Thursday, 22 September 2011

Third Year

This post signifies the start of 3rd year.


Monday, 9 May 2011

dissertation introduction lecture

During this dissertation introduction lecture, I noted down a few things and began racking a couple of ideas out my head:

Monday, 28 March 2011

task 6 - theory into practice

Thoughts on Gary Barker's 'Coming up for air. Drowning in Baudrillard'.

This is an interesting take on attacking the capitalism of Baudrillard's concept of simulacra and simulation. However, it does fail to convince me that there is a potential way of 're-touching the real through creating our own narratives of representation'. I fail to believe that there is any possibility of having any kind of a conception of true reality let alone re-touching it through creativity.

Understandably, if you we're to ask 100 people to draw their conception of a male face - for example - there would inevitably be underlying similarities that unify each face that make it recognisable as a male face, when the real male face is masked beneath these 'representations'. I understand that Gary is suggesting that a shadow of the real can be grasped through representations produced through creative mediums - much like the shadows of Plato's cave - however,  I disagree with the possibility of having any kind of conception of the real through representation on the principle that reality has been simulated away from our perception. This - for me - lands representation in the same category as simulation. Granted, there will always be a slither of the real encapsulated in every simulation and representation. However, humanity has simulated itself so much through time that the essence of reality is lost.

Here is a piece of work that I produced this year that is very ironic and I will explain why:

The concept of this game was the make people think more in having them engage in philosophy in an interactive way. However, the irony of this entire project is the way in which I have simulated philosophy itself through the simulacra of a board game. Each individual property card has a quote from the philosopher on it. However, it is absurd to assume that a philosopher's entire works can be summed up in a single quote. And moreover, turning philosophy into a commodity must be the biggest crime that I have committed here. A classic trend of capitalism where production and value overpower utility and benefit. In this case, the production and sale of a philosophy monopoly board game overrules the genuine purpose of philosophy. Philosophy does not need to be turned into a commodity for people to engage in it. Or perhaps capitalism has such a stranglehold on society that it is the only way. A sad truth.

task 4 - communication theory

Analysis of a work of graphic design in relation to the Shannon-Weaver Model (below).

MCFC Campaign 2009/10: Arsenal - Music Design Agency, Manchester. Image by Michael Gillette.

The Shannon-Weaver Model of communication was put together as a mathematical concept when Claude Elwood Shannon and Warren Weaver were working for Bell Telephones. The model’s purpose is to deduce the clarity of communication, which is essential in telephone communications. Since their development of the model, it has been cleverly adapted to communication within art and design.

The factors of consideration in how a message is communicated in a piece of design are defined in Harold Laswell’s maxim, ‘who says what in what channel to whom with what effect?’ So the factors of consideration, which can manipulate how a message is communicated are, the information source, the message itself, the method of communication (transmitter), what receives the message and the destination. These factors all define the degrees of entropy and redundancy in the message and anything that inhibits clarity of communication is considered, ‘noise’.

Music’s Manchester City poster advertising their home match against Arsenal in the 2009-10 season is a good example of design to analyse in terms of how it communicates via the Shannon-Weaver model. Music are the information source. The message that they are communicating is a glorification of Manchester City Football Club and the information for their match against Arsenal. The transmitter is in the form of a poster posted around Manchester. The receiver is the eyes of the public of Manchester who are themselves the destination. So theoretically, this is how the design works.

Although the receiver is the public of Manchester, it must be noted that the target audience is specifically Manchester City supporters and arguably, Manchester United supporters as a form of intimidation.

Communicating to this specific audience can pose problems on three levels, the technical, the semantic and how effective it is (which is defined by the technical and semantic). In terms of the technical aspect of how this design works, there could be problems in several areas. For example, the design could be printed poorly, which would inhibit the clarity of communication to the audience creating noise and interruption. Also, the location of the posters in Manchester is certainly a key aspect of how effectively they communicate. For example, it would make much more sense to place the poster in locations where you might find Manchester City fans (and Manchester United fans in the case of intimidation) creating less noise, so it might be less effective to place the poster in the Manchester Opera House.

In relation to semantics, the design has a lot to offer. The first striking thing about it is how blue it is. This is an extremely effective way of communicating to Manchester City fans, as sky blue is the colour of the team. Sky blue is the signifier and Manchester City is the signified. This is predominantly effective in the context of the city of Manchester as in another city – Coventry for example – it may lead to misinterpretation and plenty of noise due to their football team also possessing the sky blue colour. As Craig Oldham from Music said in a talk he gave at the Leeds College of Art, if you stick something blue about football in the middle of Manchester, City fans will love it. Essentially, the inclusion of sky blue makes the design redundant in this aspect. Noise is reduced through an apt application of location of the design.

However, the semantics of the imagery potentially contradict the positive effectiveness of the design. The design possesses strong connotations of the aura of the 1960s through the psychedelic type that is used. This creates a whole lot of noise to the design, as there is a semantic failure in connoting football from 60s psychedelia. However, it could be argued that through hierarchy of the design, the connotation of football is primarily transmitted to the receiver through the blue colour, and that the psychedelic imagery is relied on for denotation of the celebration and glory inflicted on Manchester City through the signified connotations of freedom, ‘the summer of love’ and unity implied by 60s psychedelia throwing a high degree of entropy on the design. 

gaucho's steakhouse - the argentinean experience, a look from baudrillard's perspective

For my 21st birthday I was taken to Gaucho's Steakhouse in Leeds. Gaucho's is a chain of up-market restaurants that specialise in Argentinean cuisine. They particularly focus on steak and wine. At this point, I must say that when I went to Gaucho's, I had a lovely time, ate some great meat and drank some fantastic wine. It was a cracking 21st birthday treat.

Firstly, I want to draw focus briefly on how Gaucho's markets itself. They use the slogan 'Experience Argentina'. This can be seen on the website along with a fascinating description which is key to this brief analysis and can be found below said slogan on the website screenshot. However, for ease, this is what it says:

"At Gaucho we pride ourselves on the basic philosophy of provenance. To us this means authenticity, assurance and rigorous attention to obtain the finest quality ingredients at source. The dedication ensures that every time you visit us, you experience the true essence of Argentine life. Its food, its wine, its culture and importantly the passion of the people."

After visiting Gaucho's, I can't say that I fully agree with this 'basic philosophy of provenance' that they claim to have. With claims of 'authenticity', 'the true essence of Argentine life' and 'the passion of the people', I was left more than slightly confused by my experience.

Let's look at 'authenticity' and 'the true essence of Argentine life'. When entering the restaurant, I was greeted with the sight of fake cow skin chairs, slick white leather sofa seating and glistening chandeliers dangling from the matted black leather ceiling. The place could be described as a general aesthetic nightmare or a WAG's dream house, but one thing is for certain, this place unequivocally does not express any aura of 'the true essence of Argentine life' and you would have to be stark raving mad to believe that there is anything as much of a shade of Argentine 'authenticity' in the surroundings. The restaurant is a simulation of the highest order and what is most shocking is that these isn't even any attempt to actually simulate 'the essence of Argentine life' in the surroundings. The simulacra are a selection of postmodern interior and furniture design that speaks nothing of the country or its way of life. In fact, the only signifier that I could spot that signifies anything relevant at all is the fake cow skin on the chairs. This seems to poses the significance of beef and denotes the fact that a cow has been killed for meat. But nevertheless, the claim of Argentine 'authenticity' is a crime on a cataclysmic scale in this case.

What is worse about this travesty of a claim, is that most people that stroll through the doors and indulge in the delicious steak and wine that the restaurant has to offer, have probably never even been to Argentina. So this ignites a significance of the precession of simulacra that is taking place here. For most, this becomes the 'real' experience of Argentina and precedes any perception they had previously. It is a simulation of 'real' Argentina. A hyperreal Argentina.

The harder I look back to my experience of Gaucho's, the harder it is to have any kind of realisation of 'the passion of the people' that I was supposed to experience. On arrival, I was escorted to my table by a well groomed, white caucasian male with a subtle but noticeable Yorkshire accent who went on to explain the wine list and the different cuts of meat that were available. All the while I was surrounded by middle to upper class people who seemed to be predominantly British and not afraid to spend a bit of money. Even looking around I could see into the half-open kitchen where chefs of synonymous descriptions were yelling orders across to staff in clear English. So sadly, I didn't feel any kind of a spark of 'the passion of the people' in my time at Gaucho's. This simply adds to the cathedral of simulation that is Gaucho's Steakhouse.

As I have already mentioned, the food at Gaucho's was exquisite. Some of the best steak and wine I've ever had. The meat is prided on being from Argentina. But nevertheless, the meat is handed to the simulator (chef) in the kitchen in order for him to cook up a tasty hyperreality that supposedly encapsulates the essence of Argentina when it is nothing more than a copy; a processed hunk of meat on a plate. In actual fact, however 'real' the food in Gaucho's can appear, the surroundings of the restaurant slaughter the supposed authenticity and process it in a stew of hyperreality.

I would definitely recommend a visit to Gaucho's Steakhouse. However, there is one indescribably important factor that anyone should take into consideration when visiting the restaurant. Do not consider anything Argentinean. Any inflicted description of Argentine authenticity should be absolutely ignored and the food should be explicitly treated anonymously at face value in as redundant a manner as possible.

I would go on to question the morality in the branding of 'Argentinean' in this circumstance in relation to the effect it has on people and their lives through this illegitimacy of 'the true essence of Argentinean life', but this opens up a whole world or moral and ethical discussion that I may or may not to choose to carry forward into dissertation thought.

And finally, some images of Gaucho's Steakhouses for perspective:

Sunday, 27 March 2011

task 5 - sustainability and capitalism

In relation to text - Balser, E (2008) 'Capital Accumulation, Sustainability & Hamilton Ontario'.

The concept of sustainability has become ever more prominent in society in recent years. This is particularly due to the recent hype of global warming, which in turn, has sparked an explosion of environmental awareness that has led to the encouragement of sustainability. Balser underlines a definition of sustainability as, ‘inter- and intra-generational equity in the social, environmental, economic, moral and political spheres of society.’ This essentially says that sustainability is a concept that came about in the present generation and will continue to be present in generations to come. This is due to the factors or global warming and environmental awareness already mentioned.

The concept of sustainability is that it should be universal and essentially the same for everyone. Immediately, there is a sense of equality amongst people to the concept – making it seem very socialist. However, sustainability’s dependence on capitalism can make this seem like a very contradictory idea.

Balser uses Karl Marx in underpinning the main characteristics of Capitalism, who stated that, ‘capital accumulation is the constant conservation of products into means of production.’ So-called products are put through the process of production, which gives them value. This is a key characteristic of capitalism. When something gains a value and is sold, the producer benefits as an individual. This ‘perpetuates social inequality’ due to the advocating of the prosperity of the individual over others. Socialists do not see this as the solution to a harmonious world as the system intrinsically institutionalises a system of hierarchy where the wealthy and prosperous rule – a concept seen as unfair and most importantly, unequal.

The capitalist thirst for profit leads to what is called a ‘Crisis of Capitalism’. This can be explained by how the Capitalist pounces on any opportunity to make money in what Balser defines as ‘a diverse web that is continuously expanding and trapping things’. Essentially, this results in production for the sake of profit rather than production for the sake of benefit. Environmentalism has most certainly become helplessly stuck in its own web of Crises of Capitalism by being turned into a commodity. So ideologically, the green market is no different to the capitalism that preceded it.

The green market is something that Al Gore supports in his documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ where he suggests that we put our trust in capitalism by exploiting our technology and resource efficiency and effectiveness as a solution to the environmental crisis and sustainability. However, all this seems to do is perpetuate the system of capitalism rather than express a genuine salvation of nature. This can be supported with the example of the production of bio-fuel.

Bio-fuel – or in this particular example – bio-diesel is – at face value - an environmentally friendly alternative to standard diesel fuel. Its popularity has meant that there has been a demand for production. This is how the environmental creeps into the realm of the capital. BIOX Corporation is one of the largest producers of bio-diesel. Balser write of how ‘in 2004 they announced they were going to build the first commercial scale bio-diesel production plant in Canada in Hamilton, Ontario’. What is significant about this decision is the location. The location of the plant was in ‘The North End where the poor and oppressed reside’. This is a heavily residential area and the plant sits incredibly close to people’s homes, which have been damaged from tremors from the plant, which also uses a cocktail of chemicals in the production of the bio-diesel, which are stored within one hundred feet of people’s homes. To top it off, the plant was built on a community green space. What this proves is that there is a massive paradox in capitalising in the green market as it truly does perpetuate capitalism rather than a salvation of nature.

This seriously questions the compatibility of sustainability with capitalism. It leads to a whole world of deceit and ‘greenwashing’, where environmentalism is used as a ploy for sale and ultimately, profit. ‘Green’ becomes a trend rather than a serious ethical consideration, which leads to serious potential for questioning the ethical legitimacy of exploiting environmentalism for individual gain and wealth. Baudrillard might suggest that the concept of ‘green’ and ‘environmental’ becomes simulated using the vehicle of capitalism where the rich exercise power from selfish gain who in turn, manipulate the docile bodies of the public in a never ending cycle where the communal concept of sustainability is lost in a pit of greed and wealth.

Example of environmentalism as a commodity - 'MyHabs'. MyHabs are pre-prepared tent-like structures that are common at music festivals where they can be hired out in advance. Their concept is that it is an environmentally friendly way of camping. And what better place to put them than at the centre of a trendy music festival. There has clearly been consideration of design in order to glorify the product and concept to communicate it as 'cool' to the unsuspecting public. What is worse are the staged photos below that so obviously exploit environmentalism as a commodity, killing the true concept of sustainability. The consumer becomes more concerned with looking good rather than helping the environment. Another selfish, egotistical trend of capitalism.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

lecture VI - globalization, sustainability & the media

This was a great lecture. It was a very interesting philosophical insight into the very current climate of sustainability in the world. What I found particularly interesting was how the ideas presented in the lecture are  bordering on conspiracy. The best thing about them was that the ideas are carefully constructed with well informed sociological thought in mind. Particularly by Noam Chomsky.

The concept of 'greenwashing' is fascinating. Serious ethical issues are raised by the manipulation of the general public by ogliopolies. Especially if this involves use of the environment as a vehicle of persuasion. It could be argued that this shows lack of consideration for other human beings as well as the environment in a capitalist society that continues to construct itself by a motivation of selfishness and greed. Clearly this is a very left wing approach. It interestingly relies on a deontological approach where the action overrules the consequence.