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Responding to the Gesture of Ubiquity State of the Field




Extended Perception

48 52 54

Visible / Invisible Electro-Parasite

Subverting the Media

56 62 70


Re-Active Space



The Hitchcockian Object


The McGuffin



Physical Convergence


The Object of Exchange The Object Phi







The research for this thesis was conducted during one year, starting in the summer of 2009 and concluding on the month of May of 2010. The work was developed as part of the Graduate Program of Design at the California College of the Arts.

I specially want to thank my main advisor, Maria McVarish, for all of her support; without it this work could not have been possible. With her advice, patience and determination we were able to create a methodology that incorporates theoretical thinking into critical design practice. I also want to acknowledge the unconditional support from the faculty team at CCA; my advisor Aura Oslapas, that always had an acute eye for the development of the design of this project. Leslie Carol Roberts who patiently allowed me to experiment and take risks with my writing, and Brenda Laurel who challenged me everyday to become a better designer. A lot of the work was developed during the fall semester of 2009 at the interdisciplinary studio of Applied Futurism with the instruction of Scott Nazarian and Nick de la Mare. My advisor Nikolai Cornell broadened my perception of the practice of design. He was always there to lend me a hand on the discussion and development of this thesis work. The Hermeneutic Object (A Short Film) was developed with the help of my friends and extraordinary poets (and actors) Joshua Edwards and


Lynn Xu. Chrissie Bradley, program manager of the Graduate Fine Art program also collaborated in the creation of this film.

The unconditional love of my parents, Gustavo Fricke and Amparo Labastida, gave me the strength to be far from Mexico, my home, and helped me complete this work. My brother, Federico Fricke, helped me understand the electronic world, inspiring me with his passion and vision. I also want to thank my brother Guillermo Fricke for challenging me to think critically. A special thanks to Michael Beckwith and Liliana Castellanos for all their time and passion in supporting Blackbox in Oaxaca, Mexico. Also Kaz Nakanishi, Tomo Saito, and Ed Ng for sharing their knowledge and passion for the design profession. All my classmates that shared with me this experience that I will never forget.

And finally a huge and infinite thank you to the one that was there with me everyday, through the good and the bad, always loving, patient and supportive. She acted in the short film, edited this work and critiqued every idea with interest and care. I dedicate all my work to the love of my life, Katherine M. Pope.


As I write this I realize that I am communicating with you through language. I am tapping onto my keyboard (input) creating symbols that block the light coming out of my screen (output). My ideas are mediated through these symbols called letters that create words. This form of communication, right now, is made possible by technology. Perhaps we don’t think about letters and words this way. Maybe we don’t think of designed objects (computers) as mediators of language, but before the 80s when computers were not available at home we used to communicate differently.

Telecommunication has changed the way we interact with each other– allowing us, to see and hear each other on screen while being on opposite sides of the planet. My concern resides in the designed object that mediates our connection. In my thesis, I have attempted to address the following question:

If technological mediation creates behaviors, invisibly immersed within objects, can these objects be reconceived in such a way that the concealed behaviors are revealed instead?

I’m interested in making evident, that is “seeing,” these behaviors. The point is to engage in a dialogue with readers and viewers of my work, with the hope of elucidating an unseen world that holds us in its embrace.


I believe through these explorations into “seeing� we can begin to consider object design, specifically Industrial / Product Design, through a fresh lens. Perhaps we can say that: The Hermeneutic Object uses the aesthetic dimension of design as a tool for affective communication, or the formal expression of the object that communicates deeper layers of meaning. My aspirations for this Hermeneutic Object include that it will enable designers to: - Evidence hidden psychological and social mechanisms embedded within products. - Make visible the technological mediation that we experience with products. - Raise awareness and spur critical analysis.

The Hermeneutic Object is a procedural object that creates a space for reflection to reconsider the way we design, produce and consume objects.


The diagram is layered with respect to the interaction between the object and the resulting behavior. Interaction with technology is mediated through objects. Immersed within our objects there are hidden tools that respond to a higher social or cultural mechanism. These tools, inadvertently, choreograph our behaviors.

1 “Nothing, I Guess”: The Hertzian Space

Objects not only “dematerialize” into software in response to miniaturization and replacement by services, but literally dematerialize into radiation. All electronic products are hybrids of radiation and matter. 4 There is a world that we cannot see. It exists in parallel to our material world as a Digital Environment. Our electronic objects and the networks that enable them create this environment. The Electro Magnetic spectrum is measured in Hertz (Hz). To fully appreciate the Digital Environment in which we reside, we must first carry our minds back to gear-tangled laboratories of 19th century scientists, and observe the physicist Heinrich Hertz wrestling with ideas of electric waves. Hertz was the first to demonstrate the existence of electromagnetic waves by building an apparatus that produced and detected microwaves in the UHF region.

Hertz chipped away in his laboratories at ideas of electromagnetism, one of the four fundamental interactions of nature. Electromagnetism is best described as the force that causes interaction between electrically charged particles. His name has been used since 1930 as the measurement standard of the electro magnetic spectrum. You see it each day most likely as the terms “megahertz” or “gigahertz.”

Three-Dimensional visualization of the EMF that my laptop emits. Detecting Electro-magnetic fields (2010)


“Nothing, I Guess” : The Hertzian Space



In the introduction to Hertz’ book, Electric Waves: Being researches on the propagation of electric action with finite velocity through space 5, Lord Kelvin (Knighted by Queen Victory for his work on thermodynamics and the development of the electric telegraph) quotes Hertz, “…it is a fascinating idea that the processes in air which we have been investigating, represent to us on a million-fold larger scale the same processes that go on in the neighborhood of a Fresnel mirror or between the glass plates used for exhibiting Newton’s rings.” It is interesting to note that Hertz’ experiments, which contributed to later developments such as radio and radar, did not strike their creator as “practical.” Hertz, when asked about his finding – radio waves could be transmitted through different materials and were reflected by others – had this to say about the ramifications of this discovery: “Nothing, I guess.” 6 Sound, and later image, travel via wave. Music, radio, and television: all are transmitted in waves and all are measured in hertz. The range in which we can experience sound starts at 12 Hz and ends at 2200 Hz. The sound that a neon light produces is 60 Hz.

Sound travels from my vocal chords, through my mouth, and the waves roll outwards, bent into three-dimensionality. As the saying goes, if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? An answer of course is no. Sound needs to be heard. No listener and the waves roll on, fragments, silenced by the absence of a receiver of their vibration. Mobile phones emit microwaves, electromagnetic waves ranging in length from one millimeter to one meter, with frequencies from 300 MHz to 300 GHz. When you place a call, an antenna picks up the signal. This antenna is connected to other antennas in the area. The area that is able to pick up the signal is called cell.

“Nothing, I Guess� : The Hertzian Space

The configuration of the electromagnetic field around a dipole, as calculated by Heinrich Hertz.



The carrier divides up the city into cells. Each cell is typically spaced 10 square miles apart. Traversing the landscape in your pocket, your mobile phone shifts from cell to cell, finding signals while you think about other things.

As I write this, I sit at my laptop in my house in San Francisco. The computer has a wireless Internet connection so I can move my device from the dining room to the living room to the bedroom without wires holding me to a location. The laptop signals the router, enabled by my provider. The provider is connected to a larger network and so on. This enables me to be connected with everyone who has access to the Internet. Nowadays, in “wired” cities like San Francisco, it is easy to pick up on a wireless network almost everywhere.

What does this look like? Nothing I guess, except, perhaps, a list of networks you may be invited to “join” from any location where your phone or device looks for connectivity: HeadPig. 2WIRE2663. Zolla. MonkeyLair. DanWireless: All given as options for networks I might want to “join” at 8:30 am this morning. There is a constant flow of communication and data transfer we cannot see but on which we rely to remain present in these times, just as the heart is an involuntary muscle that beats with no conscious trigger. And yet we know that there is a dark side to the human flesh being pressed against electronic devices; it is bombarded by electromagnetic waves.

The Environmental Working Group 7 recently posted research online that documents the amount of radiation produced by different models of mobile phones. Each device is ranked according to the radiation that it produces.


a. WiFi read from the MFA Design Studio at CCA (2010) b. Picture from WiFi Camera (


The World Health Organization (WHO) looks at these issues as well, but so far has reached no conclusions about the possible effects that this radiation has on our bodies. The WHO statement begins dispassionately at first (or suggests a certain madness to these fears): Some members of the public have attributed a diffuse collection of symptoms to low levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields at home.

Yet they proceed to name the symptoms:

Reported symptoms include headaches, anxiety, suicide and depression, nausea, fatigue and loss of libido.

While quickly adding: To date,

Which many, including myself will find a bit menacing, before deciding to rather dismissively fall back on “science:� Scientific evidence does not support a link between these symptoms and exposure to electromagnetic fields. Research on this subject is difficult because many other subjective responses may be involved, apart from direct effects of fields themselves.

Yet they end on an almost sci-fi note:

More studies are continuing on the subject. 8

“Nothing, I Guess” : The Hertzian Space

Clockwise, begining at the top: 1, 2, World Health Organization, EMF http:// 3, Thermographic image test, 4, SF Gate, news/17224157_1_cell-phone-sar-level-phone-retailers, 5, 6, Environmental Working Group,


2 INDUSTRIAL DESIGN Responding to the Gesture of Ubiquity

Production based on craftsmanship came to an inevitable end with the arrival of mechanical reproduction in the first quarter of the 19th century. The point of no return was symbolized by the modular construction of the Crystal Palace for the International Exhibition in 1851. Electrical products leapt from dream-state to objects present in the everyday.

In 1908, Ford’s brilliant assembly line marked a new phase where technical problems seemed to be surpassed by a demand for a cultural and economic infrastructure that could support this mass production.9 Industrial Design emerged within this period, serving as a balancing force that considered the relation between humans and machines, or humans and objects.

Not the least among Industrial Design’s aspiration is the grand charge: Of humanizing the consequences of modern, mechanical production.

Design became a place to rally for social movements concerned with the consequences of industrial production. People joined together to question and redefine the purpose of design. Among the most prominent were William Morris and Henry van de Velde, who opposed mechanical rationalization and supported the aesthetic dimension 10 of the object.


Top: Factory Worker, Manchester 1909. Bottom: Factory Worker, China 2009.


Yet within this new creative frame, many others felt a new creative freedom. The great minds who formed the school and aesthetic called Bauhaus early on proved there were advantages to a practice based on balancing aesthetics and production constraints. In the U.S. designers, including Charles and Ray Eames, pushed technological advancement in order to conceive new and more functional designs. People came to see mechanized production as a force of good, associated with improvement, and with times changing for the better. As World War II ended and offered new materials and factories for use – not as tools of conflict but as tools of consumerism, – machines proliferated in the home. World economies expanded and the Second Machine Age began, marked by a new adoption and dependence on machines inside the home.

By the 1980s, a new paradigm emerged as machinery was replaced by electronics enabling us to interact directly with the machine’s functionality (to every input there is an output). Furthermore, telecommunications continued to shape how we interact. Design aesthetic response to advancing technology became latent; indeed perhaps more concerned in designing only the product’s outer shell and thus enabling a better anthropometric relation with the enduser. The microprocessor and the technologies it enables have become deeply embedded in our daily life. We communicate through cell phones, carry on business negotiations through the Internet, and our long-distance relationships are facilitated by videophones.


One of the biggest impacts of the iPhone is its capability of convergence. Apple shares the OS of the iPhone with anyone that wants to develop a new application. This has resulted in one of the biggest revolutions of customization in a product.

State of the Field

Design history is littered with aesthetic movements meant to revolutionize how we use, understand and relate to objects in our everyday lives. These movements inspired change within their generations. Through their critical nature and aesthetic dimensions they were able to challenge design’s place in society and culture.

ANTI DESIGN Students, intellectuals and workers questioned the authoritarian and economic systems at the end of the 1960s. In Italy these ideals where fostered in a movement known as “anti-design.”

Two groups preoccupied with challenging the status quo in architecture emerged in Florence in 1966. Archizoom conceived of design as being “ritualistic and anthropocentric,” while Superstudio sought to “exorcise formal poverty by reaffirming the universal value of the idea of architecture.” 11 Their work used rendering and representational techniques that allowed us to visualize the future object. Other key players of this movement were Group 9999, UFO Group, Gruppo Strum, Gaetano Pesce, Ugo La Pietra and Ettore Sottsass. The movement’s most powerful stance was presented in New York at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in1972. Their show was called: Environments and Counter-Environments: Experimental Media in Italy: The New Domestic Landscape.

Industrial Design

Clockwise, begining at the top: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, Superstudio (Environments and Counter Experimental Media in Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, MoMA, 1972) 4, Gruppo 9999 (Environments and Counter Experimental Media in Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, MoMA, 1972)



They incorporated a variety of media to represent a future scenario and challenge the relationship that we have with our environment. Some of their work depicts the machine as an element of the everyday, ubiquitous and physical in different scales. Mechanical looking objects, super-imposed on images of natural environments, create a tension between the organic and the artificial. This tension provokes us to analyze our willing co-habitation with a manufactured landscape.


SCIENCE FICTION IN FILM Film allows for the construction of unexpected and imaginary worlds. Within these worlds we are able to experience a created / designed narrative. Science fiction explores future scenarios that push the boundaries of our imagination. Within these scenarios, design plays different roles that enable the story. Film allows for the projection of the imaginary and for the representation of possibilities of a future world to come.

In Chris Marker’s film/roman La Jetée (1962), we are presented to different moments in time. We travel through one man’s memories. The world, as we know it, comes to an end. Our hero is sent, in time travel, to the past and then to the future, looking for an alternative to the destroyed present, where everyone is forced to live underground. Different moments in time are characterized by the use of designed objects that inhabit this world. In La Jeteé the objects appear as prosthetics that enable visibility, some other times we are not sure on the exact function of the object, but it is always present. The man travels through time while being connected to a strange device. The objects allow for the story to develop, populating this imaginary world.

In Tron (Steven Lisberger/1982), hacker Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is pulled into a videogame machine. The story develops in an environment created by software code and the connections that it enables. The rules within this world are different from ours, they are artificial and logical. The artificial world and the characters living within create an interesting dialog between the real and the artificial.

The boundaries between the natural and the synthetic are also analyzed in films like Blade-Runner (Ridley Scott/1982) and Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Shinya Tsukamoto/1989). In the latter, a cyber-punk cult film, the main character suffers a metamorphosis into a machine-like humanoid. We are presented with a slow transformation, where

State of the Field

Screen-shots from Chris Marker’s film / roman La Jetée (1962)



State of the Field

bolts and cables slowly erupt from within his body; much like Kafka’s Metamorphosis. In Blade Runner we are presented with fully emotional and capable synthetic humanoids. Jean-Luc Godard narrates the story of the inhabitants of a city that is co-dependent on the synthetic environment produced by machines. In Alphaville, Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), disables the machine that produces this environment, affecting the behavior of the citizens of this city. They are unable to function, like fish out of water. Godard raises the question on our co-dependency with our made world. Everyday, our relationships are increasingly mediated by our electronic objects. Design enables technology to be both ubiquitous and transportable. If we desired, we could have a device that allowed us to connect to the Web almost everywhere. As technology advances, design responsibility towards the adaptation of these advancements into our daily life increases. Film offers a key, critical platform that allows for the discussion of this subject matter.


HYPERMODERNITY Early in his career, Daniel Weil challenged the concept that product design serves to create the “wrapping� of technology. By making visible the mechanisms of a radio (Radio in a Bag, 1983) he makes us aware of the coherent assembly of its electronic components. The translucency of the bag represents visibility, and that allows us to see the beauty and the complexity of its inner workings.

Likewise, throughout his work, Philippe Ramette questions the way we perceive our environment. His objects enable contemplation: they challenge our perception and make us aware by offering a different point of view. His piece Object with Which to See the World in Detail creates an object mediating between the user and the environment in a poetic way.

State of the Field

1. Daniel Weil, Radio in a Bag (1982) 2. Philippe Ramette, Object with Which to See the World in Detail (1990)



RE-DEFINING DESIGN The RCA Interaction Department By challenging the status quo of the discipline, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby have strengthened the idea that design can serve as a critical tool. Dunne says, “These days we are more concerned with the sense of what it means to be human and how these ideas manifest themselves, or don’t, in large systems.” Dunne and Raby’s production and research is exhaustive. Dunne heads the Department of Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art, London. A number of prolific designers have graduated from that program, bringing with them a critical lens and strong commentary in the work they develop. They were first concerned with making evident the artifice of our environment. In Hertzian Tales, Dunne lays the conceptual foundation for the development of a series of iterations that analyze our behavior when interacting with our electromagnetic-filled environment 12. In their later work, Dunne and Raby develop a series of robots that depend as much on us as we on them. Their analysis challenged our understanding of the relationship that we have with technology and questioned how we envision future behaviors.

Work from RCA’s Design Interactions department ranges from development of invented utopias to the development of work allowing us to contemplate a world where synthetic biology will increasingly be part of our lives.

State of the Field

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, Technological Dreams Series 1: No. 1, Robots (2007)


Noam Toran uses film to analyze the relationship between human and object. Film Stills from Desire Management (2006)



Hermeneutic // to interpret, interpreter. Object // Tangible thing, something perceived or presented to the senses - to present, oppose. 13

The Hermeneutic Object responds to and challenges us to re-think the way in which we design and incorporate technology into our everyday lives. I started my project by creating experimental objects, hermeneutic objects, which allowed me to start questioning the human-machinedigital ecology relationship.


This project, which was based on a three-dimensional projection, allowed for the visualization of what it would be like to actually perceive the EMF that exists in our surrounding environment.

The three-dimensional model of an imagined wireless network was developed using two different cameras within a 3D modeling software. The two videos were layered and arranged to create the 3D projection. In parallel, a dozen laser-cut 3D glasses were made for my peers and faculty, which used photographic filters (magenta and cyan) and cardboard. The project concluded with the screening of the 3D video on a translucent screen, enabling it to be viewed from any side of the room thus allowing a dozen people to experience this exercise together.

The image projected was develop in 3D Studio Max. I created a polygonal mesh and two cameras that recorded the animation. Then I placed the two videos into After Effects, where I displaced the color values.


Hermeneutic Objects

EXTENDED PERCEPTION Another central question during the project continued to occupy my mind: How can a higher resolution of my memories be enabled?

Photography creates memories of a specific moment or person in our history. With this as inspiration I designed a device that allows for the perception of a distant space in a virtual representation. It is based on perspective drawing (that later inspired virtual-reality devices). The distance between our eyes is what makes us perceive volume and light differently. Stereoscopic photography has a higher resolution, allowing us to see a three dimensional representation of this memory. What will happen if we use video into a stereoscopic viewer? 

Two videos were recorded around San Francisco using two different cameras at the same time, attached to each other, allowing the lenses to be apart, at approximately the same distance that we have between our eyes (around two and a half inches). Each video was uploaded into a different display. In this case I used two iPod Touch displays. The result is a stereoscopic video, in movement and with sound. My interest was to make a representation of a specific moment in time and space and review it, as a memory, with the highest fidelity that I could with the technology at hand.

Industrial Design objects serve to mediate social relations. For instance, when we have a conversation within the frame of a videoconference, the object serves as an interloper and enabler, making a certain sort of communication possible. Trends indicate that there is a continuous effort to improve the resolution of these medium, some even indicate the development of a three-dimensional display to accomplish this. Think of Princess Leia in Star Wars, crying out for help as a miniaturized hologram. How does this affect the way in which we will relate to each other in a near future?

The first video that I made for the device was shot outside a MUNI station. I recorded the passage of the train in homage to the first The Lumière Brothers’ film: Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895)


Hermeneutic Objects

ELECTRO-PARASITE Parasitism is a type of symbiotic relationship between organisms of different species where one organism, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the host. The parasite copies the characteristics of its host, imitating its primary behavior. The host in my design exercise is part of a bigger system: for example a radio. It transmits a signal from a station; thus it is connected and forms part of a bigger system. A cellphone, a television or a computer connected to the Internet behaves similarly. In a word, every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which is connected, but at the same time is also a flow itself, or the production of a flow, in relation to the machine connected to it. This is the law of production of production. Deleuze and Guattari 14

The law of production is evidence by creating a parasitic relationship between the analog object, in this case the radio, and its parasite: the digital object. The digital parasite uses a microcontroller and code that instructs it to record for five seconds and then play that recording back, creating an extra layer of sound, noisy and unrecognizable. This reinforces the parasitic relationship.

I wanted to explore two different layers of visibility; the first pays homage to Daniel Weil, by taking apart an old radio and arranging its components in a clear box. The second one deals with the transmission of sound.


Hermeneutic Objects

SUBVERTING THE MEDIA The technological plane is an abstraction: In ordinary life we are practically unconscious of the technological reality of objects. Yet this abstraction is profoundly real: it is what governs all radical transformations of our environment…it is starting from this language, from this consistency of the technical model, that we can reach an understanding of what happens to objects by virtue of their being produced and consumed, possessed and personalized. Jean Baudrillard

15 For the development of this project I chose to work with analog Televisions, now defunct, extinct, an object that implies a relationship where the transmission of a message is fed to a non-respondent receiver. 
How can we challenge this relationship? Imagine if we could create a twoway communication with this object. How would it look? What does this relationship imply? With these questions, I started exploring the aesthetic dimension of TV within a temporal context. 
 In this exercise the TV was fed with its own signal. This was enabled with a camera that is recording the screen and feeding it back into the object. It results in an infinite loop; within this constant there are changes. These changes are expressed with variations in color and shape. This is am expression of time deployment, latency and feedback within the object. It allows us to reflect on the relationship that we have with this one-way communication device.

February 17 2010 marked the in which the analog television signal was substituted by the latter digital signal. I found these televisions on the streets and decided to used them for my exercise.


Hermeneutic Objects

PHYSICAL CONVERGENCE How can we facilitate a better communication with the technology that we have at hand? Can we enable the user to regulate their behavior through the object?

One of the biggest impacts of the iPhone is its capability for convergence. Convergence refers to the accumulation of different technologies within a single object. Apple shares the OS of the iPhone with anyone who wants to develop a new application. This has resulted in one of the biggest revolutions in product customization. There are more than 65,000 “apps” and developers are submitting over 8,000 new ones every week. Doesn’t the software of the device restrict these applications? This exercise analyzes the possible effects of a functional, physical convergence. This means that each possible function will be housed within a different module. This allows for the creation of a physical language manifested in the object. It also permits the user to customize the object to his or her specific needs. A photographer could buy the module with the powerful camera, while someone will prefer to have an mp3 player, or both. It also allows for the physical separation of the elements enabling new functionalities, for example, the camera could be in one location and the main interface in another, granting the user to be “present” in two spaces at the same time. What are the behavioral effects and affects of digital and physical convergence?

This exercise was inspired in the proliferation of new cell-phones. I was feeling that there were no real improvements on the newer designs. I apply my theoretical methodology and came up with this idea.


Hermeneutic Objects

RE-ACTIVE SPACE Our devices, such as our cell-phones, connect to different networks, invisible, within our environment. There is a delay within this “connection�, where the transmission and the reception of the signal are affected. In this exercise we are able to experience the latency within a created system that replicates this type of communication. A camera is placed in front of the projector, creating a feedback loop. There is a space to walk between the camera and the screen, allowing us to be captured within this loop. Every movement is recorded and fed back to the projector; this takes time, allowing us to visualize the latency. Everything seems to slow down, as you track your movement.

As technology advances and becomes more ubiquitous, our spaces will transform and become part digital. How will we react to this? How will this affect us?

I used a webcam connected to my computer run through Processing. I used Daniel Shiffman library:


RE-ACTIVE OBJECT The following exercise proves the existence of EMF produced by our electronic products.

I found a detector online developed by Aaron Alai 16 that visualizes the intensity of the EMF through an LED light. The device works like a radio. It uses an Arduino, a microcontroller that employs software into hardware prototyping. Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators. 17 The Arduino was developed in Italy by a couple of software engineers. It has come to revolutionize open source design. The Arduino is the conjunction of a physical microcontroller and the software that controls it. The software gives you the liberty to develop programs with code that create communication (input / output) between sensors, displays, speakers and other media. On the opposite page we can see the code for the EMF arduino detector.

In the case of this detector, the input is an antenna created with a piece of wire connected to a high-value resistor. The antenna is connected to


int inPin = 5; // analog 5 int val = 0; // where to store info from analog 5 int pin9 = 9; // output of red led int pin10 = 10; int pin11 = 11; int pin8 = 8; void setup() {

Serial.begin(9600); }

void loop() {

val = analogRead(inPin); //assigns them to val if(val >= 1){

// reads in the values from analog 5 and


// use output to aid in calibrating

val = constrain(val, 1, 100); // mess with these values val = map(val, 1, 100, 1, 255); // to change the response distance of the device analogWrite(pin9, val); analogWrite(pin10, val); analogWrite(pin11, val); analogWrite(pin8, val); } else{ // analogWrite(pin11, val); Turns the LED with value 11 analogWrite(pin9, 0); analogWrite(pin10, 0); analogWrite(pin11, 0); analogWrite(pin8, 0); } }


Detecting EMF

Arduino EMF Detector. Developed by Aron Alai ( An LED light was placed at the end of the antenna. This allows for the recognition to be outputted to the light in the same location.


Detecting EMF

a digital pin that allows communication with the uploaded code within the microcontroller. The code sends an output signal to an LED light.

The light changes its intensity depending on the value of the input, thus a higher recognized value results in a brighter light. An LED light was placed at the end of the antenna. This allows for an EMF detection to be output to the light in the same location (x, y, z). I created different iterations using different media.

The stop motion video uses more than a hundred pictures taken to the LED detecting the surrounding EMF that my laptop emits. This allowed me to visualize, in an additive fashion, the space detected by the device. The second iteration was developed using long exposure photography. A class that I attended in my first semester with the designer Martin Venezky inspired this exercise. The concept of the class is to inquire, in each iteration, into deeper levels of abstraction and communication without moving off the line of research. This allows you, in the exhaustion of resources, to find the core of the subject matter. The exercise is composed with more than a hundred pictures taken with different shutter speeds and apertures. The commonality throughout the picture was that the detection is brighter and more intense when closer to the computer. The detection creates the shape of a cloud that surrounds the laptop.

The next iteration allowed me to visualize the EMF in three dimensions. I photographed the detection from two different sides. A setup with markers in space allowed for the future spatial reconstruction of the event. These markers formed a cube that, spatially, encased my laptop. When I have the two pictures I can recognize, through the markers, the point of view where they were taken from. Each pictured was fed into software that composed a three-dimensional map of the EMF produced by my laptop. With this image I am able to understand the behavior and form of this synthetic environment.

This picture was taken with a shutter speed of 30 seconds. This allowed me to record the detection of the EMF that my computer emits.


To present my conclusions I developed a short film. Within this work I explore possible scenarios of our relationships mediated through our devices and the effects of this within our environment. Designed objects, interfaces that produce behaviors and spaces, enable the story. To develop these objects and my film’s narrative, I created a theoretical foundation.


Slavoj Zizek 18 uses Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to investigate the role played by objects in Alfred Hitchcock’s films.

Zizek’s observations, and the theoretical tools provided by Jaques Lacan, have help me narrate my own story, that of the human-machinedigital environment relationship. This story is inherently complex because each component exists in a different realm of perception. Jacques Marie Emile Lacan developed the following diagram in his Seminar Encore in 1975. It is thus interpreted:

The Imaginary is the beginning. He explains that when we first perceive ourselves visually, we become aware of our contained separateness and, by extension, aware of our relationship with others; he calls this developmental moment the mirror stage.

The Symbolic refers to representation for exchange, as exemplified in language.



The Hermeneutic Object (A Short Film)

The exchange of words, the gift of speech–the symbolic is essentially a linguistic dimension. 19 The Real refers to what is impossible for us to apprehend, that which is outside of language and fantasy. It has a resistance to symbolization. The Real is the impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order, and impossible to attain in any way. – The Real also has connotations of matter, implying a material substrate underlying the imaginary and the symbolic. 20

Zizek makes a connection with Hitchcock between these orders. The object of exchange, which exists between the Imaginary and the Symbolic orders, sets the action in motion around which a story may be organized. 21 (An example of this would be the ring that unveils the mystery in Rear Window. Lisa, played by Grace Kelly, finds the ring while searching Thorwald’s apartment. We see the ring through the point of view of Jeff’s binoculars; in that moment we cannot deny Thorwald’s guilt. )

The function of the Object Petit a or The McGuffin is to set the story in motion. It has a deep meaning for the characters in the story. This represents the connection between the Real and the Symbolic: between the signifier and unattainable desire. (In John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon this type of mysterious object, i.e., the black falcon – which could be mistaken for a valueless ornament in any other context, plays the role of the ever-elusive object of obsession – that drives men to kill and lie in this tense story. Another example of this object is presented in Hitchcock’s Notorious. The McGuffin drives an agent from the C.I.A. played by Cary Grant, and his partner, Ingrid Bergman, in pursuit of stolen uranium, hidden inside wine bottles in Rio de Janeiro. ) The Object Phi has an oppressive presence. It exists between the Real and the Imaginary.



The Hermeneutic Object (A Short Film)

It returns in an unrecognizable and often-horrific form, an effect of our fantasies of control, and the distraction and denial that characterize culture. (Like a hurricane that is produced by global warming, or the birds in Hitchcock’s The Birds: where, at the beginning of the film the birds are imprisoned in a small cage and at the end the table is turned and we are presented with our characters trapped inside a house by a massive, oppressive presence represented by thousands of birds.)

In the short film, The Hermeneutic Object, the object of exchange is the device that enables social exchange. It is like a prosthetic necessary for social relations. It encompasses the convergence of different technologies that enable inter-dependence and interaction. The designed product is a medium of social relations. The McGuffin in my film is the “augmentation” produced by the device. It compensates for the absence of the other, introducing an extra layer to reality, virtual and artificial.

Electronic objects and the networks that enable them create a “digital ecology”. We are not even sure of the possible physical consequences of the electro-magnetic fields. The digital ecology is presented in my film as the object Phi, the return of an inescapable presence, ubiquitous and oppressive.


The Object of Exchange

This object was developed using product design methodology. The device enables social exchange and allows for and extended layer of reality. To design this object, I focused in one of our five senses, the vision. I was inspired by my previous exercises (Visible / Invisible, Extended Perception) that dealt with three-dimensional visibility and augmented perception.

The design of the object will require the user to wear it, becoming a prosthetic, necessary for social relations and a normal interaction with the surrounding environment. The object enables a number of extra layers to reality.

To develop this object I created a tool that allowed me to measure the heads of more than a dozen people. Then I compared those measurements with anthropometric books. This resulted in a three-dimensional model that allowed me to construct the device.

The file with the designed object was sent to a CNC Router that, in a series of steps, was able to produce a model of the main piece of the object. This process also represented an exploration into future ways of production. In the book Shaping Things 22, Bruce Sterling, explores future ways of producing and designing objects,; he calls this fabbing. This technique, based on the evolution of machinery that creates objects in the house, could enable non-designers to customize, design, and produce their own objects.

Watch the film The Hermeneutic Object online:


The Hermeneutic Object (A Short Film)

The model allowed me to create a mold, where I reproduce the piece with translucent epoxy resin. Two devices were developed for the film; each one contains different details that enable the story. One represents the highest advancement in technology, thus, allowing us to communicate and experience life in a new way. This object represents the continuation of the status quo in our development of technology and in the way that we adequate it into our everyday life. The second object malfunctions; it represents the dependency on the electronic object as a medium of social interaction. While malfunctioning, our character is able to perceive the digital ecology.

The McGuffin

The McGuffin is the extra layer of information and visualization produced by the device. As the previous examples, this is also unattainable. It is a representation of reality, virtual and artificial. It allows us to communicate as never before. We are able to see what the other one is seeing. Extra layers of information, such as, temperature, location, and relevant spatial information are normative. It compensates for the lack of the physical being of the other; that exist somewhere else, maybe not far away. This raises the question of our relations mediated through virtual spaces (how many friends do you have in facebook?) It is a pure semblance: in itself it is totally indifferent and, by structural necessity, absent; its signification is purely auto-reflexive, it consists in the fact that it has some signification for others, for the principal characters of the story, that is of vital importance to them. 23

To create this object I developed a series of parameters based on the functionality of the extra layer. This layer is composed of different objects that react and appear as the user interacts with the environment. This object represents the future trends of communication and the ability to incorporate technology into our daily life, in work, in the house, on the street and with one another.

The Object Phi

The Object Phi is created by our electronic objects and the networks that enable them. To represent this object I developed different iterations, with the hope these could suggest representations of what it would be like if we were able to “see� this environment.

Initially, the object was based on lines, connected, as networks, with each other. Then, it evolved into something more organic, that resembled a blob-like morphing object. Finally I went back to the exercise that allowed me to visualize the electro-magnetic spectrum and decided to base the object on my findings. A particle-based object was developed in three-dimensional animation software. The particles are randomly dispersed allowing for an effect that signals more subtle and organic movement, like snowflakes falling or a swarm of fireflies on a summer night. Then these particles were animated and layered onto the film. I also developed a characteristic sound for the object. I based it on infrasounds and a frequency of 60 Hz (the frequency of the sound of the neon light bulbs). These sounds were generated, layered, and composed to match the movement of the particles in the film.


The Hermeneutic Object storyboard Mixed media (6 x 12�)

The Hermeneutic Object (A Short Film)



The Hermeneutic Object film stills HDV Film


The Hermeneutic Object film stills HDV Film


Design needs to question and help us cope with our technological advancements.

Industrial Design came to life in the advent of our first Mechanical Age, in the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Back then people migrated to the cities in search of jobs. A new landscape emerged as a consequence of this new way of life. Design was supposed to humanize production. It used aesthetics to introduce mass produced objects into our everyday life.

But we can use aesthetics in a different way, to create different layers of meaning, of disclosure. In this approach, aesthetics might facilitate our understanding of technology and shift the balance of “effect:� instead of products influencing unconscious behaviors; we use design to mold the product to conscious behaviors. Aesthetics could thus act as an awareness-raising mediator between man and object, dedicated to freeform customizable objects that are more in synch with our needs. Visibility helps us understand our digital environment. When we understand it, we can manipulate it, use it as a material; but what can we do with this virtual material? Could we create architecture and design spaces? How could this affect us? The Hermeneutic Object is a procedural object that creates a space in which to reconsider the way we design, produce, and consume electronic products.




Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects. London, New York: Verso, 2005.


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De Certeau. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.


Dunne, Anthony. Hertzian Tales. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005. MIT Press.


Hertz, Heinrich. Electric Waves: Being Researches on the Propagation of Electric Action with Finite Velocity through Space. New York: Dover Publications, 1962. Print.


Hertz, Heinrich. Electric Waves: Being Researches on the Propagation of Electric Action with Finite Velocity through Space. New York: Dover Publications, 1962. Print.


Environmental Working Group:


World Health Organization: WhatisEMF/en/


Industrial design reflection of a century. Paris: Flammarion/APCI, 1993. Print. Pp 21, 22


The aesthetic dimension refers to the formal expression of the object that communicates deeper layers of meaning.



Lang, Peter. SUPERSTUDIO, Life Without Objects. New York 1993. Pratt.


Dunne, Anthony. Hertzian Tales. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2005. MIT Press.




Deleuze Gilles and FĂŠlix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota: Minnesota Press, 1996.


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Aaron Alai:




Zizek, Slavoj. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid To Ask Hitchcock). London, New York. Verso, 1992.


Evans, Dylan. An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. London, New York. Routledge, 1996. Pp 201.


Evans, Dylan. An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. London, New York. Routledge, 1996. Pp 160.


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22. Sterling, Bruce. Shaping Things. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2005. Print.


Zizek, Slavoj. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid To Ask Hitchcock). London, New York. Verso, 1992.


THEORY De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life, General Introduction. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA 1984. Norman, Donald. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 1988. Gilloch, Graeme. Walter Benjamin, Critical Constellations. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2002. Sudjic, Deyan. The Language of Things. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. Mau, Bruce. Life Styles. New York: Phaidon, 2007. Mau, Bruce and The Institute Without Boundaries. Massive Change. New York: Phaidon, 2004. Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. London. Rebel Press. Lacan, Jacques. Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, ed. Joan Copjec, trans. Jeffrey Mehlman, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1990. Marshall, McLuhan,, and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage. New York: Gingko, 2005. Print.


Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects. London, New York: Verso, 2005. Deleuze Gilles and FĂŠlix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota: Minnesota Press, 1996. Deleuze Gilles and FĂŠlix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota: Minnesota Press, 1996. Dunne and Raby. Interpretation, collaboration and critique. Dunne and Raby: Texts. (accessed August 11, 2009). Thackara, John. In the Bubble, Designing In a Complex World. London: The MIT Press, 2006. Thackara, John. Design After Modernism. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988. Pre-Specifics, Some Comparatistic investigations on Research in Design and Art. Switzerland: JRP/Ringier, 2008.

HISTORY Industrial design reflection of a century. Paris: Flammarion/APCI, 1993. Penny., Sparke. Ettore Sottsass Jnr. London: Design Council, 1982. Lang, Peter and William Menking. Superstudio. Life Without Objects. New York, 2003. Pratt.


PROCESS Moggridge, Bill. Designing Interactions. New York: The MIT, 2006. New Media Reader. Cambridge, Mass: MIT, 2003. Slack, Laura. What is Product Design? Switzerland: RotoVision, 2006. Bone, Martin and Kara Johnson. I Miss My Pencil. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2009. Antonelli, Paola. Design and the Elastic Mind. New York: MoMa, 2008. Blauvelt, Andrew. Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2003. Freyer, Connie, Sabastien Noel and Eva Rucki. Digital by Design. London: Troika, 2009. Alice Rawsthorne. Nurturing the Inner Entrepreneur. New York Times online. html?_r=1&ref=design (accessed August 19, 2009).




Gustavo Fricke

Submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirement for the degree of Master of Fine Arts, this thesis is approved and is acceptable in quality and form.


________________________________________________________________________ Brenda Laurel Department Chair

________________________________________________________________________ Maria McVarish Thesis Committee

________________________________________________________________________ Aura Oslapas Thesis Committee

________________________________________________________________________ Nikolai Cornell Thesis Committee

The Hermeneutic Object