This episode I’m delighted to be joined by Barbara Neves Alves.
Barbara was, for four years, a colleague of mine at the Master Institute of Visual Cultures, in St Joost School of Art and Design, where I teach. During that time, she was responsible for thesis supervision for Situated Design masters students. I really enjoyed working with her for all of that time, despite the fact that about half of it coincided with the global pandemic. As you’ll hear, she has a really interesting way of approaching theory, and practice, weaving them both into each other.
Barbara’s PhD was on the subject of Miscommunication: advancing the concept of Miscommunication to challenge the notion of ‘good communication’ as an objective of the field of communication design—communication is often failing to reach its intended audiences or outcomes. It expanded on miscommunication as concept and practice to demonstrate how social and cultural exchanges that produce error or misunderstanding can be provocative sites for developing new modes of communication design.
In this conversation, we talk about an article she wrote about her experiences at Occupy London years ago - there’s an odd echo of my conversation with Nelly Ben Hayoun last episode; we talk about her practice, teaching techniques, balancing the different modes of practice; and what she does if she’s stuck in a creative rut. As ever, there is a full transcript of this episode available, and the show notes have links to many of the things we’ve talked about.
This conversation was recorded way back in November 2021.
- Barbara’s website: https://barbaranevesalves.net
- Barbara’s article on Occupy: https://barbaranevesalves.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Miscommunicating_Publics_published_in_B.pdf
- Barbara’s PhD: https://www.academia.edu/30217879/Miscommunicating_and_design_Researching_miscommunication_as_a_proposition_for_designing_political_scenes
Books and articles mentioned
- Inventive Methods, edited by Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford: https://www.routledge.com/Inventive-Methods-The-Happening-of-the-Social/Lury-Wakeford/p/book/9780415721103
- Claudia Giannetti: https://zkm.de/en/person/claudia-giannetti
- Marcel-li Antunez (one of the creators of Fura del Baus): http://www.marceliantunez.com
- Ursula K LeGuin: The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction
- Kathy Acker: Against Ordinary Language: https://www.yvonnebuchheim.com/uploads/1/7/0/8/17088324/acker-kathy_the_language_of_the_body.pdf
- Barbara’s project around José Gil: Portugal Today: Fear of Existing. https://manifoldbooks.nl/ADiplomatsWalk.pdf
- Additional reading: Gordon Pask’s Conversation Theory discussed by Jon Goodbun and Ben Sweeting: https://journals.open.tudelft.nl/footprint/article/view/5668
- Manifold Books, Amsterdam: https://manifoldbooks.nl
I hope you enjoy this episode! For more information, full transcripts, and more episodes, please visit the show website at www.holdthespace.art
Creators and Guests
Barbara Neves Alves
I am an Amsterdam based designer and researcher. My focus is on teaching and lecturing, while developing self-initiated projects in design research, exploring hybrid modes of practice between design, theory and the political. I value research as a way of inhabiting practice and taking on a critical approach. An attentive merging of art and theory has been a core aspect in my work, both in education and artistic research. Current research interests and areas of work include ecologies of communication, politics of communication, noise, participatory methods, emerging modes of practice, socially responsible design, practice based research, decolonising practices, spectrality studies. In my PhD (Goldsmiths, University of London, 2016) I advanced the concept of Miscommunication to challenge the notion of ‘good communication’ as an objective of the field of communication design—communication is often failing to reach its intended audiences or outcomes. I expanded on miscommunication as concept and practice to demonstrate how social and cultural exchanges that produce error or misunderstanding can be provocative sites for developing new modes of communication design. Miscommunication is often regarded as the failure of communication. In other words, miscommunication interrupts, slows down, or creates misunderstandings. However, I showed that when miscommunication is acknowledged in design practices it can generate more situated contributions for designers, while creating the opportunity to explore exchanges that can foster new speculative design practices and new political formations. I looked at communication in its transformative capacity, understood as a key element in socially and politically engaged modes of practice. In this way, I contextualised and analysed communication design within social and participatory design, going beyond the literature in design, drawing on a diverse body of literature at the intersection of design, participation, the formation of publics and science and technology studies, to push the boundaries of Communication Design to rethink its role in creating political events and propose new imaginaries for participatory design practices. These were offered through a set of practical propositions for creating ‘political scenes,’ developed through three ‘figures of miscommunication,’ that of the parasite, the idiot and the diplomat, borrowing from the theoretical framework of Michel Serres and Isabelle Stengers, exploring noise that interferes with good communication, impasses to communication through apparent moments of nonsense and forms of exchange that take on misunderstanding. Articulating miscommunication through examples of works in art and design, participatory processes aiming at social change and, reflection on a set of exploratory practices in Lisbon, Maputo, London and Amsterdam. My background is in communication design, type design and typography (Type&Media, KABK). As a communication designer I have worked in a variety of settings and places, and also maintained a regular activity as a teacher in higher education. I have extensive experience with working community-based projects, and collaborating with others such as the collective Cascoland or Theatre of the Oppressed. I have initiated many workshops in design thinking and practice.