Our friends at the Extrapolation Factory are pleased to present their latest project, "Junk Mail Machine," which they recently developed during a week-long residency at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in Lower Manhattan. As with their previously-seen project 99¢ Futures," the participatory installation is an exercise in "imagining and visualizing diverse futures for New York City's commerce, through the eyes of individuals." Thus, the Junk Mail Machine is "an experimental futuring prototype which prompts visitors to envision new and augmented needs, as well as the businesses/services that might arise in response."
We put together the Junk Mail Machine proposal for the Storefront for Art and Architecture's residency call for their 'BEING' exhibition, and were surprised to be selected as their first residents. On Tuesday, October 15th, we squeezed our Brooklyn studio into a narrow, 60 sq. ft. corner of Storefront's energetic, open-air space. Over the course of five days in the Storefront, we developed the mechanics of the Junk Mail Machine experiment, with the pivoting walls opened to the multisensory backdrop of car horns, cigarette smoke and boisterous pedestrian conversation.
There are a few reasons our studio has focused on contexts like junk mail and 99¢ stores [Ed. Note: The latter won a 2013 Core77 Design Award in the Speculative category]:
- We think these type of scenarios hint at interesting aspects of cultures, the needs and desires that are often overlooked or ignored in many futuring exercises.
- Media like junk mail are also very familiar to people, and since we're experimenting with the accessibility of futuring—literally futuring on the sidewalk in the middle of downtown New York City—we've adopted a 'language' that we can all relate to.
- Fosta writes about futures being accretive spaces, and suggests that futurists "embrace legacy technologies when conceiving new ones." We agree, but have a specific reason for being aware of this intermingling of past and future artifacts. As we wrote in our Core77 Design Award text: "In a 99¢ store, you can find items as contemporary as an iPhone 5 case sitting next to a dated VHS labeling kit, down the aisle from a timeless box of toothpicks." We call this phenomenon the 'Time Slice,' an environment of artifacts that blur chronology. In this surreal scenario, it almost feels plausible for the Time Slice to creep forward into the future as well. When you see an advertisement for "Artisanal GMOs" in your daily stack of mail, there's a fantastic moment in which you might process this idea in a way that you never would in a more clinical one.
- Lastly, we're interested in the 'Moment of Evaluation.' When you hold a piece of junk mail in your hand, you read it, assess it and evaluate it in a split second. We hypothesize that viewers may extend this process of instinctual, instantaneous evaluation to the proposed future scenarios when displayed within these contexts. This manner of experiencing futuring is entirely different than watching a film, seeing an exhibition or reading a book or academic paper.
There are several concepts we loved, but we think the outcomes from these experiments are most powerful when viewed as a group—a range of futures that together present a landscape of what participants imagine the future could be. There is a common thread of playfulness in the outcomes, as well as some dystopian and fantastical bias, but some of these pieces of junk mail are surreal, yet eerily familiar.