In November 2017, Daria Jelonek and Perry-James Sugden were picked as finalists for the Wired Creative Hack Award Japan. Having met at the Royal College of Art two years prior, consequently collaborating on several projects, the pair used the award as a springboard to launch their studio Above&Below. A collaborative practice, the studio explores how digital and interactive tools can create positive changes in relation to our environment and human behaviours.
Working across immersive and interactive installations, motion graphics, spatial design, 3D material and AR, the studio’s name also represents the key facets of its work. Above reflects the space which sits on top of the studio’s practice and allows for speculative art and design works, which can create discussions with an audience. Below, however, is the counterpart, reflecting its research-led approach. A framework which creates meaningful concepts, enabling them to push the boundaries of ordinary digital design. This approach results in projects such as Terrain which examines the space between the digital and physical world, or Merge, an abstract computer-generated animation expressing the moment in time when a human interacts with a screen.
Below, we catch up with Daria and Perry to hear more about their fascinating work and how they developed their unique practice straddling art, design, technology and theory.
It’s Nice That: How did you both get into design and what attracted you to it over other creative mediums?
Above&Below: Both of us have a long interest in hands-on creations – having specialised in screenprint, film and spatial design. But we soon realised, our curious desire is to explore the digital and interactive world of design by pushing the boundaries between the physical and virtual world.
Combining this ambition with speculative design approaches, we believe design is the right tool for us to make complex topics tangible in order to create discussions on and offline.
INT: How would you describe your studio’s mission?
A&B: The studio’s aim is to wire unseen connections together to create new experiences through which we believe we can change a human behaviour for the better. We believe in exploring new or old human behaviours and new visual languages if we focus on future scenarios in which emerging technologies and code have the potential to improve our planet’s wellbeing. We always try to push the boundaries of how emerging creative technologies are used – to not only make use of the technologies but reveal and explore their potential for new interactions between human, machine and the environment.
INT: Tell us more about your theories in relation to how emerging tech and code can help build a better future for us? How are your projects working towards this?
A&B: We believe in the rise of a new terrain between our physical and digital environment, showing and discussing this through our commissions, artworks, talks and workshops we give. Our recent work Terrain, for example, looks into real-world physics and materials’ sustainability resulting in a speculative film and AR experience as a stimulus for the audience to experience and see what’s under an object’s surface.
Yes, we use academic theories, but we are more into hands-on research as a base for our projects. Our current year-long commission by Collusion in Cambridge is a good example for that. We are looking into people’s consumer behaviours and essential objects for living. In doing this, we explore how augmented reality could lead us to less consumption, shrinking or slowing physical production.
But let’s take NextNatureNewtwork’s theory that technology is humans’ new nature. If you understand this process, you can use emerging technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, robotics and machine learning to provoke and shape new human habits. After a while technology becomes part of our everyday life and therefore natural for us. Above&Below’s aim is, therefore, to take this possibility and create new positive interactions with our environment. So what if design has the power to create lasting changes in people’s habits and do something good for our planet and societies?
Above&Below will be exhibiting and giving a talk on sustainable AR at London Design Festival from 15–23 September.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.