Resisting extinction and design fictions

Writing analysis on graphic narratives of extinction, as well as camping on the firegrounds of Nymboida Country (Gumbaynggirr) has led to some evolutions and clarity in my approach to design research. When I did The Forage I engaged with a materiality in my work that included using colours and collages of the place I was setting my story. The process of the forage meant I had to spend a fair amount of time observing while moving through place. When I was accepting and observant of the place I was moving through as is I found stories emerging from place, rather than engaging with world-building and creating stories to fit the world.

However, in The Forage I censored and romanticised the places I was depicting. I edited out the other people, roads, buildings, sounds and smells of the city that I was moving through – instead depicting the non-human elements of the landscape. In doing so, I reinforced human-nature divides that have become a cornerstone of the Anthropocene.

This led me to sit down and think a bit harder about what I wanted to explore and what my research question needed to be to guide my practice. I didn’t want my engagement with memory to become something that was simply nostalgic, nor something that was simply an illustration of trauma. So, my question evolved.

My question went from How can graphic memory aid in our understanding of the Anthropocene? to Can graphic imaginings actively resist extinction?

Both of these questions are rooted in place and collective memory. Resisting the extinction crisis is tied to land and ocean management, meaning that how you understand the interlinking nature between self, community and the environment is integral to nurturing biodiversity.

The second element of this is a response to the ongoing challenge I’ve had to find what elements of PTSD and madness I wanted to put in my research work. Sitting in the firegrounds and seeing the resilience but also the scarring of such hot fires made me think that simply grieving for a landscape isn’t enough to save it. The imagining must be a guide to healing as well. This line of thought was clarified on a day I spent listening to Tony Fry talk about design fictions and the role of imagination in design.

The day after these talks was the first day since starting my PhD I walked on to campus and felt alone and out of place. The fictions that Fry presented and that his colleagues indulged were inconsistent with my experience as a survivor and what it means to survive – as a species and as a person. The design fiction of moving cities that Fry presented was a maladaptive colonisation machine. I was reminded of the case study of the NSW desalination plant as an idea that is energy intensive and exacerbates the problem it is trying to escape. We then had a two hour discussion about unstaging the university which did not consider at all the idea of breaking glass ceilings. Where more privileged participants articulated their anxieties about the future without consideration of the past. I sat in silence. I had no interest in being vulnerable when I knew full well that my presence as an Higher Degree Researcher was undermining current university systems.

It was an unpleasant day, but it did solidify what design practice that is trauma informed and resistant to extinction looks like. I thought that my creative power was in articulating and illustrating trauma unflinchingly. On the contrary, my creativity is borne out of my ability to sit in traumatic experiences and imagine something else, something different. Psychosomatic trauma therapy challenges the idea that rationality is a key to healing PTSD. Instead it allows your imagination and mind-body awareness to disrupt memories.

So I thought through a method of graphic storytelling inspired by radical joy for hard times and my experience using psychosomatic trauma treatment. It’s based on the idea that you can treat a place like a loved one. When you come across a place that has been hurt or damaged by rapid change, you don’t just grieve for it. You sit with it, tell stories with it. It’s one thing to grieve and walk away, it’s something far more radical to find joy within a place that’s significantly changed.

a prototype

This is a prototype that builds on the Forage. It’s set at Central Park on Broadway. I sat at the square and thought about the landscape around me. Rather than just grieve for the lack of animals and sterile nature of the plants, I rewilded it in my head. I thought – if there was a creature dominating this space, what would it be? How could I make it out of what’s here? So I created the Central Park Beetle.

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