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The Living Object

The Living Object 2020 Thesis Project by

Kiana Thayer

When people think of design, most believe it is about problem solving. [...] (However,) There are other possibilities for design: one is to use design as a means of speculating how things could be – speculative design. This form of design thrives on imagination and aims to open up new perspectives, [...] to create spaces for discussion and debate about alternative ways of being, and to inspire and encourage people’s imaginations to flow freely. Design speculations can act as a catalyst for collectively redefining our relationship to reality. Anthony Dunne + Fiona Raby

For the woman who taught me to see

Contents 1



Hole Bowl


Utensils (extra long)


Pointy Bowl


The Unresolved + Partially Finished





Outtakes + Extras Bibliography

A total dissolution of boundaries between art and life. When beginning The Living Object I was exploring the thinking surrounding Psychogeography; defined in 1955 by Guy Debord, one of the key members of the Situational International as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”1 It has also been defined as total dissolution of boundaries between art and life. The Situational International would often design situations within the built environment to expose parts of the city that go unnoticed or have become unconsidered. I see their work as a reminder that there is always more than what meets the eye – one must always watch and observe their surroundings because there are always things to be learned or inspired by.


Situationist theorists declared that artists and thinkers were morally obligated to break down the boundaries between art and life, to fuse art with everyday existence so that art could not be cleaved away and etherized, put into galleries and academies. The way to do this the situationists said, to fuse art and life, is for artists and activists to be provocateurs to create dramatic and outlandish interruptions in the every day to expose the absurdity of the status quo 2 As a designer when I begin to think about the Situationists and the passion and integrity behind their theory, a way of thinking that I have been obsessed for seemingly my whole life, I begin to get deeply excited and motivated to work and design within this space and way of thinking. When something is introduced into the public right of way it inherently becomes political, it becomes a part of the fabric of society, questioning, changing, and prompting how things are or how they could be. To me, this is the most fascinating and lively part of design because it is boundless. It asks for imagination and newness, it strives for play and questions change.


This was the energy that I entered The Living Object with. At first, there were about a hundred different things that I wanted to do and I had to compromise and adjust so I could make something with the time and resources that I had and to make something good. Really good. Something I was proud of and something that would hopefully excite others, making them question, making them curious. And with that I found myself asking what are the daily actions we take for granted and what are the objects that facilitate these actions. I began to make a list: Using Bathroom - Sink, Toilet Brushing Teeth - Toothbrush Walking - Shoes Eating - Bowls, Plates, Utensils Drinking - Cup Washing Dishes - Soap, Dishwasher, Sink Unlocking doors - Key


And that’s about as far as I got before I began researching Thing Theory, Objecthood, and Everydayness hoping to make concrete connections between the mundane and social disruption. Thing theory is a branch of critical theory that focuses on human-object interactions in literature and culture. It borrows from Martin Heidegger’s distinction between objects and things in What is a Thing 1963, which says that an object becomes a thing when it no longer serves its common function. When an object breaks down or is misused, it questions its own socially encoded value and becomes present to us in new ways through the suspension of habit.3 Bill Brown wrote in his 2001 essay Thing Theory, We begin confronting the thingness of objects when they stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily. The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation. 4


When an object breaks down or is misused, it questions its own socially encoded value and becomes present to us in new ways through the suspension of habit.


“Can you get me that thing over there?” Thing is one of the most commonly used words in everyday conversation; it carries a sense of existence without specificity. We can use the word thing to speak definitively about the real world and the objects within it while not committing to any specific knowledge. Thing refers to the non-human, the world, the non-subjective. Because of this, it is deeply connected to terms such as “materiality” and “objecthood.” However, thing has more ambiguity, more room to move and meditate within its meaning. Thing allows for analysis outside of a particular world-view without having to consider specificity. We use bowls, cups, plates, and utensils continuously every day, throughout our entire lives. The only time one would closely consider what their food is contained in or on, would be if it was highly designed. And, even then, once one has seen this vessel or object they begin to forget about it over the course of their meal. The objects fall into the background once again and become part of the landscape. This led me to question: what if there was tableware that you couldn’t ignore? What if tableware


stopped functioning when you stopped paying attention to it? The Living Object aims to reshape objects just enough so that they begin to present their thingness. I don’t want to design the objects to be unrecognizable in terms of their learned or understood function within our daily lives, but rather to design them so that they present their thingness when the user interacts with them. My goal is to put into question one’s habits within their everyday life and to design these objects to promote the user to slow down and consider their motions and the singular task at hand. With this intent in mind I began designing and making bowls and cups using slip cast porcelain and plaster molds. The main intent of the objects I designed was to make it so one hand had to be interacting with the object for it to function while the other was being used to eat. So the user is only able to focus on eating or drinking rather than scrolling or doing work. In hopes to create a deeper connection with the person and their food by taking this daily action and making it intentional. For example the Hole Bowl requires the user to plug a hole near the base of the bowl with their finger


to keep the contents of the bowl from falling out. Not only does the Hole Bowl literally connect you with your food but it also makes it so you only take what you need. This notion of taking what you need also applies to Pointy Bowl, as the name suggests the bowl comes to a point at the bottom making so it does not stand on its own and needs to be supported by the user. Since I am thinking about the one-to-one interaction with the user to create a more attentive and humanist experience when eating or drinking, I knew that the objects each needed to look individual from each other in a slight way when presented in a set. The slight differences in the weight and symmetry of each object adds a level of individuality that can only be noticed if the user is truly participating. This mode of thinking stems from the Arts and Crafts Movement where the artists believed that the connection made between the artist and their work through handcraft was “the key to producing both human fulfillment and beautiful items that would be useful on an everyday basis.�5 Taking the principle of the handmade from the Arts and Crafts Movement and combining them with the aesthetics and


values of Minimalism, one can begin to imagine what the objects looks like. By maintaining a matte and glossy white finish on all of my work, I am preserving the intent of the objects without the distraction of pattern or color. The essence of my hand-crafted tableware is to create a relationship between the thing and the user — eliminating distraction and creating a meditative experience overall. When we begin to think about our daily lives and the routines we adopt, not a lot of it is done with slow consideration and gratitude. As humans, we travel in and out of each day taking the mundane for granted, multitasking and getting onto the next thing. This was the mentality and thinking that I entered The Living Object with, however, as we all know, the world and our daily routines has shifted greatly within a matter of weeks. With the rise of a global pandemic, COVID-19, humanity as a whole has been asked to pause. That’s it, just stop, stay home and help to slow the spread of the illness. With this shift, I begin to reconsider the work that I have made and the new context that it lives in. How does The Living Object participate now? Are my


objects a way to pass the time, to facilitate joy and playfulness, to explore how different textures and shapes interact with the forms? I suppose that is up to the spectator-author. However, I do know that these objects somehow feel more timely than they did before. Originally they were considered to be leaning more towards art objects, facilitating thinking and challenging what we understand or expect. But now they feel as though they could be more practical, objects that someone might want to use regularly. With endless amounts of time in front of us why not take the extra time to drink something in a cup you cannot put down or let go of without creating a mess? This form of design and design thinking is commonly known as Participatory Design. Originally rooted in the Scandinavian trade of the 60s and 70s, Participatory Design is closely related to Human-Centered Design in the sense that it is an “approach to the design process that attempts to engage all stakeholders.�6 Participatory Design is explicitly political, it strives to democratize the design process, questioning the distinction between the designer as author and the user as author. “Early on, these principles were


In the wake of COVID-19 are my objects a way to pass the time, to facilitate joy and playfulness? How has our new sense of normal shifted the context these objects live in?


manifested in the design of public infrastructure and the built environment, but have since become grounding principles in the development of open-source culture, and Internet culture…”7 A driving force within the work that I make is the idea that the spectator author is invited to physically engage with my work, fostering open participation to allow for a certain level of accessibility and deeper understanding. I am not interested at this point in my practice to make work that isn’t accessible to all levels of education and to all groups of people. This idea of relieving authorship to the viewer within a design practice is uncommon but not impossible. In addition to Participatory Design, Critical Design also plays a large role in the thinking and approach behind this work. Critical Design emerged from the work of Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby in the late 90s. In their book, Speculative Everything, Dunne and Raby set up an conflicting logic between two types of design: Critical Design and Affirmative Design. Affirmative Design is “problem solving, with design framed as a process that provides answers in the service of industry for how the


world is.” Critical Design, however, is defined as “problem finding, with design framed as a medium that asks questions in the service of society for how the world could be.”8 If Affirmative Design is problem solving, then Critical Design is problem finding, which is to say, it is a critique of the context and culture in which the designed object exists. In this way, this design strategy might be closer to what is traditionally thought of as art in so far as it functions as a critique of culture. Critical Design comes from Critical Theory, which developed as an outcome from the Marxist critiques of the Frankfurt School in the 1930s. This cultural critique takes the form of a negation against capitalism, declaring the commodification of art, design, and culture as a problem, because it obscures an awareness of class consciousness. Critical Design is a creative strategy that bases design as a medium for making visible what is usually hidden in our daily interactions with the mundane objects of our material culture. This includes the relationship between the object and the labor that went into its making. Critical Design allows for awareness, around how we understand, question, and critique the world around us.



Critical Design is problem finding, which is to say, it is a critique of the context and culture in which the designed object exists. In this way, this design strategy might be closer to what is traditionally thought of as art in so far as it functions as a critique of culture.



I consider objects as living things. Objects exist within our daily lives, some go unnoticed, some we depend on and others we cherish. With The Living Object I am questioning what tableware affords the user. Could tableware be designed to invite the user to pay close attention to their actions and the food they are consuming. Could tableware facilitate slowing down, could it command your full attention, to focus on one thing at a time, to appreciate what you have? The Living Object invites the user to renew their perception of the objects they often take for granted. In hopes of fostering a deeper appreciation for the things that surround them and the actions they support.



Hole Bowl



leaving room for discovery



Hole Bowl was originally intended to not be able to stand on its own, requiring the user to stabilize it with one hand so it wouldn’t tip over. However, Howl Bowl turned out to be more stable then intended, standing on its own perfectly well just as a bowl should.

Although stable the form itself asks to be cradled around the base and so to create a more extreme interaction with the object I cut out a hole near the base that needs to be plugged when there is food in the bowl so the food does not spill out.

It is recommended to not eat hot soup with this bowl, unless thats what you’re into.

23 17



Plaster mold making

Pouring the mold


Out of the mold + Clean up



Waxing + Glazing









extralong (extra long)


porcelain clementine for scale




After being displaced from my studio due to COVID-19 I began to rethink how I could continue to make with what I had at hand. In addition to questioning my work so far and the new world that it now sits in.

I had plans of making this set of utensils from the beginning but had abandoned the idea thinking that they were too silly and a bit of a stretch. However in the wake of social distancing they were given a new life conceptually. Leaning towards the more playful end of The Living Object I began to make these with the intent of inviting the act of daily eating to be more lively and a bit silly. If only I had a spare baby to feed while social distancing

63 39

Searching, Cutting, Gluing, Sanding, Staining












Pointy Bowl 51


dancing and balancing



Pointed bowl is the outcome of redesigning what Hole Bowl was originally supposed to be. This bowl requires the user to cradle it or it definitely will fall over.

Pointed bowl dances with you as you eat, if you loose balance or focus the bowl “trips” and falls, spilling itself everywhere As a secondary function this bowl sits perfectly on your lap with its tip between you thighs or against your chest with your hand holding it if you’re feeling klutzy.

35 55


Because of how Pointy Bowl tapers down the base dries at a faster rate then the top causing it to crack and tear when being removed from the mold. After an evening of trial and error I found that if you add extra slip to the bottom while you dry the top with pressurized air the drying equalizes, allowing the form to pop out smoothly.


Drying to top without damaging the bottom, I would hold them in my hands in front of a fan until I saw the potential of these sponges






Hole Cup 63


finish before putting



Hole Cup drips and dribbles until your fingers find their footing. And once they do it gives you time to sit for a moment and drink your drink without being able to do much else other than think and listen.

Suggested liquid: water

67 47

This happened three times. Because of how tall and narrow the form is you need to use a lot of plaster causing high amount of pressure to be forced onto the walls of the boards.










Now go have a coffee break with Ann Finkel.


Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 I was unable to finish any of these pieces or problem solve any failed attempts.


The Unresolved + Partially Finished


Oval Cup + Half Oval Cup

Both cups are made from the same mold. Oval cup is two casts of the mold put together while half oval cup is only one with a slab attached to the bottom I was questioning if an odd hole to drink out of was enough to create a disruption or if you also needed the added detail of a rounded bottom.



Seesaw plate

I made this plate pretty early on and then quickly learned that plate are difficult to make. Since my design had so much vairiation in shape the edges dried out too quickly since they were so short and thin. I had planned to leave plates for last if I had the time since they were looking to be the most labor intensive object.


Variations on the Hole Cup

These were made with the idea of variations within a set. Living together while being slightly different. Bridging the gap between Industrial and Handmade.


Weeble Wobble Bowl This was the first bowl that I made. I quickly learned that a semi sphere bowl is less drastic than expected. This form is actually very beautiful and nestles perfectly in the palm of your hand. It feels as though it is floating in the table top because of the small surface that makes contact with the table. Since it so it did not fit into the criteria of my project I began using them as test surfaces for glazing to see if white glaze was the right option for the final objects.





Heavy Cup

Heavy Cup uses the same mold as Hole Cup however only a quarter of the slip gets poured out making it so there is only a little room at the top for liquid. It cracked because I took the cup out of the mold and then poured slip into it and the pressure busted open the base leaving a pool of slip on my shelf. If I get to make it again I will leave it in the mold until it dries.




Sketch book 91






















Outtakes + Extras



Alternate use

please don’t mind my gross finger





Key chain Cup

Made from the same mold as the oval and half oval cups; Key chain Cup was an idea I had and needed to make.







First bowl out of the kiln and someone loaded it with DIRTY FINGERS!




While half of my thesis sits idle on a shelf in a closed building and half in my brain I am proud of the work I was able to make in the time that I had and I hope to continue this line of thinking and way of making for years to come. (And I figured out the plate in a dream last night! I’ll make it for you when I can touch clay again)



Bibliography 1. Guy Debord Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography 1955 2. Avery Trufelman, Articles of Interest Punk Style, 99% Invisible, October 12, 2018 99percentinvisible.org/episode/punk-style-articles-of-interest-6/ 3. Heidegger, Martin, et al. What Is a Thing? University Press of America, 1985 4. Bill Brown’s “Thing Theory” and the Quest of Unique Epistemology in Modernist and Postmodernist Literature: A Study of Don Delillo’s White Noise 2011 pg.264 5. “The Arts & Crafts Movement Overview.” The Art Story, www.theartstory.org/movement/arts-and-crafts/ 6. “Beyond Design Thinking:” Critical Design Critical Futures - Beyond Design Thinking: www.cd-cf.org/articles/beyond-design-thinking/ 7. “Beyond Design Thinking:” Critical Design Critical Futures - Beyond Design Thinking: www.cd-cf.org/articles/beyond-design-thinking/ 8. “Beyond Design Thinking:” Critical Design Critical Futures - Beyond Design Thinking: www.cd-cf.org/articles/beyond-design-thinking/


Š 2020 Kiana Thayer

Designed by: Kiana Thayer Written by: Kiana Thayer Edited by: Kiana Thayer Brain Child of: Kiana Thayer Photographs by: Kiana Thayer, Freyja Thayer + Ann Finkel Typefaces: Alegreya Sans designed by Juan Pablo del Peral Ribes designed by Luigi Gorlero Printed in the U.S.A. 2020

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts, Maine College of Art, Portland Maine, April, 2020 Major in Graphic Design. All rights reserved by Kiana Thayer. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without written permission from Kiana Thayer except for brief quotations.

Goodbye Thank you See you soon

Kiana Thayer 2020 Thesis Project

Profile for mecagdthesis2020

The Living Object by Kiana Thayer  

2020 Thesis book by Kiana Thayer

The Living Object by Kiana Thayer  

2020 Thesis book by Kiana Thayer


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