DeSForM Design Delights

Philip Beesley: 'Hylozoic Vesica' by Margaret Petty
In this guest MsBehaviour File, Helen Baxter reviews the 7th annual Design Semantics Form and Movement (DeSForM) conference. (+keynote videos)


Reviewed by Helen Baxter

“Philip Beesley crashed my brain wave scanner” is my favourite quote from the 7th annual Design Semantics Form and Movement (DeSForM) conference, hosted last week by the School of Design at Victoria University, Wellington.

DesForM was a gift of ideas, academic presentations, demonstrations and international keynote speakers. All wrapped up with a one day professional programme showcasing digital industry talent from New Zealand and ‘Silicon Welly.’

Day 1

On day one I was delighted to find another tweeter in the room. After a quick backchat - ‘Where are you?’, 'Black Mac at back’, ‘Meet you over coffee’ - a twitter tag team was formed. Vicky Teinaki provided a rich stream of references using Storify, while I took snaps for the School of Design’s Instagram Gallery and posted quotes and notes to the official @desform twitter stream. It would be impossible to cover all of the presentations here but you can download the full DesForM Proceedings to read the academic papers. 

At the premiere of Philip Beesley’s Hylozoic: ‘Vesica’ I watched the wonder struck audience interacting with this stunning piece, an aesthetic entity that responds to motion and touch in unexpected ways. Vesica is made from microprocessors, sensors, chemicals, found objects and 3d printed materials, and as Ross Stevens from the School of Design says, “experiencing Beesley’s work leaves you profoundly changed”.

After seeing/standing in/playing with Vesica, the story in the Capital Chronicle (written by Design Led Futures students as if from 18th April 2040) seems quite plausible. In a lurid report titled ‘Philip Beesley’s Epidemic’, Ollie Neas investigates what happens when a self-replicating installation escapes into the wild. It’s hard to describe how wonderful the Vesica experience is, and you can try it for yourself until 10th June at the City Gallery, Wellington.

Philip Beesley is a professor in the School of Architecture, University of Waterloo and is principal of the Toronto design collective PBAI. He is a poetic speaker, futurist and artist, who once played bass in a punk bank and loves the glitches in Radiohead’s music.

Beesley’s keynote address was opened by Prof Simon Fraser (VUW), with an introduction from Celia Wade Brown, the Wellington mayor and you can watch a podcast from his keynote: ‘Diffusive Form and Near Living Environments.’ 

Ross Stevens from the School of Design then spoke about the Design Led Futures course, and its connection to the Wellington 2040 vision (watch a podcast).

Day 2

Another full day of academic papers was ably covered by Vicky Teinaki on storify for day two before a reception and keynote from professor, architect and prolific author Neil Leach, who now lives and surfs at Venice Beach in California.

His keynote on ‘Desiring Machines’ finished with the Contour Crafting project being backed by NASA, for using regolith and robots to 3D print moon habitats. Read the storify coverage and watch a video podcast of Neil Leach's Desiring Machines keynote

Day 3

The professional programme day consisted of luminaries from the Wellington digital scene on the themes of interaction design, transmedia, technology and entertainment, immersive environments, culture jamming and fabricating futures. Presenters were very generous with showing their design process and iterations, from the drawing board through to the final product.

Part of Wellington’s creative culture is to share and collaborate, and it was interesting to see the diverse range of work being produced locally from animation, games and film through to personal fabrication systems. There were also some fascinating live demonstrations of robots, gestural interfaces, and the aforementioned brainwave scanner and 3D printer for printing brainwaves.

The day finished up with two panels, leading to some lively debate before the closing annoucement that DesForm 2013 will be hosted in Wuxi, China, and the conference dinner at Te Raukura Te Wharewaka o Poneke.

Aimee Whitcroft from SciBlogs calls DesForM “the most inspiring thing I’ve seen in years” and you can experience some DesForM delights at the Fabricating Futures exhibition which is running at the School of Design until Tuesday May 8.

Written by


26 Apr 2012


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