculative Everything(Dunne and Raby, 2013)
In the depths of my research, I often forget that I’m a designer and often pretend-play as a critic. Dunne and Raby helped me reconcile those two fractions of myself. They encourage critical thought through every layer of a design project and even use an outcome to relay a message. For this project, I consider it quite important to reflect on every point of the project, from research to ideation, conceptualization, and development, even going so far as to criticize the tools of delivery and modes for outcomes. Not to over-design a project, but rather carefully and thoughtfully select the options that make the most sense.
Erasure vs. Provenance
Dr. Tawfiq Canaan collected items for the sake of preserving Palestinian history. He carefully noted down the names of each person an amulet belonged to, when he collected it, and how it was used. In the hands of the Science Museum, all of this information has been erased, or at least they’ve not bothered to display anything more than a superficial reading of the objects. There is a clear distinction between the SMG’s digital archive and Birzeit University Museum’s digital archive. Birzeit opened their museum in the 90s with the donation of Canaan’s remaining amulets, and as their primary goal is to display items of Palestinian heritage for the sake of preservation, it comes to no surprise the research they undertook to archive and displays the items with dignity and respect. I’m not nationalist, but the topic of Palestinian heritage and history is one that I approach quite sensitively considering the situation. Emotionally, it feels as tho a part of us has been stolen and thrown to the side, like a pair of old shoes you’ve forgotten in the basement. Legally, however, that’s not the case as Canaan had sold the amulets to Henry Wellcome.
With all this in mind, I ask another question in regards to the project:
How can we critically engage the Science Museum Group’s digital archive through its possession of Palestinian protective amulets?
Idea 1 – Amulets to be worn through an AR filter on a social media app
This idea actually came to me in Week 5. It seemed simple enough to execute and conveyed the message clearly enough. The issue with this idea is that it feels as though it would diminish the significance of the amulets. And floating in a menu of many other AR filters in Instagram, for example, it wouldn’t be read properly.
Idea 2 – A journal dedicated to recording protective properties of person amulets/talismans/enchantments/etc.
This is definitely a supplementary idea to a major project, but it can’t stand alone.
Idea 3 – Chrome plugin or targetted ads to show pictures of amulets from the archive whenever the word “Mashallah” is used online
This is tricky, but also extremely intrusive, and belittles both a cultural practice and the significance of the amulets.
Idea 4 – Symptom checker
This is not specific enough to the Palestinian amulet collection, and can really be applied to any other medicinal object in the digital archive.
Idea 5 – A designed object that reunites all amulets
This is simply a weak idea.
Idea 6 – Interactive map of amulets, showcasing if they are active or inactive
This idea was the most popular in crits and tutorials, but I had an itching feeling that it was not sufficient enough. I sketched out what that could possibly look like. The map, an interactive interface, allowed users to enter information about their own personal amulets and tag “active/inactive”. The question on my mind while sketching out the idea is “why would anyone care to offer that information?” This is especially true for those who might view a product of the Science Museum Group as an unworthy institute to be offered such valuable cultural information.
Idea 7 – A collection of memoirs of amulets in use
Like idea 5, it’s also quite weak.
Idea 8 – Selling images of the amulets as NFTs. Each sale triggers an automatic removal of the image from the archive
While it’s a bold idea, it’s also quite careless.
The ideation process was useful in that it helped me exclude what could or couldn’t work and reminded me of where the project needed to be. To summarize this week, it wasn’t all in vain. It was a crucial steps in organizing the research and taking the next step, which is to reach out to people and collect deeper insights on these mysterious amulets.
Dunne, A. and Raby, F. (2013). Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. [online] Google Books. MIT Press. Available at: https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=8OvxCwAAQBAJ&pg=GBS.PA31.w.4.0.0&num=18&printsec=frontcover [Accessed 22 Nov. 2021].
Huang, S. (2020). Mind Map Tutorial | My Secret for Project Management. [online] http://www.youtube.com. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1WhjPh3ZQ4&t=372s [Accessed 22 Nov. 2021].
Sekula, A. (2007). Sekula Allan 1983 2003 Reading an Archive. [online] Available at: https://monoskop.org/images/7/74/Sekula_Allan_1983_2003_Reading_an_Archive.pdf [Accessed 22 Nov. 2021].
Van Gelder, H. (2012). An Anti-Archival Impulse. [online] Fotomuseum Winterthur. Available at: https://www.fotomuseum.ch/en/2012/06/11/an-anti-archival-impulse/ [Accessed 22 Nov. 2021].