The Design Mailboat – performance

This was a performance keynote at 4S/EASST 2012 annual conference in Copenhagen. We were asked to consider the conference theme ‘Design and Displacement: Social Studies of Science and Technology’ and how that might be situated in Copenhagen and elsewhere. These messages were our response.

We are…

Laura Watts (IT University of Copenhagen)… as the Future Archaeologist
Lucy Suchman (Lancaster University)… as the Anthropologist of Technoscience
Pelle Ehn (MEDEA, Malmö University)… as the Collective Designer

The Design Mailboat – abstract

Messages in a bottle, messages caught in bits of undersea light. Mailboats are message-sized vessels designed to carry words on the tide from one beach to another, to send questions and receive floating replies.

The Design Mailboat is one such word-bearing ship. We have been sending it back and forth between three coasts with a passion for design and its futures. The Design Mailboat has floated from the Orkney Islands off the north east coast of Scotland, through the Øresund south of Copenhagen between Denmark and Sweden, to the Silicon Valley on the west coast of the United States.

Silicon Valley is the mythic origin for the design of the mouse, the graphical user interface, the big green button on the photocopier. Copenhagen is a mythic centre of Scandinavian Design, origins of ‘the white style,’ legendary designers and beautiful functional objects, but maybe also the Thing and its agonistic collectives. Orkney Islands are a mythic origin for wave and tidal renewable energy, and for the design of monumental stone circles, built over five thousand years ago.

We have been asking each other what ‘design’ is in these places on opposite sides of the planet, from our various locations as the Future Archaeologist, the Collective Designer and the Anthropologist of Technoscience.

In this presentation we share our mailboat messages with you, and send off one final Design Mailboat from the shores of Copenhagen.

The Design Mailboat – an invitation

After the performance we invited the audience, both present and those of you reading this online, to add messages to our mailboat, so that it might set sail on electronic seas…

…and here it is.


The Design Mailboat would not have set sail without the Able Bodied assistance of:

Richard Topgaard
Jesper David and Facilities Management, IT University of Copenhagen
Christopher Gad and teapot
Ursula Plesner
Lea Schick
Mette Agger Eriksen

and inspiration from the Orkney Mailboats project.


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