Yesterday morning the Table of Contents arrived at the Mécanique. We sat down with Jon Stam of Commonplace Studio, one of the designers of this novel interface for the atelier LUMA digital archive.
— How was this project conceived?
Simon de Bakker and I were initially invited to visit Offprint and explore this concept of a bookshop-library. Eventually we developed a concept where the bookshop would become more like a library, allowing books to move around. We make it possible for people to collect books and provide table space to sit down and engage with the material. We took this concept further by designing a piece of furniture, a table with integrated antennas that would be able to read all the content that’s on the table. By placing one or more books on the table you can access a central database and receive information about, for example, other relevant titles and their locations. So really focusing on these dynamics of discovery and fluidity.
— And how about the connection to atelier LUMA?
atelier LUMA asked us if we could apply this concept to think about their archive of productions. All the designers are doing different experiments, and there’s material evidence of them, but we wanted to figure out how to connect it to the many immaterial productions. This includes, for example, the designers’ narratives about the objects, or aspects of their research process. These things are also the products of atelier LUMA, and should also be considered part of their collection for a long-lasting archive.
This is the motivation behind the Table of Contents. By placing an object from the physical archive close to you on the table, you can look at a visual narrative for basic context, or if you’re more engaged or looking for something specific, you can access an open database. The database contains everything that a designer, project manager, or outside contributor felt was an important piece of information to save, and then attached it to the objects. In the future, an eventual archivist can access not only public mediation records, but can also dig into the files. This is also useful for people who are new to the organization, to be able to quickly and easily access content they might need without having to ask each person who was involved.
— We can see the table now taking form in the space. How is it to be working with the physical manifestation of your ideas?
We’ve done other projects using the same technology, radio-frequency identification, but never on this scale, and never with tagged antennas as the objects on the table. What we’re now presenting is copper tape on a piece of plywood, with a computer and readers underneath and the antennas on top. The architects here encouraged us to increase the size of the table, and eventually there will be a table top with a map carved into it. But this is still a test, and everything is in a state that it can be revised.
This is a map of mainly the Camargue area, where the objects, materials, people, skills and knowledge are coming from. Our intention is to find a way where the map becomes a map only when you want it to, to design it subtly even though we’re dealing with many different objects and colours. We want to find out how to layer the experience, and create something that is not too visually confronting with so much information.
— What are you most excited about with this project?
One thing that inspires us is thinking about how human memory and computational memory come together. Our minds are spatially organized, we create hierarchies with physical things, and this requires that databases be constructed more intuitively. We can have this whole archive of content, and we can make it super efficient to search for things, but how do you uncover what you are really curious about? You don’t come to a vast digital archive knowing what you want to find. And the idea of then accessing something tangible that you consult when you want to know more, is a way in which you can learn more about the activities of atelier LUMA, whether it’s by interest or by serendipity.