Emile De Visscher

The environmental crisis demands a closer look at the origin of things. Today, we barely know the provenance of the objects we buy and use on a daily basis, nor how they are made and how much energy they require. We don’t have access to their “ecologies.” This lack of knowledge keeps the environmental issues at stake out of reach, it “de-responsibilisates” us. Recent design movements have developed a more open, small-scale and accessible vision of production processes. They seek to democratize, share and educate society, offering global understanding and greater participation in the making of things. Though crucial, these movements are limited by the fact that they only develop and present these new inventions as an alternative means. The thesis claims that the socialization of production provides a unique occasion to rethink our relationship to technologies and artefacts through narratives. This practice-based design research explores the conditions through which new manufacturing processes fully take into account the symbolic and aesthetic aspects that allow people to endorse the problems at stake, not only through use and efficiency, but also through sensation, imagination and wonder. This cultural approach to technologies has been named “Technophany” by Gilbert Simondon, in direct reference to Mircea Eliade’s “Hierophany,” which described the equally symbolic and efficiently driven relationship to tools and processes that many non-Western people have developed and kept alive. These “technophanic manufactures” seek to “make us love technicality again”, to become public things, “res publica” – able to enrol communities around the awareness of its uses and impacts. To do so, a design approach is necessary, in order to include technical, symbolic, aesthetic, scientific, political, commercial and practical ways of thinking. It seeks to translate hidden realities into accessible and participative experiences.