SOMA | The Design Issue | Generative by Alex Dodge

Posted on Aug 1, 2010

by Adam Pollock

August 2010

While Silicon Valley may be the actual epicenter of self-delusion, as evidenced by the amount of venture capital dollars that have been thrown at staggeringly ridiculous business models over the years, Williamsburg certainly ranks in the top five when it comes to ‘hoods that could use an ego check. Sorry Brooklyn, but electroclash was not going to set the world on fire just because you said it would. By the way, thanks for the beards.

How apropos is it then that W’burg’s Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery is hosting a cheeky exhibit that took our belief, nay certainty, in the fact that success, individualism and freedom can be found in sleekly designed, supercharged technological wonders, and turned it on its head.

Social networking has done an amazing job at replacing actual socializing with all the joys of typing, but how lame is it that you have to be conscious when doing so? Not so in Alex Dodge’s world, where a device called a Sleep Talker exists. The Sleep Talker dream interface, to quote from the artists’ description, “is an experimental prototype offering a means for two or more users to interact while in similar sleep states or as a means of broadcasting one’s unconscious experience within a specialized social network.” Finally … non-social REMing is so 2009.

The Sleep Talker is just one of the many imagined products that inhabit Dodge and Generative’s new world. There’s also the Haptic-Synth, a touch sensor-enabled shirt and handheld widget- think about it, a solely virtual creation made three-dimensional- and Wearable Interface, basically a smart phone turned cross-seasonal outer garment, neither of which would be out of place if Blade Runner were based on a true story.

Dodge has addressed the ubiquitous presence of technology in our world before. In his Study For Intelligent Design, the artist presented casts of his own body as discarded android parts, and in his 2009 painting, An Intractable Contradiction In the Nature of One’s Existence (Mishima), he presented a samuri disemboweling himself to reveal guts of metal tubing and wires.

Dodge, a Brooklyn based RISD alum, has been showing for a decade, and Generative is his new conceptual project in conjunction with Akira Shibata, a particle physicist who worked on the Hadron Collider, and video game developer Yohei Ishii. Together the three have imagined Generative as a research lab focused on mobile technology and visualization.

With Generative, the collective adds potential real world function and high design (read consumer packaged goods) to the human/technology hybrid. Yes, the Sleep Talker might be a few years, and a lengthy privacy policy away from hitting the market, but Vantage Point (Integrated Mobile Broadcaster), a set of ’70s style headphones with Wi-Fi-enabled POV camera, wouldn’t be out of place on the L train today.

Generative’s Brooklyn show is a study in imagination, in an environment that prizes form over function. But just wait, it won’t be long before art forms like these come with warranties and user manuals.