2°C – Ilona Gaynor


21 September 2015

Could design play a constructive role in the climate change debate?

This was the question that Disegno posed for 2°C, a new project that spreads across our latest magazine Disegno No.9 and into a corresponding exhibition at The Aram Gallery in London.

For 2°C, Disegno set 10 leading designers and architects a challenge: could they redesign the public communication of climate change? The intention was not to provide finished public campaigns or definite answers, but rather to provocate and probe. How might a change in the way we conceive of and talk about climate change affect the climate change movement itself?

In a series of printed proposals in the magazine and objects displayed in the exhibition, the contributing designers – Marjan van Aubel, Sam Baron, Maria Blaisse, Ilona Gaynor, Ross Lovegrove, Neri & Hu, Parsons & Charlesworth, PearsonLloyd, Universal Design Studio and Dominic Wilcox – responded in hugely diverse ways.

Below, we are delighted to highlight designer and filmmaker Ilona Gaynor’s contribution. Gaynor’s proposal confronts us with the visceral impact that climate change will have on everyday life: the human body and built environment, for example. The print published above refers to the symptoms of a brain tumour, a disease that can be caused by chemical overspill. Gaynor’s design deals in horror and pessimism, rooting the communication of climate change in a bleak reality that she believes is inescapable.

Could you explain your contribution?

I am not a designer who takes much care over climate change. I don’t believe in the sustainability rhetoric that a lot of designers trot out here and there about using reusable materials and so forth. It’s not that I think it’s bad or inaccurate, just that it's something that I was never really interested in. I found it quite a dull topic and I think that’s why Disegno came to me. My approach has always been, I suppose, harshly critical. My approach to climate change was to look at the physical effect it has on real things such as concrete, metal and the human body. Not in any kind of broadly philosophical way, but in a really physical, literal sense. What does the science do to the body on this year, on this date? So I wanted to look at maybe having certain statements that could allude to some kind of gross conclusion. Some kind of outcome that would be a quick way to communicate to someone what it might be like to live in, maybe, 2060. So the statement that I sent to the magazine is taken from a medical journal of symptoms and describes that if you a brain tumour or you started bleeding on the brain due to heat, swelling or cancerous cells, you would get a metallic taste in the mouth. I imagined it might taste like sucking on a greasy coin.

It’s a standard description of a symptom that you’ve elaborated?

It’s using language to describe certain things. Telling people very distinct statements in black and white, very simply that this is what could and may occur, these are the kinds of new tastes and smells that may appear as a result of climate change and which we’ll just have to get used to. Illness, bricks crumbling, ink never drying, concrete taking much longer to set, certain plastics no longer lasting. Everything will change and my idea is just taking a couple of elements that are depressingly scary, but interesting at the same time. I used a typeface created by Dalton Maag that was designed to be quite violent. It’s all very symmetrical and pyschopathic, and there’s no grammar in the statement to make sure that there’s no sympathy for the reader.

How many of these statements did you develop?

I’ve got a huge document with about 200 statements. They all need to relate to the way we think about certain elements. Saying that concrete won't last on buildings is not enough: it needs to relate back to the human self. The issue with climate change is that we don’t care about future timespans. There are campaigns that say it’s all well and good, although our children may experience these effects, but people don’t really believe in those. But it’s not a case of believing, it’s scientific fact. People can’t associate with such a huge time gap.

Does climate change effect your daily projects and the work you’ve done so far?

No. This is awful, but I kind of welcome the effects of climate change. I’m very interested in what may occur and what accelerates as a result of this from a spectator point of view. I’m interested in the acceleration of technology and wonder how far it can be pushed, whether ethical consequences are there or not. It’s not a cool thing to say, but it’s genuinely how I feel.

It’s a morbid fascination.

Exactly. A lot of my previous work is about how you can accelerate technology or systems to the point where they break. That’s what I’m interested in. Humans have put themselves in this position, so why not enjoy or at least look in fascination at the consequences? When people ask if you recycle, you just nod and say yes, whether you do or not. It’s a back and forth, about being courteous and not being an asshole. But do people really care? My belief is that people don’t, so why not be confronted with the genuine consequences of cancer, shorter limbs, not being able to see properly.

Will this be something you think about more in future as a result of doing this project?

It’s really hard because designers can tackle so many things. Some designers chose to actively engage in the fact that they want to take care of certain environmental factors and make that their mandate. I’m not going to; I’m too interested in other things. I’m very aware of it from a scientific and technological perspective and that’s the element I’m interested in. It’s interesting, for example, that we should just escape Earth somehow. Escape is leaving essentially: the greatest show on earth. That’s where it’s going, so instead of focusing our efforts, it could be more interesting to focus our efforts on leaving.

It’s refreshing to have somebody be truthful about how they feel like that.

I like reality very much and think we should be presented with reality. I’m intrigued to see how we adapt as human beings, rather than trying to prevent climate change.