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Gemma Copeland

Tag “work”

 — On worker cooperatives

One of my favourite quotes from Bianca Elzenbaumer of Brave New Alps comes from her 2014 thesis, Designing Economic Cultures:

Aiming to produce critically-engaged content whilst practicing in conventional ways underestimates the substantial potential designers have to contribute to social change not only through the content of their work, but also through their ways of doing and being.

The origin of the word radical is from the root: fundamental, structural. The way that we practice, support ourselves and collaborate with each other hugely impacts the work that we make. If we want to enable radical change, we need to begin by questioning the entire structure of our work.

I think that forming a worker cooperative is one way of prefiguring an alternative vision of the future of work. It recognises that we exist within capitalism, that we need to sustain ourselves within this system, but it also offers an alternative model of working: one based on solidarity, interdependence, self-determination and sustainability, rather than profit, growth and individual success.

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Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to apply the principles of Hyperfocus to my work. Productivity books aren’t the kind of thing I’d usually read, but this one has actually been quite useful.

A lot of it just seems like common sense, like recognising that you have a finite amount of attention you can spend in every moment. It’s basically about applying meditation techniques to daily life to make the most of your attention. It starts with being more aware of the kinds of work you’re doing, which parts are purposeful and which parts are unnecessary busy-work.

Setting intentions

It’s a lot about intention-setting: intentions for the hyperfocus session (an hour or less), for the day and for the week as well.

He summarises the core idea of hyperfocus as:

Keep one important, complex object of attention in your awareness as you work.

You decide what this object of attention should be, set a timer for how long you want to focus on it, eliminate any distractions and give it your full attention.

As with meditation, if you catch your mind wandering, you gently draw it back to the task at hand.

Scatterfocus and recharging

The counterpoint to hyperfocus is scatterfocus, where you just let your mind wander and observe where it goes. This is where the more creative thinking comes in, associations between otherwise unrelated ideas.

There are a number of other techniques in it that I’ve found really useful, like writing down “open loops” that are distracting or worrying you, and scheduling specific blocks of time to check email each day.

I liked the book because it’s ultimately about working less and making sure you allow yourself to recharge. I am definitely someone who tends to work too much, and tends towards anxiety as well. It was so useful for me to read this because it reminded me that overworking and multitasking doesn’t lead to better results.

 — Beyond precarity

Just read Brave New Alps’ contribution to Design Struggles. The book is available online in full. Their chapter, Design(ers) Beyond Precarity: proposals for everyday action, explores how to create the social and material conditions that make critical, transformative design practice possible.

I’ve done a handful of talks about my work with Common Knowledge and UVW Designers + Cultural Workers, and this is (unsurprisingly) the question that comes up the most from students. It’s one thing to point out all the problems in the industry and outline alternative ways of working, but how does a new graduate with very little experience carve out a critical practice? Where do you even begin?

A 19th century oil painting of an iceberg. The sky is a mix of reds, pinks, and blues, which are reflected in the water. A wooden ship sails close to the iceberg and looks diminutive in comparison.

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 — Hope in work & joy in leisure

Happy May Day!

An illustration from 1895, featuring a barefooted woman surrounded by a May Day garland with slogans woven amongst the flowers and grasses. Some of the slogans include "The cause of labour is the hope of the world" and "No people can be free while dependent for their bread". At the bottom, the text says "A Garland for May Day 1895, dedicated to the workers by Walter Crane".

It’s pretty wild to read about the origins of May Day. Workers had to fight so hard just to get an eight-hour day, which we now all take as given. Happy to see that it was Australian stonemasons who were the first to strike as part of the eight-hour day movement.

Eighteen Black Cats

A TV screen in a gallery space showing a live video feed of the sky above. The sky is mainly blue with some wispy clouds. The video is captioned with a sentence that begins with "As he found no way back…".
Last week How had an exhibition here at Rupert, to show three of the works he’s been developing over the last few months. My favourite was the piece called Wool-gather:

Raising questions about machine consciousness and non-human creativity, Wool-gather brings together aeromancy, day-dreaming and cloud watching through machine learning and image processing. Pointing an object detection algorithm at the sky above Vilnius, the work uses the shapes of the clouds to generate meandering anecdotes and make whimsical predictions about the future.

It was really meditative to watch, very easy to just lie there and have the stories wash over you.

Listening and reading and watching

I watched Crip Camp the other evening, which I found really moving. The amount of fighting that disability activists did (and still have to do) to win the most basic rights is inspiring but also infuriating.

Related: Sonia recommended the Understanding Disability series by Nim Ralph, which unpacks the different models we use to understand disability, how these have developed over time and the impact this has on the lives of disabled people. Highly recommended.

Also thanks to Sonia (who is my main source of reading material these days) is this super interesting reflection on remote work. They argue that working remotely (or, working in distributed teams) removes work as the centre of meaning and fulfilment, allows us to build stronger communities where we live and, ultimately, live fuller lives.

Where and how to live has come up in a lot of conversations lately. Tom has told us about this collective in Sicily that is currently building a community and artist residency, and Anna keeps talking about tiny houses. I guess it’s a combination of the pandemic, being around our early 30’s and not wanting to move around or rent or sublet anymore. How and I still haven’t decided where to move now that we’ve left London, as the second wave has been worse and visas harder to come by than we expected. I really want to find somewhere (in Europe) that is pretty warm, close to nature but well-connected by train to a city… does this place exist?!

A dreamy illustration of a garden, mainly teal, green and dark purple with highlights in pink and blue.
▲ Screenshot from the Arkadia Zoomquilt

I’ve started listening to a lot of super interesting podcasts lately, all circling the same kinds of themes:

New Constellations

Each episode focuses on one person, who talks about their practice, shares their visions for the future, tells stories about their own experiences and approach to life. It’s really well produced and quite relaxing to listen to, because it’s strongly focused on hope and imagination and mutual flourishing.

For All I Care

A series focused on care and healing, presented by Nwando Ebizie. Each episode features a really interesting mix of guests: artists, activists, scientists and care-workers.

Thank you Linsey for the recommendation 🌸

Serpentine

I discovered that the Serpentine gallery has a really good podcast, particularly the episodes created in collaboration with Future Ecologies. Lots of episodes featuring artists and activists who are responding to the climate crisis.

Anything with adrienne maree brown…

I really enjoy listening to her, so I’ve been following How to Survive the End of the World, Octavia’s Parables and the Emergent Strategy podcast.

 — Exploring maps

A collage made from LiDAR imagery of the Amazon rainforest, a map of the video game Subnautica and a Micronesian navigational chart

Maps seem to be the most consistent thing that people ask us to do at Common Knowledge. We don’t know entirely what it is, but people love maps. Not only do organisations love them, they seem to test really well when we do usability testing as well.

We have a couple of particularly interesting mapping projects on at the moment, so while I’ve been ambiently researching interesting maps on Arena for a while, I’ve recently started doing more reading about cartography as well.



Shannon Mattern’s wonderful article How to Map Nothing seeks out the gaps in the map: cartographies of erasure, absence, refusal and exclusion. For something about nothing, it is overflowing with references, projects and ideas. Lots to explore!

We have plenty of maps and data visualizations that trace the macro-scale public health and political-economic forces that precipitated the “Great Pause”; but we have relatively few that show all those under-appreciated agents that are making it possible — all the something anchoring and abetting that nothing, all the pulsing activity powering the pause. So it’s worth exploring the ways in which maps and other forms of indexical spatial data are registering the ambiguities, contradictions, and inequalities inherent in this geography of suspension — an ostensible pause that instead merely extends, and in many ways exacerbates, the injustices of our society and the inadequacies of our ways of conceptualizing and modeling city life.

Mapping’s Intelligent Agents is another great essay, this time focusing on Other approaches to cartography:

Ideally, we should balance or juxtapose different modes of knowledge and production: Western scientific and indigenous epistemologies, human and other-species ontologies, mechanical and organic means of experiencing and representing place, cartographic rationalism and empiricism, projection and retrospection. No single über-map can encompass all such subjectivities and sensibilities. Instead, we can aim for an atlas, a prismatic collection of mappings, that invites comparison and appreciation of the ways in which our world is both known and unknown.

Mattern is currently teaching a class called Mapping the Field, which I wish I could take. Luckily, she’s put the entire syllabus, presentations and reading list online.

In Here Be Dragons, Lois Parshley explores the unknown places that we’re still trying to map: the Arctic, black holes, the ocean floor. She also considers how mapping intersects with health, deprivation and natural disasters. She references Missing Maps, an open, collaborative project where anyone can volunteer to help map areas that are at risk of disaster or crisis.

I also found this offline-first, open-source tool called Mapeo. It allows communities to document, monitor and map data, and was co-designed with indigenous partners in the Amazon.

For a completely different viewpoint, I really enjoyed reading about literary maps and the design of open world video games.

Next, I think I’m going to read Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein, which I’ve been meaning to read for a while.

A few recent contributions to various publications:

Caps Lock

I spoke to Ruben Pater about Common Knowledge for Caps Lock, his new book about graphic design and capitalism. The interview was mainly centred on how Common Knowledge works on a practical level, both internally and in collaboration with others. Ruben’s done such a great job with the book, I’m really proud to be involved and glad that a book like this exists! It’s so important to demonstrate alternatives to traditional design practice, and I think he does a good job of making it super accessible.

A animated GIF showing a person's hands picking up the Caps Lock book and flicking through the pages

There’s More Than One Way to Share Your Design Work

I wrote a short explanation of the design of this very website (meta!) for an AIGA article about alternative approaches to design portfolios.

How to Run a Design Sprint

I gave a very brief explanation of the Google design sprint methodology for Stir To Action’s summer issue, with examples of how we used it in collaboration with Cooperation Town.

The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.
— David Graeber

Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative

Last weekend we visited How We Live Now at the Barbican, an installation exploring the work of the Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative.

Matrix was a women-led worker co-op that existed in London from 1980–1994. They challenged patriarchal norms and worked in a way that would still be seen as radical today.

They worked in collaboration with people who were usually excluded from the design process, on buildings that were usually ignored by male architects: women’s centres, childcare groups, housing co-ops. They also conducted research, ran a book group and a support group, and educated women in skills like technical drawing, building law and construction practices.

All this while Thatcher was prime minister! So impressive.

A promotional poster for Matrix, printed in black and red ink. It's composed of a grid of hexagons, some containing images, some with handwritten text and some with illustrations.

— Poster (1979), from the online archive of Matrix’s work

We Are ‘Nature’ Defending Itself

We also went to the launch of a new book called We Are ‘Nature’ Defending Itself: Entangling Art, Activism and Autonomous Zones. The two authors, Isabelle and Jay, coordinate the art activism group The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (among many other things) and live within the ZAD de Notre Dame des Landes.

A black and white illustration from the inside cover of the book. It looks almost like a tarot card. There are stars in the sky and a foreboding owl infront. In the foreground, a woman with a gas mask on is emptying a bucket of water into a stream while she looks up into the distance. There are two figures in the background passing another bucket between each other.

— Illustration by Amanda Priebe

The ZAD NDDL is an autonomous zone that begun to protest a new airport that the government planned to build on agricultural land. Activists and environmentalists started to squat in the area, alongside local farmers, and gradually built an entire self-organised community.

Over the years there have been several attempts by the state to evict the people living there and destroy their buildings, but this has been met with lots of resistance and solidarity from all over France. The airport plans have now been cancelled: a huge victory, although very hard won. They seem to now have reached an uneasy truce with the state – they’re negotiating for legalisation so they can stay on the land in perpetuity.

Isabelle and Jay told us about their practice and how they ended up at the ZAD. They were working in London (as academics, I think) and doing their art and activism on the side. They don’t see art and activism as two separate things. In their practice, they worked with both, in a participatory and pedagogical way.

At some point, they realised that they couldn’t live in the city any longer. They felt that cities are designed to keep us all divided from each other. They quit their jobs and travelled around Europe for a while, visiting communities and co-living projects throughout.

They settled in northern France for a while and began a housing co-op, but later realised that they still had a mindset of always travelling and moving around for their art practice. They needed to become more grounded into one place, and wanted to find a way to connect art, activism and everyday life. “Why can’t life be art?”

A hand-drawn map showing the various collectives, buildings and animals within the ZAD
Map of the ZAD

They ended up at the ZAD. They shared stories of the repeated attacks on the ZAD by the state, and the messy, complex, everyday reality of building a commons. You can watch two short documentaries that they made about the history and one about the how people there live now.

They see creation and resistance (yes and no) as two interlocking strands, like DNA. You can’t have one without the other. The counterculture of the 60’s was just about “dropping out” of society and alternative living, which made it easy for Silicon Valley to appropriate its ideals to capitalist ends. This made me think of my post about community gardens. They even said something like “if we don’t resist the extractivist death drive of capitalism, your community garden is going to be underwater.”

Excited to read the book!

Edgeryders

Finally, the other day I came across The Reef, a communal living project in Brussels initiated by Edgeryders. I really hope they succeed! I want to live somewhere like this so much.