Distilling Reality, Defining a Future

Interview with Michael Anastassiades

The London-based designer is invited by MDFF World Tour Greece as a guest curator for the first edition in Athens, presenting  a selection of  films conversing with “space and time”. How do we actually select a representation of the world we live in today, of our planet, and of humans? 

Exploring the role of design beyond standard definitions and summoning the power of film to engage audiences, Anastassiades sends his “Arecibo Message” as an ephemeral signal  to negotiate our quest for evolution.


You must be asked this question a lot, but it is something that I am curious about as well. Which is your main principle in design?
To have an intention. My main principle is that there needs to be a reason to engage with the act of design. If there is nothing new to contribute, why produce another object? To put it in other words, in my view, design is something to be done with consideration, a lot of thought and a higher level of consciousness.

This approach speaks to your ideas about the responsibility of the designer?
I think designers have an incredibly powerful position from which they can define the environment that we live in through design objects, through space-if you take architecture under the broad umbrella of design. So, the environment that defines our generation and hopefully the ones to come is precisely the theme that interests me for this year’s Milano Design Film Festival World Tour Greece–Athens.  

“Arecibo Message” is the title you have chosen for your guest curator section. What prompted you towards this concept?
“Arecibo Message” comes purely from memory. This was an interstellar radio message carrying basic information about humanity and Earth sent from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to outer Space in the mid—1970s. It was both a demonstration of human technological accomplishment and an attempt to surmise and represent the essence of who we are. For my generation, it’s like a childhood memory we share that connects us all to a time of fascination with space travel, UFO sightings and alien theories. 

I don’t think Arecibo Message functions as a point of reference for today’s generation, does it?
It is too old fashioned, too out of date, almost nostalgic. Yet, it very much touched my generation and my imagination in terms of how we communicate—not with the people of this planet, but with forms of life from another world. They are our audience and because they belong to a different space and time, they become a metaphor in our mind for future generations. They are not aliens anymore. They are our perception of how future generations will look at what we did, at what we are producing at this point in time. So, another question enters the frame: how do we actually select a true representation of the world we live in today, of our planet, and of human civilization in general? 

You have chosen a series of art films to address this question. Why is that?
Art films offer a subtle way to engage with the audience and my selection reflects my thoughts on what defines the future. They prescribe a certain psychological atmosphere and each touches upon the subject in a different way. If you imagine the theme I’ve chosen as a circle, these films are like satellites rotating around it, existing as different points on its diameter, sometimes escaping its boundaries completely. So, some of the films deal with the core idea in an abstract way, others relate directly to it and to the question of how we select objects in order to represent aspects of who we are. Nonetheless, it is important to point out that the idea of the “Arecibo Message” and what I’ve decided to communicate by curating this selection of art films functions as an invitation to see design in a different way. And we need different ways of seeing design rather than the traditional ones that we have been educated in. 

If this is the case, what is your way of seeing design?
I see design as a creative art. “Design” is almost like a name that is given to you, something that defines you just because you were trained in the discipline. It’s almost like trying to tame a creative soul into doing something and giving it a definition. The problem is that, as human beings, we have the tendency to go for definitions, because by defining something we can consume it better. Yet, I don’t feel that this is necessary. It concerns an insecurity we have.

Image: Michael Anastassiades, Photo by © Osma Harvilahti

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