WDE Spotlight: Lisa Mandemaker
In WDE Spotlight, we give the floor to several designers from the Embassies. This time, we speak to Lisa Mandemaker, speculative designer, part of the Embassy of Health in 2022. What is her background? What inspires her? What does Mandemaker hope to achieve with her work? Read about it in this Q&A!
Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and your design practice?
My name is Lisa Mandemaker, and I am a speculative designer. I usually work from my studio in Amsterdam; this is also the city where I now live and grew up. Before setting up my studio in Amsterdam, I lived in London. There I did a master’s degree at the Royal College of Art in Design Products and specialised in design as a catalyst. I believe that design can be a catalyst for conversation and debate about complex (and, therefore, often abstract) social issues. From data to fandom and filter bubbles to artificial wombs, I’ve experimented with all kinds of topics and tried to make them tangible in design projects. For the past few years, I’ve been mainly concerned with the future of reproduction because it combines a number of things that I’m very interested in and want to understand better: technology and ethics, healthcare and feminism.
Your project, Monuments of future m/otherhood, is part of the Embassy of Health during Dutch Design Week. What can you tell us about this project?
In the past year, I worked as a designer-in-residence in DesignLab (University of Twente). I collaborated with DesignLab’s Responsible Futuring researchers, UT ethicists and UT students on a topic that is familiar to me: the artificial womb. In this project, I wanted to look a little further into the future and use the possibility of an artificial womb as a means to explore new family structures, relationships and forms of motherhood.
Can you explain how your project relates to the story of this Embassy?
The theme of the Embassy of Health this year is ‘mindset’. It focuses, among other things, on what attitudes companies and organisations should adopt to bring about changes in the health system. In my work, I try to think about possible changes by looking further into the future. For me, this helps to think outside the box because, in order to innovate, you have to take other, unfamiliar roads. The development of new technology, such as artificial wombs, raises many ethical issues and friction. We can discuss how we can ‘solve’ more and more processes with technology. Still, with this project, we actually want to create a performance and have a deeper conversation about our social values. What could such technology mean for motherhood, family structures and our broader attitude towards them in society?
You have done many healthcare projects. Why did you decide to deal with this theme?
My projects are almost always about how we as humans relate to other people and to technology. Care is indispensable in those relationships. I didn’t so much decide one day that I was going to get into this theme; it’s something that’s always been there. Most people in my family work in education or healthcare, and I am the only one who works in the creative sector. Apparently, I am influenced by my environment to be concerned with healthcare, but in my own way.
The projects you do are often speculative; why does that appeal to you so much?
Speculation gives me the space to ask questions instead of formulating answers. My work often takes the form of prototypes or suggestions to get a broad audience to think about rather abstract and challenging issues. As a designer, it is impossible for me to solve the complex problems in our society or to formulate an answer to them on my own; that requires a broader range of expertise and perspectives. What I can do is envision a possible future and make it tangible so that more people can shine their light on it. We cannot predict the exact future, but we can set a course together towards a desirable future. I hope to be able to contribute to determining that course with my speculative projects.
What kind of design/project would you like to realize in the future and why?
The Monuments for future m/otherhood installation feels like the beginning of a whole new landscape that I would like to investigate further and understand. It would be very interesting to turn it into a broader transdisciplinary research project and curate and shape an exhibition to accompany it.
Can you name another interesting designer who deals with the same subject, and why is his/her work so strong in your view?
Another well-known designer/artist who deals with the same subjects is Lucy McRae. What I admire about her work is how she continues to evolve in her research on the body and the theme of ‘touch’. Much of her work is about technology, but it’s very tangible and analogous. I find that inspiring. Her latest major solo exhibition is Futurekin. She envisions a future in which children are born from artificial wombs but have missed the safe feeling of an embrace at the beginning of their lives. One of the works is a machine that you can enter as an adult to feel an embrace.
How do you think you can make an impact with your work?
The impact in my work is hopefully in conceptualisation. Certainly, we can quickly fall into dystopian representations with a theme such as artificial wombs. We link this to well-known Hollywood sci-fi; these images are stuck in our heads. The images and stories also inspire scientists to develop the technology. With my work, I hope to create a different image of the future, with which we can shape a more responsible future together.
If you could choose one person to work with (a scientist, artist, philosopher, biologist, designer, politician, anyone), who would you choose and why?
Geez, what a tough question. This varies a lot. During the development of this project, my collaboration partner Cristina Zaga (DesignLab) pointed me to the work of philosopher Rosi Braidotti. Braidotti has a very interesting take on post-humanism that I would like to understand better and apply when developing new work. So if we could work with her, I think it would be super interesting and educational.
For or with which company would you like to do a project? And what kind of project would that be?
I like working as a designer in a lab situation where you have the space to experiment within different collaborations. Some companies have innovation labs like that, such as IKEA’s SPACE10, for example. That seems like a lot of fun to me, doing a project within the future of reproduction for one of those innovation labs.