Past the Present (Scenario Building) – Isabella Smythe

‘Obviously the things I create don’t actually exist but perhaps they could. In fact,
perhaps I create them because they should.’ (Piccinini,-)

 It is via use of speculative scenario construction that designers are able to create objects and technologies adaptive to our world. This can be seen in the work of Australian artist Patricia Piccinini as she uses her designs to speculate upon future scenarios and their impact on humans and also in the scholar, van der Leeuw’s writing. It is these values which have influenced my own opinion and use of scenario development in my journey as a designer.

Patricia Piccinini demonstrates her use of scenario development in her 2002 sculpture, ‘Still life with stem cells’ made with silicone, fiberglass and human hair (AGWA, 2010). A young girl is surrounded by and playing with skin-like lumps which appear to be alive, controversially speculating possible futures. This is demonstrated in her statement, ‘There are several questions that I always ask myself, and that are at the base of my work: What is the definition of “natural” and the definition of “artificial,” and how do those definitions change over time?’ (Piccinini,-).

Still Life With Stem Cells (2002), Patricia Piccinini

She confronts us to question the barriers between human nature and technology by producing sculptural artefacts in scenarios which appear humanlike with skin and hair, provoking empathy, but upon further inspection the audience realises they are not like us. . According to Rachel Kent, ‘From the mapping of the human genome to the growth of human tissue and organs from stem cells, Piccinini’s art charts a terrain in which scientific progress and ethical questions are intertwined.’ (Kent, 2014). Inspired by these developments in technology, she provides us with an insight of her own interpretation of what might be to come in the future and how we as humans, interact with these subjects of future science.

Scholar Sander E. van der Leeuw, shares a similar view on the importance of scenario development, as he believes ‘innovation can only become sustainable if supported by a new way of thinking informed by a generative  perspective and a deeper investigation of the impact of the present on the future’ (van der Leuw, 2012). We, as designers need to consider both present and future contexts in order to produce objects which meet all potential expectations for both eras.

 photo DIGITALLIFEAxis_zpsdd94e99b.jpg

To develop our scenario, we used four quadrants to examine all potential outcomes of technology use and human relationships, including both severe dystopic worlds as well as utopias. From this, we were able to create a scenario in which humans used technological operating systems which could do almost anything for them, decreasing the need for face to face contact. This scenario had both its negative and positive impacts on the world, much like any new artefact designed today and enabled us to speculate upon a potential future, and design objects accordingly, much like Patricia Piccinini.

1. van der Leuw, S., 2012. Global Systems Dynamics and Policy: Lessons from the Distant Past. In: Complexity Economics, 1, 57.
2. -, 2010. Grateful Grapefruit. Available online:
3. -, 2011. Patricia Piccinini. Tolnaro Galleries. Available online:
4. -, 2010. A Critical Analysis of Patricia Piccinini’s Art: A Re-presentation of Biotechnology. Art XY. Available online:
5. -, 2010. Patricia Piccinini: Relativity. Art Gallery of Western Australia. Available online:
6. Patricia Piccinini,2006. In Another Life exhibition catalogue, Wellington City Gallery, Wellington, NZ. Available online:


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