Through the Looking Glass

written by Antonija Komazlić

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Referring to what we call experientia literata—experience recorded in writing, in his The New Organon (1620) Francis Bacon wrote that, until the present day, man has not retained experiences for long, he simply left them behind. It is only when experience takes the written form, that it is possible to obtain later usable knowledge from a heap of inarticulate facts and information. Only then it becomes what we today refer to as data, and can be simply structured in tables which behave as if they were alive. Thus already in 1620 we find what we may call a germ of the idea of a database, although in order to describe Bacon’s concept of a living table the term would not be used until the 1960s. Data, as we understand it today, is too monotonous, and too scattered, to be perceived by the senses, or for some meaning to be extracted from its raw form. However, it opens up space for new experience.


Since the second half of the 20th century, technology has had a decisive influence on society. In recent years, digital technologies have been changing our lives and culture in different spheres, including ways in which we communicate, create, learn, and share knowledge. If design is viewed as a product of culture, it is clear that it cannot remain independent of social change. In order to acquire more effective means, and a more objective view, it is important to understand the changes; to understand and comprehend what has already changed, as well as what is in the process of change.


Miro Roman and Luka Vlahović of the ROMAN VLAHOVIĆ Studio explore how architecture and design overlap with culture and information sciences. In their work they contemplate design change under the impact of information technology. They are exploring the potential of algorithmic design is today based on new parameters: design of ideas, narratives, procedures, populations, digital production, and new understanding of the materiality. When speaking about the position of design today, Dejan Kršić emphasizes that the modernist idea of design, as a scientifically based process, does not correspond to present-day postmodern environment. The structural problem of design is emphasizing authorship, the individual, and the creation, while neglecting the collective, the social aspect and, perhaps most importantly, the consumption as the production of meaning. He sees contemporary design as an area which deconstructs the distinction between science and art. The ROMAN VLAHOVIĆ duo deems it necessary to go beyond the ideological binary of science versus culture. Thus, they explore the possibilities for an alternative understanding of design, by observing and playing with culture by means of digital design strategies. Nicolas Bourriaud, a curator and an art critic, argues that novelty is no longer a criterion. He concludes that the artwork does not need to create an imaginary or utopian reality, but to establish the modes of existence and models of action within the existing reality, regardless of the criterion.[1] Thus, ROMAN VLAHOVIĆ refuse to design a unique and specific ideal object. The focus of current designs, they argue, is on designing an idea—the emphasis in the design process is on the conceptualization, on the interaction between the components, the systems and the processes which in turn generates new objects. However, Kršić concludes that it is unusual that most of present-day design is still based on the relation form–content–shaping. Design is still partially perceived as a practice, while fundamental knowledge and understanding of earlier practices are overlooked – in order to use, recontextualize, or refute certain motives and methodologies.


ROMAN VLAHOVIĆ play with postmodern heritage of collage, deconstruction and quoatations of cultural references through the use of algorithmic design, but avoid genericness. They wish to explore how to treat objects after they have taken on abstract modular form, and their phenomenal materiality had been transformed into a set of data. What are the potentials of data-driven design? Design thus becomes an abstract process of defining the algorithm, and the result is a population of objects that re-encode cultural and historical spatiotemporal relations. It involves creation and modification of rules and systems which generate objects whose design is autonomous. A designer does not manipulate the object he deals with directly; instead he manipulates the mechanism that generates the object. The product depends on the interaction between the given system and the rules. It is with this approach that ROMAN VLAHOVIĆ designed the population of 3D printed generic jewelry and the LACEscape table. Their design system allows for the possibility of designing a whole population of objects of unlimited diversity, and the possibility of designing in any material. While, outside the data-driven design, the construction of an object depends on the choice of material, designing by the use of generative systems enables the shaping of form by intellectual control exclusively. While traditional jewellery design is characterized by uniqueness, hand-craft and noble materials, contemporary jewellery making relies on mass production and synthetic materials. When designing the algorithm, they design a mechanism; when working in it, they work in the virtual populations of objects. The production process ends with the 3D print which renders the objects into reality.


In their practice ROMAN VLAHOVIĆ reject a modernist contrast of the modern and the vernacular, in the digital base they collect centuries of experience of intangible heritage of lace making. The LACEscape Table project deconstructs the traditional elements of lace; it combines them in the creation of an infinite, digitally woven landscape: the lacework originating sometimes from Hvar, sometimes from Pag or Lepoglava. The formal frame of the table is fixed, the form is not. In order to achieve this task, they have designed three small digital machines: one creating infinite lace landscapes, one stylizing them, and the third – machine for digital origami – giving them shape. When the design process is completed, the digital production takes place: the robots – the ones for cutting and bending – convert the digital image into a real table. The data based design only partially relies on material and formal aspects. It is largely dependent on the narrative describing the object, that is, on its semantic role. ROMAN VLAHOVIĆ believe that the advantage of process design is its ability to partially gather global knowledge, and to effectively use it later. Such understanding of design conforms to what Kršić advocates when he says that design should be perceived as a signifying, discursive practice which opens up space for communication between science and art. The procedure used by ROMAN VLAHOVIĆ complies with methods used in contemporary art: the sampling of images and information, the recycling of earlier forms, the shaping of collective identities. Bourriaud argues that, instead of recognizing the conceptual mastery through traditional autonomy of an object of art, it can be understood as the inclusion of a singular object in the continuum of existential mechanism.[2] That is exactly what opens up space for re-articulation, and for the use of accumulated experiences in the ever-varying conditions.


[1] Bourriaud, N. (2013). Relational Aesthetics; Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the Modern World. Zagreb: Museum of Contemporary Art.


[2] Ibid.