Levitas’ method captivated me because I have already engaged with each of her three approaches over the years. As an undergraduate, archaeology formed part of my anthropology degree study. I subsequently worked in a natural history museum — not in an archaeology department but in exhibition design, where I was able to help translate archaeological insights and artefacts into narrative exhibits. When I started creating and exhibiting my own work a few years later, archaeology faded into the background in favour of contemporary technology. It wasn’t until teaching at the Royal College of Art years later that I returned to it, thanks largely to a student trained in archaeology, William Fairbrother.
Regarding the architectural approach, having worked in exhibition design for years, I work frequently with architects. I have also taught in an architecture school (The Bartlett at University College London), focusing on speculative futures. I co-edited a book series along these lines (Brooker, Harriss and Walker 2019), and I work also with immersive media, which I interpret broadly in the context of spatial design.
Simultaneously, ontology has been a growing focus of my teaching as well as my artistic practice and research, thanks in large part to my PhD student, the philosopher Federico Campagna. His approach to metaphysics is to excavate our current ontology or 'reality system,’ and pose an alternative one. (This is discussed further in the section on Ontology.)
A frequent critique of speculative design, to which both Campagna and Schmid are connected, mirrors Barad’s critique of critique mentioned above: The field (itself situated within ‘critical design’) has often produced works of critique, but these can sometimes be seen as superficial, or do not pose any ‘constructive’ alternatives. Campagna and Schmid, however, both pose practical alternatives to the systems they critique. Speculative design has been increasingly applied in industry (which is ironic given its critical approach to the design field), and, more recently, in museums and heritage. According to Alexandra Bounia:
Museums have to navigate many different notions of time and ideas of temporality. The traditional temporal ideology of the museum is usually situated in the past — that needs to be preserved and transmitted — and the future — to which this past is destined to arrive. On the other hand, museums are created in the present, they are the products of their era and time and, in order to serve their purpose, they have to respond and serve contemporary social needs. (Galani, A. And Arrigoni 2020)
More relevant to this exposition, explicitly speculative artistic practice has also been applied in critical heritage (e.g. Marila 2020). In Rosalind Krauss’ (1979) notion of the ‘expanded field’, criticism should not be considered a discipline of its own, but as an apparatus or method for transdisciplinary interchange.
For my part, I do not characterise my work as speculative design, and I believe art has always been about speculation. More broadly, in my work and research I have increasingly shifted my focus away from space and more to time. This has been prompted largely by Schmid, and aligns with Levitas’ three utopian approaches. I try to view the future (or past) as a place or destination, and conversely view objects or places in temporal terms. This is a relational view, and as artistic research it characterises the journey as destination, shifting focus to process rather than product.
I have similarly conceptualised viewers' engagement with museums not as encounters with static objects, but as trails in which the objects take on a degree of agency (Walker 2010). According to philosopher Byung-Chul Han (2017: 69), a path which separates a place of departure with one of arrival can be as semantically rich as a place itself, and can be the goal itself.