Technology becomes, over time, a medium through which we live. It augments our bodies and brains, and ultimately, the very fabric of our social structure.
What I am designing here is a more complete medium than say, the internet, the car, or the modern home. Each of these is designed and appropriated to augment or improve individual functions within daily life. The car makes individual transport rapid and effortless. The home is designed to bring heat, water, cooling, electricity, and a sense of belonging and ownership to the user in a manner simpler than, say, a wood-stove heated cottage or a tipi. The internet is many things by design, but is appropriated in our culture to be a form of mass communication on a participatory level. It mediates so much of our communication – like your reading this blog post now.
This project is not designed to augment individual functions in life, it is designed to be life itself. I am actually designing a lifestyle. When I have completed the first phase of this project, I will be able to replicate it nearly exactly. For whomever should replicate it, I am cognizant of every aspect of their life within the bike trailer. I know what chores they must do each day. I understand the ergonomic limits of the micro-shelter intimately. I know how frequently the unit must be moved, and what amenities will be necessary in each location that individual user should choose to roll to. I know a large amount of what they’re eating. All aspects of this person’s life are technologically understood by me, because I am the designer.
For all this micro-scale scrutiny and intimate understanding, the important thing that I cannot know is how this user will choose to wield this technological superstructure. What are their reasons for living in this vehicle? What minor tweaks do they choose to make? Between my unit and theirs, what are the key differences?
Consider this: computers are used by many people for a vast many things. The computer may well be one of the most culturally significant pieces of technology ever to emerge among humans. We know well that its use is by no means uniform or singular; the computer has a mind-numbing number of practical applications. Beyond the practical, however, the ways in which the users of computers are shaped by the relationship between the two are of intense interest to me. Technology’s purpose eventually ceases to augment daily life and graduates to expression. It didn’t take long for humans to begin making computer-generated music and art.
Even simple technologies, like, for example, the spatula, become media for expression. Imagine a depressed bachelor on a lonely day flipping a dry burger patty onto a dirty griddle. He seems to heave the patty over when he flips it with the spatula. By no means is the act a conscious one, and the expressiveness his flipping style communicates is only subtle. Yet, strangely, out of context, I am of the mind that most humans would be able to make inferences based ONLY on the style with which one makes use of a spatula. If the spatula were used to flip a pancake up into the air with a nimble flick of the wrist, we could infer that the person is quite skilled with the spatula, and that they are also likely not sad. Perhaps they are even whistling; cooking breakfast for a family or a Sunday brunch.
Yet simple expression is not so directly and clearly communicated: this process is obscured by skill or the lack thereof. Assuming both of the above examples were from individuals skilled with the use of a spatula, how would these instances be altered by utter mastery of the tool’s use, or of a complete lack of understanding as to what a spatula is used for? Skill and how it comes to be or why it is absent can also denote interesting things about the user.
Such observations may seem to operate on such a subtle level that they may seem useless. Yet they are not: culture, expression, technology, and the individual all manifest strongly in the confluence of expression and the use of tools: the small, subtle instances of this phenomenon aggregate in a way that creates an entire expression-based narrative on an individual that is wholly unique and interesting. Humans are cells within the organism of culture and individual interactions with technology are the cells within the organism of the human’s cultural body. They are the tiniest bits of data constantly shifting and altering the perspectives and expression of the individual.
When many small individual technologies are orchestrated into a larger application, these relationships complicate further. Such is the case with the bicycle micro-homestead and the ensuing lifestyle that goes with it. It is complex and multi-layered, and the expression that goes with it would be, like most technologies not explicitly appropriated to be tools of expression, subconscious. Upon coming to understand this, I began to think that if the micro-bikestead were articulated explicitly as a piece of living, political, functional art as a latent function – albeit a conscious one – interesting things could happen.
First off, I must note: numerous artists have done a version of what I am doing (sans any food production), as a sort of postmodernist spin on the concept of the Home. Most of these are only notionally portable homes: bulky, heavy, not aerodynamic, and generally impractical. A majority of the few who have undertaken such a concept do not actually live full time in their units. In fact, I only know of two individuals who live full-time (or appear to): “Jeff”, with the Luma Dilla, and Brian Campbell with his moon-rover-inspired units. Brian appears to live in his by necessity. Here is artist Kevin Cyr’s artistic an impractical design:
While such designs are stimulating, interesting, and are apt in their ability to elicit an emotional or intellectual response, because they are not practical or streamlined to effectively and efficiently deal with the challenges inherent to such a project as a serious lifestyle, they become nothing more than art. While expression through technology is an important aspect of my project, my goal is not to create a museum or a journalist piece.
My goal is to manufacture an aesthetic of radical folk engineering on a level of totality which encompasses all faculties of everyday life. To build and dwell within an object that facilitates ALL activity within the life of that individual and affords them absolute freedom and a powerful sense of self-reliance. A microcosm of earth itself, absolutely portable, concealable, hyper-minimalistic and self-contained. The self-synthesized matrix of liberty. I will paint a distinct image in my mind of this eventual aesthetic;
From tiny solar speakers, the song “Derezzed” by Daft Punk (pictured above) plays loudly. A sleek warrior-style recumbent tricycle whips into a smooth rural driveway, towing behind it an aerodynamic trailer with collapsable walls, built to minimize wind resistance. By the way the trailer bounces with the turn of the trike, you can tell that the trailer is hyper-lightweight. As the wheels slow to a stop, the soft clucking of the quails can be heard in between the blaring inferno of techno beats. The rider, wearing futuristic sunglasses and an ultralight merino wool pair of short shorts hops off the trike, sipping a tonic of fermented broccoli sprouts, raw honey, and apple cider vinegar from a thin titanium thermos and uninhibitedly rocking to the music. He makes his way to the trailer and folds up the collapsable walls, opens the vent on the greenhouse, stakes the structure out to the ground, flips up the solar water heater, flips open the solar oven, and begins systematically changing the water on the sprouts. The screen-floor grasshopper cage is set into the grass to let the insects feed.
“Keep my Composure” comes on as he feeds the quails. Opening up the back door of the trailer, a foldable stool is opened up and an outdoor table made of a sheet of coroplast folds out. For lunch: essene bread with chili-fried grasshoppers, lentil sprouts, blanched dandelion greens and nukazuke-pickled quail eggs with more sprout-honey-vinegar tonic.
It paints a strange picture. Stranger still is the ephemeralness of that individual folding everything up, hopping onto the trike, rolling away, and doing the same thing elsewhere perpetually. Old futurism is dead: cognizant of our decadence and the limited nature of fossil fuels, the New Futurism is at once strangely futuristic and bleak. Its bleakness comes with the exposed nature of total freedom and the nomadic life of the scavenger. The postindustrial landscape is the home of this individual; repurposing garbage and foraging wild seeds to sprout is as important as techno music and hyper-efficient bicycle design and aerodynamics.