I believe in using design to solve problems. Real problems, not imaginary ones that might be in some fantistical future. You know, the future that looks like a cross between a shit “Logan’s Run” and Muji. But ones today that are real and are always a product of what happened before. So I can't sell what I do very easily or very well. It won't be in Wired or on TED because there is no bio this or nano that and not a lot of hand waving and oohing and aahing from crowds of powerful people. Instead I work with stuff nobody cares about, or wishes didn't exist, like 800,000 dead Rwandans, old people who nobody ever taught how to use a mobile phone and now doing my bit to try and fix 0.023% of the British government.
Trying to make a difference isn't about TED talks and creating inspiration, there's enough inspiration out there for millennia to come. What we need is more effort in the boring, long, hard slog making real improvements to things that actually affect our lives today. We don't need more talk.
This is why I work in government.
The other day while making myself a cup of tea next to a meeting here at BRIG (which is where RIG and ADG make their home during working hours) I was mentioned as "...and Jim does mass graves..." to which I too quickly and smarmily added "But wait! I also do funny aware novels as well!" and then kind of scurried off uncomfortably like I do every other time I talk about what I've been doing. I've written some things about this project before, but don't think I can or could write enough, now or ever - mainly because it was the hardest thing I've even done in my life. I have been 'doing mass graves', officially for the past year and a half with Horizon Digital Economy Research, but have actually been doing this work for a whole lot longer. I started the project in 2005/2006 at the Royal College of Art where I wanted to see if you could design a mobile monument. It didn't look anything like what it ended up being, which is basically a museum audio tour in the woods, where you call up a mass grave.
What started as a arty-farty, unrealistic, RCA design project became a promise to a dying man and then finally, somehow, actually became (21 June 2011) something real. I guess this is what's made it the hardest thing I've ever done in my life, turning an incredibly difficult topic layered on top of decades of bad blood with loads of hare brained "design thinking", into a real thing. It involved battling through the DMZ of academia, presenting in an EU hearing, getting vaccinated for yellow fever, almost getting the Pervasive Monuments project kicked out of Rwanda, going with 80 year old ex-guerillas to see where dozens of families were liquidated to spending months and months figuring out how you make something a 14 or 80 year old can use on their phone in the woods.
A lot of times, reading account after account of the utter barbarism and savagery of what we as humans can do to each other, was the easy bit. While I've spent a lot of time the past couple of years imagining what it was like - to be 17 or 18 years old being stripped naked in a blood-soaked forest about to be put to death for a your ideas vs. someone else's ideas - I came closer to losing it thinking and worrying if I could ever make this thing happen.
So it's over. For now. Maybe the EU will come in with some support as a lot of fingers across institutions and borders are crossed, and maybe they won't. Maybe this thing will just sort of wither away or fade into the background as something interesting that someone did with a story and a mobile phone once.
Maybe it was all worth it though. Maybe it just was all worth it for just for one day somehow getting a busload full of teenagers into the woods to start to question themselves about what their history and even their country means and and wanting to talk to their families about it. Maybe it was worth it if this thing I do called design can make you think for even a split second what it means to be human.
Years ago when I started this, my secret brief to myself was that maybe I can do this thing, whatever it ends of looking like, and maybe one random kid from Kranj (Slovenian city chosen at random) might change his mind about things. I hope one of these amazing kids might have been from Kranj.
Ati, Lojzi, sem delal kot sem obljubil.