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ADS4: Legal Fictions

Gabriel Beard

Based in London, my work explores how design can be used to critically engage with the consequences of emerging cultural and political shifts in society. Spending both years at the RCA in ADS4, I have had the opportunity to refine the method in which I approach these projects; designing the parameters for spatial production and speculating upon the subsequent outputs. Primarily employing narrative based image making, my practice also ranges across the mediums of film and installation.

Graduating from the Bartlett School of Architecture in 2017, I was awarded a Bronze Medal Commendation and the Serjeant Award for Excellence in Drawing at the RIBA President's Medals. Having worked at Waugh Thistleton Architects and freelancing as an architectural design consultant for CGI projects, I spent a year pursuing personal interests outside of architecture in ethical farming practices; raising pigs, making cheese and goat herding, before returning to study at the RCA.

Mary’s Room is a thought experiment presented by Frank Jackson that questions the existence of Qualia; personal subjective sensations that cannot be explained through physical properties. A glitching television screen shows a red apple to a scientist who has been confined to a black and white room and has been educated on colour through black and white media. When this happens, does she learn anything new about colour? Are there sensations that cannot be explained through objective science? Mary’s Room is a site of restricted perception. In this space the nature, or limit, of human cognition is made explicit. *1

Whilst we share common ground with all organisms, our perceptual worlds are not the same. Various applications of spatial practice in their current manifestations fail to account for the species-specific, spatio-temporal perspectives of many non-human actors. To achieve trans-species empathy, these cognitive environments must be considered. If Mary’s Room is a trap, then the move towards a non-anthropocentric visual practice requires an escape. Acts of escapology must follow.

The project is an archive of performed escape attempts to be observed. Acknowledging that to simply make representations of non-human perspectives is insufficient in achieving trans-species empathy, a series of alternative methodologies are employed. The escapes may seek to create mediated shared experiences, or to simply destabilise current conceptions of colour visuality. Whilst these attempts can take place in the physical world, they may also be situated in the Cartoon Landscape - where colour is only a material tag; an external layer superimposed on immaterial form.

1_ Frank Jackson, ‘Epiphenomenal Qualia’, The Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 32, No. 127 (1982) <>

Attempt 0014 - Arsenal versus Barcelona with goats at the Spitalfields City Farm
Attempt 0019 - Line dancing with crabs on the mud flats of Chalkwell, Southend-on-Sea
Attempt 0012 - Dining with Kingfishers at Rainham Marshes

To consider what is outside of the anthropocentrically tangible section of the electromagnetic spectrum is to consider Hertzian Space. In the animal kingdom, this is where much visual cognition operates. Ultraviolet rays are used for contrast enhancement, the polarisation of light waves aids navigation, varying numbers of cones in eyes perceive different wavelengths. Whilst these colour spaces are in themselves unimaginable to us, they must be accounted for.

Early attempts to escape Mary’s Room seek to address these alternative ways of seeing. Assuming an active role in the Nature-Culture dichotomy, non-human perspectives are placed into human cultural contexts.

Attempt 0048 - The Hertzian Landscape
Attempt 0046 - The Herztian House
Stills of Attempt 0048

The contemporary Cartoon Landscape, embodied by rendering software, offers an opportunity to de-stabilise the primacy of human perceptible colour. Eliminativism, a metaphysical reading of colour, states that despite experiences, colours are not actually coloured. They are projected onto physical objects that appear to have qualities they do not. Like Walter Benjamin who states they are a deceptive cloak of something superimposed on matter, colour has somehow been conceptualised as an external layer - or an appliqué.

Attempt 0046 - The house designed for life in Hertzian space is an abstraction. Architectural elements are re-configured according to updated hierarchies and new priorities. Walls take on a new shape to block out radio waves, lighting is designed to provide visual stability in infrared and the form of furniture is defined by reflective surfaces that vary directions of polarisation. Catering to non-anthropocentric perspectives, this space is no longer tactile, and provides for the invisible.

Attempt 0048 - Made in a landscape, Hertzian design is combined with the procedurally animated external appliqué of texture. Forms are adapting. Materiality is unstable. The atmosphere is not fixed. Opening up space to these creaturely perceptions gives the impression of multiple masks, each providing their own view of this landscape. Not one could reveal everything as it is. And with the fluctuating nature of material overlay, a new condition of visuality begins to define itself.

Attempt 0032
Attempt 0031
Attempt 0038
Attempt 0042

Made partially in the realm of animation, these attempts acknowledge that destabilisation is the first step to recalibration. Here in the Cartoon Landscape colour is not bound by physical truth. Eliminativism is no longer just a theory, but made explicit.

Attempt 0031 - A roll of tape falls off my shelf nearly knocking over my cup of tea.

Attempt 0032 - Hue and saturation as procedural live variables in Tesco destabilise the current understanding of colour perception. The inverted spectrum is considered. Is my blue the same as yours?

Attempt 0038 - Hosted in Room 403 of the Stevens building, 38 is better planned, and doubt is cast on the objective nature of colour. Less stable than before, colour as material tag begins to reveal itself.

Attempt 0042 - The deceptive cloak of colour is apparent.

Attempts 0015, 0016, 0017 & 0018
Attempts 0018 & 0015

If Mary’s Room is understood as a trap which we must endeavour to escape from, and since the trap works best when it is unintelligible to its subject, to acknowledge its workings is the first counter-move. Testing colour cognition through experiments in my personal environment and subsequently making explicit my subjective perspective, the workings of my own entrapment are revealed.

Colour is an odd phenomena. It is at the same time inherently abstract and fundamentally physical. Whilst in daily life it is perceived as objective, the mechanisms effecting colour cognition render it an entirely subjective sensation. Colour as we experience it is the product of a series of complex physical, biological, psychological and cultural variables.

Attempt 0015 - Linguistic relativity is the principle suggesting that visual perception is relative to spoken language. The terms for which colour is described determines how the world is seen.

Attempt 0016 - Colour constancy is the mechanism that stabilises perception when objects appear under varying illuminations. Alike to the white balance tool on photoshop. It is the unconscious compensation for different colours of light.

Attempt 0017 - Technological efficiency mimics the de-coding mechanism of the trichromatic eye, employing just RG&B to produce a wholly saturated environment.

Attempt 0018 - The 1931 International Commission on Illumination conference produced the codified colourspace CIE-XYZ; standardising colour and defining all that are perceptible to humans. But restricted by efficiency, technology loses colour. 70% of perceptible colours exist outside of the most commonly used colour space, sRGB.

Whilst the attempted escapes have as of yet been a personal endeavour, Escaping Mary’s Room must be an ongoing, shared responsibility. The chromopolitics website is an archive of these performed attempts. It is a platform for which acts of escapology can be uploaded and observed. The serial format acknowledges that the view-from-nowhere is perhaps unachievable. And the question of whether a perspective can ever be fully understood certainly still stands - “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him."

Burberry Design Scholarship