Thomas Laurien: Hi Johanna, You belong to the core group of the network today and it would be interesting to get to know you a bit more. Where in life are you?
Johanna Mehl: I’m in that liminal space, where you pause for a little too long before attempting to answer a question like this because you have definitely surpassed something, but are not quite sure if or where you’ve arrived – or where that will lead you next. Geographically, I am in East Germany. I recently moved here for my doctorate studies and I am in the early stages of my research. I never knew that I would end up here, and I am happy that I’ll probably say that again in the future.
Thomas: Does your posthumanist interest get enough nourishment in this place that you now call home?
Johanna: Yes and no. Yes, because within this past year as a research associate in Dresden I got to know or learned about many encouraging people that in one way or another deal with the underlying codes, politics, and biases of design but also media, technology, infrastructure … Not as self-declared posthumanists, but as colleagues and beings that have something at stake. No, because my own artistic and more experimental, collaborative practice – that in my head is more connected to the sensory qualities of the term “nourishment” – is currently a bit sidetracked. But that’s not so much a matter of place, than a matter of capacity and also something that is temporary.
Thomas: Are there any posthumanist implications or dimensions in your doctoral project, and if so, can you elaborate a bit on that?
Johanna: The cyborg will probably make a few appearances! In my research I’m looking at the inherited and internalized politics of design responses that treat the climate crisis as though it can be technologically fixed. In the 1960s and 70s for example, environmental design in the west was very much infused by humanist ideals, techno-optimism, and anthropocentric ideas of survival that still haunt design, even in its most “eco” forms. There is definitely some critical posthumanism at work when scrutinizing design paradigms that have become institutionalized to the point of seeming self-evidence, though I would probably say that this research is guided by many forms of criticism. The environmental humanities will be a larger reference field in that they amplify questions of environmental justice. In this way, my project considers environmental design as inextricably enmeshed not only with the material realities, but also the social underbody of climate change.
Thomas: It sounds really interesting and important – I can’t wait to read your thesis! Thank you for now Johanna! Please accept the needle, and keep stitching!
Johanna: Thank you Thomas, I will!