A Variation on the Powers of Ten: Framework for Understanding Research

01 Feb, 2012

A Variation on the Powers of Ten: Framework for Understanding Research

Visiting scholars, hosted by the Berkeley Center for New Media, Amy Franceschini and Michael Swaine make up the multidisciplinary art group known as Futurefarmers. The duo have taken the opening picnic scene from the 1977 Charles and Ray Eames film Powers of Ten as a conceptual framework for exploring and understanding research in various fields of inquiry. The project aims to explore limits of knowledge and how researchers continually move towards understanding new, unknown territories of their work. The framework for their research includes ten picnics, known as Powers of Ten Picnics, where they invite scholars to sit and discuss their work. They two have recast the picnic blanket as a space "where the quotidian and the cosmic co-mingle, as a simple picnic serves as the setting for folding scientific, theoretical, and philosophical conversation into everyday ritual."

As Futurefarmers, Franceschini and Swaine explore, not just concrete, but abstract questions about understanding and the consequences of knowledge. Most recently, their work has earned them a grant from the Graham Foundation. These research moments are also documented and and made available through the project website, found here. Discussions are photographed, podcast and archived for further use and are also hosted at different museums.

Currently, Powers of Ten will be showing at:
SFMOMA Six Lines of Flight on Sept. 15-Dec. 30, 2012
Bild Museet, Umea, Sweden on Nov. 2012

Among those they have picnicked with include:
Ignacio Chapela, Microbial Ecologist at UC Berkeley
Arthur Shapiro, Professor of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis
Ananya Roy, Professor of City and Regional Planning at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design
Ignacio Valero, Cultural Anthropologist at the California College of Arts

Bios (courtesy of the Graham Foundation)
Amy Franceschini is an artist and educator who creates formats for exchange and production, many times in collaboration with other practitioners. An overarching theme in her work is a perceived conflict between humans and nature. Her projects reveal the history and currents of contradictions related to this divide by collectively challenging systems of exchange and the tools we use to "hunt" and "gather." Her work often provides a playful entry point and tools for an audience to gain insight into deeper fields of inquiry—not only to imagine, but to participate in and initiate change in the places we live. She founded Futurefarmers in 1995. Her work has been exhibited in the Whitney Museum, Museum of Modern Art, and the Walker Art Center. She received her BFA from San Francisco State University and her MFA from Stanford. She currently teaches at both California College of the Arts and Stanford.

Michael Swaine is an inventor and designer working in many media. Michael has collaborated with Futurefarmers since 1997. He is dedicated to working in the community, and his Mending Library Generosity Project involved him pushing an old-fashioned, ice cream-style cart on wheels with a treadle-operated sewing machine through the streets of San Francisco. That project was included in exhibitions at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk Art, and the Exploratorium, San Francisco. He received a BFA from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University's School of Art and Design in Alfred, New York, and studied advanced ceramics and sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He teaches at California College of the Arts and is currently working on his MA in design at University of California, Berkeley.