Subverting the Prescription

I really enjoyed the review of Daito Manabe’s work as it made novel and interesting parallels to my desire to connect post-secondary design with education technology. His work inevitably stimulates inquiry as he appears to represent the real and the digital, the bodily versus (or perhaps merging with) the artificial/electronic. What do these things that seem so at odds share in common? How are they tied together through our use of technology? How is it that the boundaries between individual/collective, digital/analog, self/avatar, real/virtual, seem fuzzy or connected when we use technology?


For me, Daito makes dynamic use of technology to point out and perturb the traditional boundaries between the bodily world and the virtual. It is also a reminder that the notion of digital self is constantly changing along with the technologies we use and how we choose to use them. Modern arts and design education similarly remains in flux, and teaching and learning within this realm seems to require at a post-secondary level, a highly adaptive and experimental approach. Students here increasingly spend a portion of their practice using technologies to support creative learning and research. In my particular context, it is often when students subvert the prescribed uses of technology for creative exploits that true creativity emerges through it. How many times has a teacher found a student using a particular software for an unintended purpose in an interesting way?


Twitter poetry is an emerging applied example of this; poetry composed with a character limit that causes students to consider language in a different light. It also enables them to disseminate, collaborate and critique work in newly social situated (and socially engaged?) ways. Another example might be when a post-secondary design student (during the inspiration/ideation phase of design) uses social media to creep other’s (seemingly semi-private) public spaces (Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Facebook etc.) as a form of ethnographic research. This gives students a window into what stimulates the emotions, moods and interests of a target user group prior to design. In this way technology can be used both for modeling actions and action modeling. Pinterest for example is often used to create design ‘mood boards’ for form inspiration before designing objects, products, websites, graphics and services. During my undergrad at Emily Carr, experimentation and messing with the logic of technological things was encouraged, and as a student I found this highly liberating. I once used a T.E.N.S machine for a 72 hours ethnographic empathy-research where the machine was used to electrically stimulate the symptoms of Lupus SLE or Multiple Sclerosis (tingling, numbness, muscle pain, and spasm) before designing a user-centered assistive app.


Daito Manabe: Straight and Arrow

Daito Manabe: Straight and Arrow


Three possible future goals for using technology in the arts and humanities classroom as it relates to what I discussed above are:

  1. To better understand any implications of technology use (imposed form, behavior, production etc., as technology is not neutral).
  2.  To support creativity, flexibility, experimentation and innovation (and model it) as sometimes subverting the norm safely is okay (perhaps not as boldly as with Daito’s work).
  3.  To encourage diversity and the creation of (and participation in) new digital cultures



2 replies
  1. M
    M says:

    Hi Bobbi, Very interesting response.

    I found Nosaj Thing’s ‘Eclipse/Blue’ quite beautiful in all aspects and that technology extended human performance in a layered way without ‘getting in the way’. I wonder if they had movement or motion sensors which triggered certain visualizations or if Manabe was interpreting the dance and performing with them in real time.

    In contrast, my reaction to FaltyDL – “Straigt & Arrow” piece was not that of being pleasantly engaged but more of being disturbed. I am not able to articulate why I felt this but I think it may have something to do with the combination of the human performers as puppets and their use as both the medium and media in some ways. Maybe that challenge/emotional response was part of its design.

    Funny you brought up T.E.N.S machine as that was the first note I jotted down while I watched the video. It totally made me think of sitting in physiotherapy with one on, having the therapist step out and look at the dials daring myself to see what would happen if I went all DJ with the dials.

    – M.

    • Bobbi
      Bobbi says:

      Ha! The idea of going “all DJ with the dials” made me laugh out loud!: )

      Having used a T.E.N.S in a project I got to play around with it quite a bit, and it isn’t as entertaining or frightening as one might think. It is perhaps a bit difficult to find a spot to put T.E.N.S electrodes where you can make muscles contract enough to bend fingers or twitch elbows. I found that part of the video pretty fascinating actually (design students tend to be a bit weird after all). I could certainly see how this could bring about an emotional response, and I think you’re right that it was likely part of the design.

      We typically feel neutral, ambivalent or removed from technology in its utilitarian service to our needs. Seeing it ‘use’ a person in this manner certainly flips the notion of us using the machine on its head, so it appears instead that the machine is using us . That’s always been a topic of unease in relation to technology. From a creative standpoint disturbing these ideas is worthwhile to get us looking at technology a bit differently.

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