Living With Our Times: About Disciplines

par Melissa

We have been giving many talks and workshops lately, and exchanging with wonderful people from all fronts of the creative field: designers, artists, urban developers, engineers, curators, policy makers…

We are also currently trying to put a little more time in applying to competitions, grants, and R&D funds. Having to fit our projects into defined categories can get pretty frustrating at times. None is ever really a perfect fit, and the whole exercise also feels contradictory with our approach. After all, most agree that innovation happens in between disciplines.

A flashback.

One of the first conferences Mouna and I gave when we started the studio was at a landscape architecture congress. After our presentation, some friends in the crowd told us they finally understood what we did: landscape architecture! We were amused and dreamt about attending random conferences to see if people would think that we are wedding planners, dancers or a new genre of filmmakers.

Then we started teaching for an Event Design program and our work was published under Event Design in some books. Our projects, especially in the beginnings of Dtlj, were temporary interventions, and the Event category did not feel wrong.

Many of our projects started happening in public spaces and were labelled ‘placemaking’ initiatives. Also true. Our work has been shown in many urban design publications.

Then we won the Grand Prize at the prestigious Interaction Design Awards. Our 21 Swings were running against the Nike Fuel wristband, the epitome of interaction design (maybe?). We know that field of practice pretty well, we’ve been claiming it for a while. But we were still a bit surprised that our work got picked up within a space that is mostly occupied by screen-based designers. They described our work in a way that felt similar to ours, and, well, we did feel at home with all these interaction designers.

People very often ask: Are you artists? Are you designers? (To be more accurate: artists ask whether we are artists or designers, and designers ask where we find the money to fund our projects). Steve Dietz, friend and director of Northern, once said jokingly: so you’re designers who mainly work on art commissions, right? We do work on a lot of art commissions, but also thrive to explore different models to find new funding opportunities for what we want to do.

I guess Dtlj can be whatever it wants to be depending on the perspective from which you look at the work. At the end of the day, we just want to embrace the special times we live in and be free to make a difference where we feel we can contribute the most. The idea that we can be anything is quite pleasing. The more random the associations, the better, somehow.