Skip to content

Future Talks of Term 3

Helen Torres ~ Donna Haraway and the Anthropocene

Too Long Didn’t Read

Helen Torres, a translator and educator well-versed in Donna Haraway’s work, led a class exploring the concept of “Response-ability,” which challenges traditional paradigms such as human exceptionalism and emphasizes ethical responses to environmental issues. She critiqued the Anthropocene concept for overgeneralizing human impact, instead highlighting the importance of symbiotic relationships and the interconnectedness of life through concepts like “Holobionts” and “Sympoeisis.” Using the MACBA Expansion Project as a real-world example, Torres illustrated the necessity of inclusive decision-making that considers both human and non-human stakeholders.

Helen Torres is a Sociologist, Educator and Translator, who found a like mind in the work of Donna Haraway and American professor of Human Consciousness and Feminist Studies at the University of California. Helen began to translate Haraway’s work into Spanish for release, and knows the most about Haraway’s work short of Donna Haraway herself.

Helen’s class was focused on laying out and overviewing Haraway’s work, focusing on the key theme of our individual and collective “Response - ability”. ******During the talk, Helen framed the discussion through 3 main questions:

  • How can we imagine a better future when the old paradigms of human exceptionalism, individualism and autonomy are not good enough to understand the challenges of living and dying on a damaged planet?
  • How can we practice the arts of living in multispecies worlds?
  • How do we take care of each other, humans and non humans, rendering each other capable?

The act of “Response - ability” is our ability to actively and ethically respond to the issues of our environment, underscoring the interconnectedness of life and the necessity for decisions that consider more than just human needs.

These questions were aimed at challenging traditional paradigms, questioning how we can envision a better future that moves beyond human exceptionalism, individualism, and autonomy. These outdated concepts, she argued, are inadequate for understanding the complexities of living and dying on a damaged planet.

Helen critiqued the term Anthropocene, (the time period on the planetary timeline considered to be when humans collectively have had an undeniable impact on the environment we inhabit) arguing against the seemingly common idea that humanity as a collective whole is the main problem affecting our planet as an unfair generalisation of human impact on the Earth. She highlighted how Haraway points out that not all peoples of the earth have lived the same lives and participated in the same problems of the world, therefore failing as a universal concept of responsibility. As the actions of a relatively small number of people in history (when compared with the rest) and the issues that they have caused should not be placed squarely at the feet of every human individual.

Instead, she emphasized the importance of understanding the pervasive presence of symbiotic relationships that define our existence. Helen discussed the terms “Holobionts” and “Sympoeisis.” Holobionts are described as symbiotic assemblages that represent dynamic knots of relationships within ecosystems. Sympoeisis, or “making-with,” challenges the notion of self-organization by emphasizing that beings and systems are co-created interdependently within complex networks.

This further emphasised the concept of multispecies coexistence. Helen explored how we might practice the arts of living in a world that is not solely human but is shared with multiple species. This involves nurturing relationships that extend beyond humans to include non-human beings, emphasizing a shared existence and mutual care.

Lastly, Helen emphasized the importance of “staying with the trouble,” which involves engaging in creative and unexpected collaborations, termed “making oddkin.” This approach advocates forming relationships and alliances that might not typically occur, focusing on cooperative survival and flourishing in the face of environmental and societal challenges. Through these themes, Torres articulated a vision for living responsibly and ethically in a world that is intricately connected and facing numerous challenges.

Helen situated these topics into a real world example, using the proposed MACBA Expansion Project to highlight how multiple actors and stakeholders, from politicians, neighbours, the museum itself, the skaters who use the area to express their culture, to the animals like dogs ,cats and birds that call the area their home need to have their needs considered and accounted for.

She encouraged us to explore this topic through playful interaction, where we held a discussion as personifications of the different stakeholder groups to try and reach a consensus that would make everyone happy, to emphasise the importance of community inclusion in decision making. Helen used this activity to push us to begin to develop and nurture a deeper awareness of the interconnection we all share, and to take this into account as we begin to work towards actively respond to the problems and challenges we attempt to solve.

I really enjoyed Helen’s class, I admit to not really having heard of Donna Haraway before, and to have the ideas so succinctly explained and explored in this playful manner was something I really enjoyed, even if there were some ideas (like Holobionts) that I found somewhat challenging to understand. What I found myself agreeing with the most (and is something that I have always found myself exasperated with) is both Helens’ and Haraway’s rejection of the notion of Anthropocene as a collective problem, undoubtedly human impact has had an impact on the Earth, but to lay this at the feet of every single human on Earth is foolish, short sighted and alarmingly defeatist (I believe). While we are not solely responsible for everything, I think we are one of the few species (as of right now) capable of understanding and contextualising our symbiotic relationship that we share with the rest of the organisms on this Earth, and are therefore perfectly suited to shape our actions to better regenerate this relationship.

Small localised actions can lead to big systemic changes.

This idea is what has become central to me for my project research, and while I’m still unsure of the final outcome and what it will be, I know that this idea is going to be a core message of it.

Aqui - Scaling your projects beyond MDEF

Too Long Didn’t Read

The Aqui Collective shared insights on scaling projects post-MDEF, detailing their evolution from a nonprofit to a worker’s cooperative and their work on various community-focused projects in Barcelona. Key strategies highlighted included investing strategically in project sustainability, embracing local and global impact assessments, and building a committed team. They emphasized the importance of designing projects for independence, documenting processes for transparency, and applying for funding efficiently. The talk was a deep dive into the practical aspects of making meaningful and lasting social impacts through thoughtful project scaling and community engagement.

We just wrapped up our future talk with Aqui, the collective run by Roger and Clément Rames. It was really interesting, a nice little intro into how the ideas that we put forward during MDEF can develop into something else and something more after the course.

Clement walked us through how after MDEF, the collective transitioned through phases such as forming a non-profit association, dealing with accounting and finance, registering as self-employed, and establishing physical spaces across Barcelona neighborhoods. They evolved into a worker’s cooperative and undertook various projects like “Teixent Superilles,” a guide to Barcelona’s superblock concept, and “Parking,” revamping underutilized parking lots into vibrant public spaces.

They emphasized the importance of sustainability and continuity in project management, advocating for strategic investment of time, energy, and resources, and addressing conflicts promptly to prevent breakdowns. They highlighted the necessity of scaling for impact, both locally and globally, and stressed the importance of impact assessments for internal evaluation and funding applications. Looking long-term, they advised giving projects a decade to fully mature.

In terms of capacity building, building a committed community of practice and learning to delegate were underscored as crucial for creating multidimensional teams capable of tackling problems from various angles. Clement also discussed the importance of designing oneself out of the equation to allow projects to grow independently, documenting work for transparency, and strategically applying for funding to ensure efficiency.

We followed this talk up with an exercise that helped situate the projects we were working on in the context of scalability and how these projects can develop further into something else.

I really enjoyed doing this exercise because it helped me begin to dial in on how I want this project to develop afterwards. Right now I see this project existing as a tool, either as an online tool or a WhatsApp-based bot (or both, why not?) that people can interact with to learn. So it’s an educational platform maybe, but the question still remains as to how does that stay funded unless we figure out how to run a localized AI model that can do all the total energy calculations and feed it back in a conversational tone, which currently we’re using the models from OpenAI to do. It’s going to have an inherent cost, and that inherent cost is something that we are not going to be able to sustain paying for in the indefinite future.

So either it would have to be a tool that people would have to pay for to use, which seems counterintuitive, or we have to figure out how to run the models locally, or we open source it in a different way to encourage people to use it in a way that we hadn’t quite thought of or be able to run locally on their own machines.

But I thought the talk itself was really helpful because we learned how to situate these things in scalability and think about them. So there’s still a lot to think about, but a useful first step.

Closing Thought:

If we want something to change, we have to take the first steps to make those changes happen, as it otherwise wont happen by itself.

Understanding your emerging profiles and life after MDEF

Speaker: Krzysztof Wronski

Too Long Didn’t Read

Krzysztof Wronski shared his post-MDEF journey, focusing on how he applied transition design thinking through his practice, Tree Centred Design. He discussed projects like “Aerial Relocation Assistance” and “ProtestPilze,” which explore environmental issues and human-nature interactions. His work, integrating co-design and collaboration, highlights innovative approaches to ecological challenges and community engagement in design.

In his future talk, Krzysztof Wronski shared insights into his journey during and after MDEF. Krzysztof discussed how he has continued to apply the principles he learned at MDEF through methods like co-design, participation, and collaboration. He founded a practice called Tree Centred Design and has been involved in a residency at the Planet Ecology Research Lab in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he runs workshops aimed at exploring interactions and solutions involving humans and trees.

Krzysztof also highlighted his current projects, including “Aerial Relocation Assistance,” which focuses on assisted species migration, and “ProtestPilze” (Protest Mushrooms), a project developed during a research residency in Hollabrunn. This latter project addresses environmental degradation due to urban infrastructure, using Scobie (kombucha) to create an exhibition that features tools mimicking mushrooms. These tools, symbolizing the mushrooms, “talk” to each other and protest their historical treatment by humans. Through these projects, Krzysztof continues to explore and promote a deep connection between design, ecology, and collaborative practices, continuing to try and implement the techniques and methodologies he learned during the MDEF course.

I enjoyed listening to Krzysztof talk about his life after MDEF, he mentioned how MDEF doesn’t give you a super easy to understand and employable profile after you graduate, and it would require a lot of work to keep doing what we find interesting, but this is what I think is actaully our greatest strength. We are a completely hybrid form of Jack of all trades, we are able to dive headfirst into nearly any kind of industry, adapt to it’s environments and then proceed to mould and shape them to what we want to do within them. I think that’s a terrific skill and we just need to make sure we can really communicate the value in that to anyone who asks after the MDEF course is finished. That’s going to be very tough, and definitely feels very daunting, but then again, when was anything worthwhile ever truly easy? :D