Project Evaluation - Newhope

The research carried out was varied in subject area, gathered through a range of sources and types of media. It investigated numerous aspects of interspecies interaction and was documented using a blog (olipratt.com). Some of these areas include, what I called, beings as objects, environment and context shaping interactions, kinesthetic empathy, the role of objects during interaction, pet therapy, multispecies environments, and rules of interaction. At week five of the project, I had established a broad subject area that was most interesting to me being the role of environment and objects in interspecies interactions. It was during further research into this that I came across the term ‘indoor biome’. The project’s outcome is a manifestation of these multiple areas of interest I acquired throughout the research phase. But taking a speculative approach, it ultimately and successfully explores the manufacture of ecological niches, reframes the dialogue away from the current cultural conception of interspecies spatial divides, and imagines how multiple species could coexist in harmony within the indoor environment. It pursues a critical investigation into the advances in science and technology, presented in the form of a product (Newhope Biological Systems) within a scenario (the year 2035 where the space covered by the indoor biome has increased by 2000% and it’s essential for the integration of species is to occur for lack of space). Within that scenario, the hypothetical company called ‘Newhope’ aims to combat the desolation of natural ecosystems worldwide by manufacturing new ones below Earth’s surface. The purpose of their biological sewage and lighting systems is, as well as providing sewage and lighting to enhance the natural world and its interrelationship with human society. Their manufactured ecosystem and multispecies environment suggests an alternative way of integrating humans into the ecosystem concept, representing the potential of human life as a beacon for biodiversity. I hoped that building a narrative would help to contextualise and appropriate the obscure ideologies I was attempting to communicate. Ethical and societal implications of my ideas should they ever be materialised. But, firstly It extremely unlikely, and secondly this only fuels further debate. My aim was to encourage the user/reader to reconsider how the present is futuring and how we might potentially have the chance to reconfigure it.

The process of visually realising this concept involved a steep learning curve. I predominantly used the 3D modelling software, rhinoceros, to build virtual models. This way I was able to render them from different angles, perspectives, and scales. I was previously a complete novice at this, but persevered and was eventually glad to find myself competent with the software. This also made it possible to 3D print a tangible object to accompany the illustrations and graphics. Rhino greatly helped me to fathom the fairly large scale and intricate forms I was realising, allowing me to situate them in different contexts, such as the piping containing jellyfish inside a house. The concept was delivered through a series of diagrams in a leaflet/booklet, composed as if it were selling a product. I found it extremely difficult and never fully found success in explaining the ins and outs of a large scale integrated system because I didn’t really understand how it may work myself. However, this was not important to me. What was important and what I did fully understand was what the system represents, as explained in the above paragraphs, and I’m confident the graphics within the booklet do successfully illustrate that.

Dougie and Lilla - Pets As Therapy

My auntie (and hairdresser) put me in touch with Lilla, who brings her golden retriever, Dougie, to numerous locations as a volunteer for Pets As Therapy (PAT). (PAT) enhances health and wellbeing in the community through the visits of trusted volunteers with their behaviourally assessed animals.

Over a cup of tea, we began by chatting about the Read 2 Dogs Programme. Research shows that children can be nervous and stressed when reading to others in a group. However, when a PAT Dog enters the group the child becomes less stressed, less self-conscious and more confident as the dogs are non-judgemental. Dougie provides comfort, encourages positive social behaviours, enhances self-esteem, motivates speech and inspires children to have fun. Without going into too much detail, Lilla told me stories of kids opening up to her and that Dougie's presence encouraged them to do so. Where it wasn't 'cool' to read to the class, it was okay to read to Dougie. Dougie is often given treats after each child has finished reading, which is positive reinforcement benefitting both him and that child. The zookeepers at ZSL London Zoo told me they use a similar method. Interestingly, Lilla carries out these sessions in a room surrounded by glass in the school, so kids can view Dougie as they walk past the room in a similar way to that of a zoo, and the children all have different reactions as they walk past. 

Dougie's environment and context drastically influence his behaviour. At home "He's a nightmare", but during the therapy sessions he becomes far more docile. Sometime's just a child's touch will cause him to lay down as he enters "work mode". The fact that animals have modes of behaviour is a huge factor in interspecies interaction. Lilla absolutely agreed with my suggestion that the sessions were therapeutic for Dougie as well as the people involved. It is less natural for Dougie to socialise with other dogs than humans. This is also the case for the people in the therapy sessions, as many of them lack social skills and confidence.

PAT Dogs improve the lives of people suffering from debilitating mental and physical health conditions and illness such as autism, Dementia and Stroke by including animal-assisted interventions as part of a holistic approach to treatment. Lilla described how she encourages Dougie to interact with people with severe physical disability and absolutely no communication skills. This involves moving his body and specific body parts towards them to make contact. As an example, a girl with pinhole vision was not aware that Dougie was in front of her, so Lilla swished his tail over her face so she could "feel the sensation of it". Dougie would also lean up against her . With the offering of treats place in the student's hands, Dougie will lick them to let the students "fell a part of him in some way". On walks with Dougie the students are given the perception that they are in control by having his leash/lead attatched to their wheelchair. A physical connection to the animal via an object gives them a sense of control when interacting. This is another example of how objects can shape interspecies interactions. It's all about the sensory, linking back to my early ideas and research on kinaesthetic empathy - an embodied sense of the other's experience.

Multispecies Environment

My old friend Matt keeps sheep, dogs and chickens in his yard. It was intriguing to witness how multiple species were integrated into one environment. Both the sheep and chickens exist in multiple contexts: as pets, workers, and eventually food.

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I saw what primarily motivated interaction between Matt and these animals, which was food, as the act of breaking bread cements communal bonds across species divides. He also demonstrated how, because they are flock animals, the sheep interact with him as one. When he gave one sheep attention, the other would follow.  

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When Matt's family first introduced the sheep into their new environment, they were "scared" as he put it. They had to be eased into their new surroundings and over time they became tamer. He hadn't built means of verbal communication with the sheep, as they would not respond to his calls. They, however, would vocalise toward Matt, seemingly in excitement as he brought food over. "I don't think you can really train sheep", he added. Pets at Home employee, Joe, said a similar thing, "you can't really communicate a reptile". These are interesting statements to challenge. 

Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs touches upon many topics regarding interspecies interaction.

Spots (dog) responds to Atari (boy) by repeatedly answering "I can hear you". Even though they did not understand each other's verbal language, just being able to hear each other's vocalization and make eye contact was enough to communicate emotion. They did so through an earpiece (with a range of 70 yards), enhancing and making interaction more intimate. It was a physical representation and symbol of Spots' loyalty to Atari. It's an intriguing idea, devices enhancing interspecies communication.

The film presents the dog's perspective of the retro-futuristic world of 'Megasaki' and views how Wes Anderson would assume dogs understand humans. As a non-Japanese speaker, I began to sympathize with the dog's difficulty in comprehending an alien language. Its natural to read fellow humans body language, but to be forced to do so comparatively to fully understanding the dogs was unusual and break the conventional script. This gave light to the tensions between interspecies understanding and misunderstanding, as well as consequent and continuous interspecies confusion. 

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