Banking Ships: Designer Tobias Revell's Projected Futures

Banking Ships: Designer Tobias Revell's Projected Futures
Published: Dec 11, 2012
Design Interactions graduate Tobias Revell discusses his lastest project, 88.7, which imagines a trading ship full of bankers circumnavigating the globe 24/7.

The meticulous creation of hypothetical worlds is science fiction’s forte. On the one hand you have the stories set in alternate universes with big philosophical contexts and alien models of existence, and on the other, stories set in a recognisable world containing relatable ways of life. Designer Tobias Revell, a graduate from the Royal College of Art’s Design Interactions course, has been “Bringing Un-shiny Futures to Life Since 2045”. For those investigating the relationship between complex systems and emerging technology, science, fiction and the future are eternally and problematically espoused.

The most recent addition to Tobias’ blog for example points to a EUR 1 billion “socio-economic knowledge collider” funded by the European commission - a living earth simulator project which will assimilate large banks of data including financial transactions, health records, travel details, carbon dioxide emissions to map the earth and the behaviour of society in real time. A further browse throws up Borges' meta-mapping story On Exactitude in Science, the proposed reformation of Honduras and a diagram describing the illegibility of people.

Revell himself draws from Japanese mecha, post-war British cartoons, slick heist films and of course science fiction cinema to present possible, if not probable, futures. Both the mockumentary film New Mumbai, charting the rise of synthetic fungi in a fictional slum city, and his latest project 88.7, are posited in the 2040s.

88.7 is a collection of convincing but fantastical ephemera gathered from a fictional ship. Can you describe the story behind it?

An ex-Soviet icebreaker was recommissioned to act as an experiment in global finance at 88.7 degrees latitude - the heart of the arctic sea. Here it could circumnavigate the world in twenty-four hours, allowing it to stay in constant contact with trading zones throughout the world. The experiment was a phenomenal success. A few years later the European Union and its nation-state constructs were on the edge of dissolution into the greater body of the European Equestrian Union, an event marked by commemorative one hundred Euro bills for the crew. On board, the intensity of risk undertaken by traders led to mutations in their brain chemistry that optimised their abilities but made them suicidal, aggressive, animalistic and in some cases even manifested as horns on their epidermis. During its mission, it instigated an ideological power fracture in Russia, the growth of a uniquely North Korean economic solution in the broadcast of its mass games and the legitimisation of a highly competitive, individualistic way of life.

Trying to understand systems is problematic because any model, simulation or even art work that reflects a system becomes part of that system and so invalidates its own worth. Is there a way of bypassing this dilemma?

This is a paradox that runs from Dante to quantum mechanics but applies especially to social and economic modelling. Nicholas Taleb's famous Black Swans are one noted exemption - or an 'excesssion' as Iain M Banks dubbed them - an event totally unpredictable that shakes the system and forces it to reform.  And of course hacktivists and various other subcultures have found ways of working around the systems set up for us.  I suppose to escape you literally have to go 'off the map.' Whether that means disconnecting and living a secluded lifestyle or living vicariously as bots.

What are the implications of meta-mapping developments from Google and Apple? The distinction between the virtual and the real seems t become increasingly bewildering and beyond our control.
Virtual reality died a quite, dignified sort of death in the mid-nineties to be replaced with augmented reality - overlaying what we see with information and data from external sources. This in itself raises questions about who filters and controls this information. Google's glasses are already raising eyebrows about who exactly is going to have a say in what you see through their version of the data world.

You talk on your blog about “relanguaging” design methodology. When describing the realities of the future, there are inherent problems with both misleading scientific jargon and the use of dumbed-down relabelling. What language are you using?

Over the last hundred years or so design has developed a wonderfully implicit language that we all understand - from door handles to program icons on your desktop. Design has given you the gift of being able to look at almost any object or image and instantly understand its purpose and reason for being. But this method of implicit and simple communication has almost exclusively been the tool of boardrooms and marketeers for all that time. I want to relinquish it somewhat and reveal ideas that are normally coated by opaque layers of complex language in Financial Times op-eds, scientific papers and carefully worded press releases.

With 88.7, I’m using motifs, artifacts and visuals that we were already familiar (like the tumourous growths extracted from the brains of the bankers, pictured above) with but systems and rules that were alien. We already have a universal language of design that we can understand, it's just a case of applying that language to things that aren't products or services.

Top image credit: Heiaken

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