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Alice Twemlow on trash, deep time and the Scottish Enlightenment geologist, James Hutton

Alice Twemlow has recently been interviewed for Design Exhibition Scotland.

"In my doctoral research I used the conception of sifting – the design critic as a sifter of trash to explore various critical engagements with design in the US and the UK since the 1950s. Bluntly speaking, you can see the critic as a gatekeeper of the landfill, consigning some products to its depths, salvaging others. I was studying the use of trash as metaphor. But I became more interested in the trash itself. I realised that we needed a closer critique of what happens when a designed entity becomes trash – the social behaviours, politics, infrastructures, mechanisms, and economies that shape and gather around its disposal. 

Too often our engagement with design focuses on only one moment in a product’s lifecycle — the moment when it is brand new, box-fresh, and suspended in the perpetual present tense. We need to address when its usefulness is over, when it gets thrown away. For, as we know, there is no “away”. 

It becomes part of the 1.3 billion tons of municipal solid waste we produce globally per year. And then it becomes part of our planet, a distinctive stratal component, a key geological indicator of the Anthropocene.

We needed to look beyond design, to other disciplines to provide models. In fact, trash becomes a fulcrum for many disciplines. I explored branches of archaeology, garbology, discard studies, eco-criticism, geophilosophy, and geobiology, among others. Geobiologists stress the importance of discussing different timescales beyond the merely human one, such as evolutionary, cosmic and geological time or ‘deep time’ as it is known. 

I named my lectorate at KABK ‘Design and the Deep Future’ to allow for exploration of plastiglomerates; space junk; and digital detritus, in courses like ‘Future Fossils: A Design Archaeology of the Here and Now’ and ‘Speaking Across Deep Time: Designing Markers for Nuclear Waste’."

Read the whole interview with Alice Twemlow on Design Exhibition Scotland.

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