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The role of artefacts in building ecological narratives effect

Liu Gongjie

3 Aug 2023

This project is an important node, which means shifting from the original perspective of building material narratives and focusing on technology criticism to the research and practice based on the coexistence of multiple species. The role of current artefacts in ecological narratives.


Starting from the spring of 2023, I started a new practice plan. We hope to use the theoretical system of speculative design to construct an ecological narrative issue. In this way, we explore the problems of nature deficiencies faced by people in contemporary life. In the initial research, we saw that nature deficiency disorder affects people in many ways. Psychologically, it is mainly palpitations, depression, restlessness, etc. It will also bring about decreased concentration, malaise, and various adverse reactions on the body. The impact of nature deficiency disorder is actually more obvious and closer to our lives than most of the public thinks.Nature deficiency disorder manifests itself in the following ways:

The dislocation of the relationship between man and ecology

The life of modernity has brought a mechanistic world concept and promoted the world to be disenchanted. This paradigm has brought about a cognitive illusion, which not only puts humans and ecosystems in a binary opposition situation, but also brings about the separation of humans and ecosystems. And turn to a highly institutionalized and unsustainable way of life.

Our lack of embodied sensory experience of ecosystems

The main reason is the rapid modernization of life, our knowledge of nature is rapidly being lost compared to our parents' generation, although we still have a lot of opportunities to touch green spaces (parks/wilderness) but we only retain a very superficial knowledge of trees, shrubs, Grass, fungus but no more details beyond that. The lack of sensory experience between generations is currently intensified. Many teenagers born in the 2010s even think that everyday vegetables such as cabbage grow from supermarkets. We're less and less aware of how ecosystems work, and even how our food is produced is fraught with mystery...

So in this project we base ourselves on a practice-oriented approach and we want to build ecological narratives.It is intended to strengthen the extensive connection between humans and nature and improve human understanding of ecosystems. A theoretical system that is easy to speculatively designed. In this creation, we focus on defamiliarization and extremeization, and build ecological narratives based on artefacts.


In this project, we constructed an extreme parallel world, where people live in a highly artificial environment, lack the experience of perceiving nature, and suffer from the devastation caused by the lack of nature. In this way, we can make the topic more simple and direct, and it also helps guide the audience to jump out of the clichés in daily life experience, so that they can focus more on critical thinking about the topic.


The defamiliarization approach aims to extract artifacts from everyday situations, by removing details and performing symbolic processing. Allow the audience to engage in broader thinking. In this creation, we created the following products.

1. Vision-based plant search device

In the constructed world view, it aims to help the protagonists search for the plants they want, and it is highlighted in the picture.

2. Olfactory-based diffusion device

A device based on the principle of distillation and extraction, which can flexibly extract beneficial substances in the environment and convert them into inhalable gases through diffusion equipment in a small chamber. The device is usually used in a fixed location and close to a water source

3. Auditory-based interactive device

Sounds beyond human detection frequencies can be captured in a more sensitive manner, or sounds can be collected and passed through the control device for editing and transformation. It can also convert the original sound frequency and emit it through a specific frequency. Usually used with a keyboard.

4. Tactile-based acquisition device

A device that can achieve fine collection and guide the user to touch the sample.

5. Containers for holding

A container that can store samples for a short period of time, with constant temperature and humidity isolation. It has the ability to isolate the exchange of internal and external media. The dark jars are additionally shielded from certain bands of radiation, while the large boxes are used to hold all the devices.

These devices are not really functional, but exist as narrative props. Their similar characteristics are different from the products in the real world. And lacks enough details. And exist in a prototype way. This kind of processing allows the public to freely project their life experience, and put these products into their own life situations for thinking.In this project we also explore how these artefacts function in ecological narratives:

Traces and the establishment of material signs

For example, the burning traces caused by the flame on the olfactory device, such as the scratches and paint peeling off of the box/keyboard during long-term scratching and use, and the blurring of the label on the surface of the storage tank due to repeated use. These traces help to establish new material symbols and extend the symbols presented by material media.

Metaphor and Material Agency

A series of artefacts created in this project employ defamiliarization techniques that will help the observer project new perceptions from the familiar into the unfamiliar experience. These artifacts do not refer to a specific product but a class of products. By planting them into narrative and familiar spaces. They will serve as material anchors, enhancing the perception of the words and symbols behind the material in memorable and lasting ways.

Embodied Multisensory Interaction

In this project we created a story with a logical structure that integrates material actions scattered across time and space. More importantly, it encompasses the responses, both psychological and physical, that the human subject produces during use and interaction with material agents. These responses can be manifested and documented through behaviour. The audience can enter the narrative field by watching or personally participating. Authentic interaction with practical and material agents. Gain new embodied sensory experience and integrate multiple experiences of mind and body. Complete the conceptual integration of material symbols.

How to evaluate these effects

Obviously, they are almost multi-sensory perceptual experiences from some subjective point of view. And with great individual differences, we can hardly evaluate them from a quantitative/analytical perspective. But I think it's a beneficial practice that promotes world enchantment. In the future, I will establish a connection and exhibit this project with public art galleries/museums. It allows us to see the entanglement of humans and ecosystems, and welcome back the way of relying on the senses to establish connections with the world. It can provide an opportunity for the public to think, if only to start thinking. That's all very constructive.

Personal meaning

This project is an important node, which means shifting from the original perspective of building material narratives and focusing on technology criticism to the research and practice based on the coexistence of multiple species. The role of current artefacts in ecological narratives. My work is still in a very early stage. This topic will then be explored through a series of practices. But I still have a strong interest in some subdivisions. For example, knowledge construction involving multiple species, and collaborative creation involving multiple species. If there is some opportunity to return to the original environment. I will start my practice from the perspective of some ecological regionalism.

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