Memory Work is a research-based scenario and immersive speculative soundscape, indicating possible futures of women’s labour. Click the headings below to read the soundscape script, and learn more about the signals of change that informed it.
SOUND: Soothing meditative music and gentle wind chimes.
Take a moment to settle, and in your own time, close your eyes.
We’re going to visit a future. I’m going to guide you.
You can let go of whatever’s on your mind for now. It’ll all be waiting for you when we return.
Just take one deep breath in — and out.
As we travel through time, notice what you hear around you. Perhaps the sounds will evoke your other senses. Note any visuals, smells, or sensations you might imagine. And notice how you feel about the future we visit.
SOUND: A sonic journey through time with both chaotic and serene moments that become increasingly intense; sounds of climate change and weather events, overlaid with a montage of news stories – news reporter voices announcing headlines and radio frequencies.
Extreme weather conditions around the world…
Locust infestation threatens food security and livelihoods in...
New evidence confirms that materials produced by the petrochemical industry are affecting reproductive health…
Amidst the turmoil of global climate displacement, The City of Toronto announces itself as a Haven City for Climate Refugees.
Economic inequality has grown more conspicuous than ever…
I’m taking my family off the grid. I heard about these permaculture farms where we can live communally, and honour Gaia.
Bloomberg takes you inside the global biotech cooperative with a sensible plan to fix the planet.
This is about undoing what we’ve done. Healing our planet and healing ourselves.
Dubbed the Mothers of Invention, could a women-led movement of entrepreneurs and innovators usher us into a new kind of economic system?
SOUND: The time travel ends in Toronto, setting the scene of moving through an enormous and dense metropolis; sounds of travelling through Toronto neighbourhoods and hearing people’s voices, snippets of music from moving vehicles. Eventually settling in a Business Garden, a financial district of sorts – busy, but pristine, clean. Some sounds of professional life, people, technology, and nature.
We’re here Lov — Toronto Megacity – in the Dish with One Spoon. It’s a lot more crowded than you’re used to. I was one of the first climate refugees to land here.
We’re going to glimpse a few possible fates — you might even sense your own future, or how things could unfold for your children and descendents.
But not before we visit my grand-daughter Bao! She’s what they call a Creative Biologist. She whispers to nature and it does what she says. Bao’s in her studio now, showing off one of her pet projects.
SOUND: Entering Bao’s bio studio lab.
It’s kind of a living sealant. And it loves to cozy up in these little concrete cracks and crevices.
SOUND: Sounds of slimy substance curling and stretching, undulating its way across a concrete block and squeezing into a crack.
Once it finds its tiny home, it starts a family… they reproduce until they fill the entire crack. And here’s the remarkable thing...
It’s … repairing the crack. Is that concrete?
Exactly. It secretes a material that’s very much like cement. In fact, it’s even more effective for sealing off air and moisture leaks.
SOUND: Demo-ing blowing air, leaks.
Plus, it handles all the manual labour… This is remarkable. Imagine. All those run-down condos... in Liberty Village. These … creatures … could fix them.
The problem is it works too well... These edited micro-organisms have a way of insisting…. It seems safe so far... I’m just not sure what could happen…
That’s my Bao, you see.
This generation, they think about healing. My granddaughter knows her responsibility — weaving new life forms into existence.
Speaking of which—
SOUND: Sounds of a crowded, dense neighborhood as we enter the Jungles. We hear Sam’s voice speaking into a digital interface, and her footsteps, walking through the crowds.
Like I always say, when you’ve hosted as many amazing babies as I have, you command a certain value.
Anyway — gotta go see my sister Timesha for a tightening. Sacred space, so — eclipsing my live cast. Back in a few hours! [SOUND: Interface powers off]
That’s Sam — broadcasting to her fans.
Sam’s a surrogate entrepreneur. And a pretty famous one. She’s on her way to see Timesha, her old friend and a cosmetic healer in the neighbourhood.
SOUND: Background sound changes to the calm inside an apartment setting – Timesha’s home; ambient music, chimes.
Timesha’s just finishing with another client – a young man called Dom who’s preparing for a big interview.
Remember, iron sharpens iron. [SOUND: Hair braiding, scalp massage sounds in between] Gratitude and giving. That’s a seed for your braid.
Okay, you’re all set.
Thanks for your care, Timesha. This braid-up is serious. Let me pay you just now.
Activate Bunz. [SOUND: Interface response – ding] Transfer 3 hours to Timesha Winston. Note: baby-sitting credit in exchange for protective care. [SOUND: Interface transaction sounds]
SOUND: Timesha carefully gathers Dom’s hair from her brush. Setting it down, she lights it with a match. Timesha is clearing her space between clients. Sam walks in and the space chimes.
SAM: (intense, anxious, smiley, preoccupied)
Hiiii. Hi Dom! Timesha! It’s so good to be back home. Ugh. Let me tell you, I had the worst day.
Garden folx think just because they have money, they’re gonna own my body — exclusively?! I’m not a regular-degular child bearing maid. Watch — I can very easily make this a bidding war. They wanna rent my womb like it’s some office space. And what of my time, my discipline, my care, my genetic excellence.
That’s a lot to negotiate. Let me take a look at you, lov. How’s your heart?
My heart, I don’t know… Did I tell you they’re skimping out on my housing credits? Do you know how expensive it is to live in the gardens? They sought ME out. I’m like, “have the baby yourself if you don’t like my terms.”
I’m tired of holding their hand, T. I’m just... exhausted. I’ve got a few more trimesters left in me, and I’m out.
— and then what?
I donno. Form a family. Of kin. Instead of profiting off predators.
So that’s where your heart is. Let’s start by slowly returning to the body. [pause.] What are we lifting today?
I need another abdominoplasty, microbiome cleanse, psilocybin refill...
SOUND: Clear atmospheric sound.
So sweet that Timesha. How she mends the fabric.
Let’s check in on Dom — he’s in that important appointment I was telling you about.
SOUND: Sounds of walking through forestry, bodies and hands brushing by leaves; human voices, wildlife in the background.
Hi Dom — I’m glad you could meet me here. Thanks for coming all this way.
Uh - hi. No problem. You’re the uh… Purposeful Placement Officer?
Yes. I’m your Transitionist.
… So – what is this place? You found me a job already?
We don’t do job placements, Dom. My purpose is to get you linked in with a meaningful existence.
Oh. You know I’ve got a daughter yeah? You’ve seen my profile?
This commune came up as a strong fit for you and your family. It’s a rewilding project. Converting this old coal mine into a permaculture wildscape. It’s all governed by ancestral intelligence. You’d be undoing generations of environmental trauma.
SOUND: Sounds of coal mine pulleys, dirt and soil being shoveled and moved, sounds of bees, birds, frogs, farming – human voices and livestock in the background.
I can feel it.
Yes – our empathic analysis suggested your yearning to connect to the land. The stewards here need your guidance.
… Well — back home — yeah — I used to farm with the elders... in the vihamba… I think we could grow coffee here………... What are those deep pits?
Those used to be mine shafts, they’re converted into vertical farms...They grow augmented cork plants in there for the carbon capture….
SOUND: Fade out of that world, soothing meditation music returns.
That’s probably enough futuring for today, Lov.
What do you think?
Now, those are just a few of the infinite possible fates.
As we make our way back to the present, take a moment to consider:
What would this world mean for you, your children and your descendents?
How would you change the scenario?
Did anything leave you feeling uncomfortable?
What would you keep?
The future’s ours to make.
OK. Open your eyes.
The world is waiting….
In a looming future—— Earth’s natural systems are restless. Global energy, food, and water scarcity demand lifestyle adjustments for everyone. The global economy has slowed, its decline attributed mainly to the effects of climate change and strains on natural resources. In Toronto, populations have more than tripled in the past thirty years, largely due to the influx of climate refugees arriving from the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, China, and Eastern and Southern Africa.
Economic inequality is more severe than ever and the city is a patchwork of two types of neighbourhoods: densely populated zones, mostly composed of deteriorating condos — “the jungles” — and more manicured residential and business districts, or “gardens.” Lack of opportunity sways many to migrate outside of the city — forming kin and finding meaning in the project of rewilding our natural world.
Toronto proves its resilience. The desperate moment produces a wave of mostly women introducing different kinds of economic models, technologies, and ways of thinking. Known as the Mothers of Invention, their movement assembles around notions of healing and Ancestral iIntelligence — the careful application of ancestral knowledge to technology.
Slowly, the economy is finding new form. One of the world’s most influential organizations, Almanac, is a worker cooperative in the Desktop Biotech space. Almanac provides its membership with the tools and materials of programmable biology for projects that help undo environmental disturbance and cultivate gracious relationships with our ecological neighbours.
The following are cultural artifacts from the future scenario, Memory Work. Although they might only exist in this possible future world, they are informed by signals of change observed today. Click each artifact to explore the social, political, technological, and theoretical signals that informed it.
A call for people to be with and of nature, to take care of each other and the Earth through mutual aid and collectivized reproduction — the concept of a Living Internet took root as a new way of thinking and feeling about how we form kin.
Like mushrooms springing from disseminated spores, an ad-hoc network of communes began to emerge outside of cities. Populated by urbanite folx who looked to move from precarious conditions to collective survival — the communes embodied ways of life oriented around slowness, intentionality, distributed abundance, and decentralized care.
The Living Internet became a kind of superorganism mediating the flow of nutrients among all living beings.
“She is the bridge between infrastructure and ecology, immediacy and longevity, information and life. We are the spiritual caretakers of the Living Internet, charged with the responsibility of growing and nurturing her.” — A Field Guide to the Living Internet
Signal: Full Surrogacy Now
Entity: Sophie Lewis
Sophie Lewis’s Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family (2019) proposes that we practice “full surrogacy” by abolishing traditional notions of the family. Recognizing all gestation as productive work that involves both immense physical and emotional labour, Lewis calls for a need to take collective responsibility for children as a means to radically transform our notions of kinship and care.
Signal: Multispecies Ecojustice
Entity: Donna Haraway
“Make Kin Not Babies!” is the slogan of Donna Haraway’s concept of the Chthulucene, a plea for a world different from the anthropocene or capitalocene. The Chthulucene calls for multispecies ecojustice that denies human exceptionalism. Haraway challenges readers to make “kin” in persons not bound by ancestry or genealogy, and outside of normative familial (or species-bound) structures — an act of restructuring work and family while challenging the role of the private home within the economy.
Entity: Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman
Scholars like Hortense Spillers and Saidiya Hartman argue that the transatlantic slave trade created a social and juridical condition of “kinlessness” that was imposed by force and can be transmitted through birth. This exile from legal kinship can be seen as having no family, despite having many children.
Entity: Rachelle Garcia Seliga
“Revillaging” is a term that is increasingly being used in traditional healing communities to describe the importance of revitalized community support and social connections, particularly in postpartum care. A model that focuses on spiritual maturity to support the developmental needs of children and support adults in the necessary rites of passage, revillaging is about cultivating multi-generational way of life.
Signal: Hyperlocal Community Networks
Hyperlocal Community Networks are bottom-up, dynamic forms of organizing in emergent, localized (walking-distance) groups to leverage social capital and commonality for mutual aid, connection, and a sense of community. For example, Nextdoor is a hyperlocal social network that sorts users into neighbourhood-specific private groups. It is designed to amplify local voices and counter digitally induced isolation by creating a neighbourhood hub for trusted connections and exchange of information, goods, and services, both online and offline.
Signal: Communizing Care
Entity: ME O’Brien
ME O’Brien’s “Communizing Care” argues that communes are the answer to the essential question, “How can we take care of each other?” — the question that will arise in a revolutionary process. Highlighting that care in our capitalist society is a “commodified, subjugated, and alienated act,” the piece calls for the abolition of the family as the positive creation of new institutions and practices of love, reproduction, and erotic life. Drawing from French socialist Charles Fourier’s concept of the phalanx, O’Brien provides a vision for communes to come, with the collectivization of domestic, social, and reproductive labour as a strategy for survival and community.
Signal: More-Than-Human Politics
Entity: Anab Jain
Anab Jain argues for a “More-Than-Human” Politics — “a new kind of tentacular, multi-kind, multi-species politics of care … that gives us a kind of relational agency to help us imagine alternatives for living with and through global warming.” She created a manifesto (2020) that shifts perspectives from human-centred to more-than-human (e.g., fixing → caring, innovation → resurgence, nodes → knots) as the beginnings of a Field Guide to this practice.
Signal: A Field Guide to the Living Internet
Entity: Udit Vira
Inspired by the symbiotic arrangement between people and forest, A Field Guide to the Living Internet is a speculative piece that considers what it might be like if the internet was a living entity. Imagining the internet as a long-lasting natural system based on values of intergenerational stewardship, inclusivity, and kindness, it serves as a field-guide on how to grow and care for the Living Internet as its spiritual caretakers.
Referring to a loosely knit movement of political, business, and spiritual leaders; entrepreneurs, scientists, and innovators; and their supporters — the words Mothers of Invention (or the initialism MOI) are found emblazoned amidst the taped seams, utility straps, and zipped pockets of tech aprons and lab coats (worn functionally and fashionably as a political statement).
In response to the clumsy and ineffectual Climate Imperative of the first decades of the 21st century, the anti-patriarchal Mothers of Invention seized control of the world’s institutions — transitioning big businesses into cooperative models, formalizing new means of equitable exchange, and choosing nurture over growth.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention.
Entity: Research & Degrowth
The Degrowth Movement emerged in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the following decade-long experience of stagnation in the derogatorily named PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain). A “missile concept” meant to provoke conversation, degrowth isn’t a theoretically or programmatically unified movement, but a range of alternative economic practices and policies united around opposition to the notion that economic growth is the only way to improve individual, social, and environmental well-being. In this, it draws on feminist critiques of the economy that range from Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel-prize winning work on the commons to Australian economic geographers J. K. Gibson-Graham’s work on already existing non-capitalist markets and community economic practices.
Signal: Caring Currency
Entity: Sawayaka Welfare Foundation
Fureai Kippu, or “caring relationships tickets” (1995–present), are one of the most successful time banks to date; in the middle of a lost decade of asset price collapse and stagnation, they were used by cash-poor individuals to trade in a “caring currency”. Hours as credits are received for the time spent taking care of parents and grandparents of those who had moved away from their families in search of work. The time credits can then be redeemed later for services or help.
Signal: The Feminine Economy
Entity: Sister; Feminist Economic Recovery Plans for COVID-19
Sister is a feminist business consultancy (2015–present) that asks what the principles of a feminine economy might look like; it offers courses, consulting services, and materials like a “business birthing handbook” to design and prototype businesses organized around values of collaboration, gratitude, generosity, empathy, etc. The Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women and Canada’s Institute for Gender and the Economy have both published “A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan” for the COVID-19 pandemic (2020), which acknowledges the significant impacts of the pandemic on women’s health, livelihoods and bodily integrity. They put forth recommendations to diversify and reshape the economy we want in ways that advance equity in gender, race, indigeneity, and class.
Signal: Platform Cooperatives
Entity: Trebor Scholz
The platform cooperative movement, coined by Trebor Scholz (2016–present), has updated industrial cooperatives for the possibilities of the digital age, spawning worker-owned platforms for services like ride-sharing, food preparation, and producing intellectual property for the creative industries; the idea has recently attracted interest from feminist intersectional perspectives and practices.
Signal: Domestic Exchange
Entity: The FX Beauties
The FX (Foreign Exchange) Beauties are an online group of Japanese housewives whose active trades represent 30% of all retail currencies traded out of Japan. Described as “amateur currency speculators,” they are challenging the traditional position of Japanese housewives in an introverted country dominated by conventions of gendered domesticity in the home. Christine Bjerke’s project “(On the Floating World of) the FX Beauties” questions the limitations of the home and examines the architecture that reflects the shifting position of women working within a self-governed, decentralized network.
Signal: Decolonising Design
Entity: Journal of Futures Studies
Decolonising Design is a movement launched in 2016 by a collective of globally dispersed designers with a manifesto. It asks how might decentred ways of seeing, knowing, and acting in the world away from exclusively Anglo/Eurocentric views, and toward a plurality of other ways of sensing and sense-making. The project continues to be inspired by, as well as extended and enriched with work from Latin American and Caribbean contexts, such as development anthropologist Arturo Escobar’s notion of “pluriversality,” to describe the operations of design at an ontological level, in the design of a plurality of inhabitable worlds.
Signal: Cyberfeminist Catalog
Entity: Mindy Seu
Mindy Seu’s Cyberfeminist Catalog 1990–2020 (2019) stemmed from a collaborative online index and is now assembled as a resource that challenges the dominant understanding of internet history. Focusing on intersectionality, it maps the radical techno-critical activism that shapes a cyberfeminist counterpublic. Its manifestation as a printed catalog draws reference to the New Woman’s Survival Catalog or Whole Earth Catalog, and it is meant to live on as an open-access, open-source, and a crowdsourced website for others to respond to and build upon.
Signal: Black Quantum Futurism
Entity: Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips
Black Quantum Futurism is a literary and aesthetic collective (2015–present) that builds off the lineage of afrofuturism identified in the 1990s, which looked to the particularities and legacies of the Middle Passage and slavery in shaping a dislocated and hybrid perspective, aesthetic, philosophy, design culture, and more. The collective also runs a Community Futures Lab in North Philadelphia.
Signal: Critical Jugaad
Entity: Deepa Butoliya
Designer and professor Deepa Butoliya’s PhD research on “critical jugaad” (2018) looked to India to explore vernacular DIY making practices and their relationship to colonial powers; these kinds of on-the-ground design practices have implications that remain underexplored by the critical design community at large.
Signal: Informal Economies
Entity: Niti Bhan and Beulah Osueke
The Prepaid Economy: Africa (2013–present) is a research project on the leapfrogging potential and vernacular innovations of digital technologies as they intersect with the informal economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, an economic sector that is often particularly led by women.
Signal: Society-Centred Design
Society-Centred Design (2020) is a design manifesto by London-based design collective If, calling for a framework that goes beyond human-centred design to advocate for civic value, equity, the common good, public health, and the plant. It centres on design principles such as put care first, earn trust, empower collective agency, create patterns for public value, and redistribute the power of tech.
The Cosmetic Healer offers personal care services that are not merely aesthetic, but also affective, producing positive psychological and mental health outcomes. Cosmetic healing practices include a broad array of services from ancestral dietary guidance to postpartum care. In the application of topical cures and facial serums, in the intimate acts of stretching, massaging, and sculpting the body, in the pull of lifting surgeries, and in the tensile pressure of braiding — subtle energies, ripples of love and compassion, transfer through the therapist to the client. Among Cosmetic Healers, treatments involving the manipulation, stimulation, and removal of hair are most sacred. Hair is seen as our subtlest sensing technology, an antenna to our external and inner worlds. It is also a storage device, a kind of soft drive, a recording of selfhood and generations of trauma. The rubbing, kneading, and then pulling of the hair into braids is a labour of care, stimulating growth and ascension to a higher self.
Given the nature of vulnerability involved with their practices and the level of faith entrusted to Cosmetic Healers, they often operate only within smaller, local communities, offering their services to lifelong friends and fictive kin in exchange for invaluable gifts such as childcare, home-cooked meals, and expert advice.
Signal: The Trusted Hairdresser
Entity: The Confess Project, The Lions Barber Collective
Hairdressers are one of the most trusted professions. Leveraging on the unique trusting relationship and the tendency to confide or unburden in salon spaces, Illinois implemented a law that mandates salon workers to be trained in abuse prevention as part of the licensing process. The training is meant to put cosmetologists on alert to emotional abuse in particular, in the hopes of helping to curb domestic abuse and sexual assault. Meanwhile, salons and organizations like The Confess Project and The Lions Barber Collective are training hair stylists and barbers on how to advocate for and provide mental health support to clients, and also themselves.
Signal: Hair as Antennae
Entity: Asia Clarke
“Labour of Love” is a hair styling and jewelry series by Asia Clarke (designer of Wild Moon Jewelry and a foresight strategist with From Later). It harkens back to the spiritual roots of hair as antennae, acknowledging black hair adornment as divine architecture. The project is meant to be a form of creative resistance against the suppression of black hair expression throughout history.
“When you are braiding someone’s hair, you are touching their head. You become very familiar with something in them that feels like an insecurity, and you are turning that into a place of pride.
Every time I twist someone’s hair, I have to do it with love. That love requires attention to details. The love that’s in it is coming from me out to that person through my talents, but it is also reflected back to me in the way that they are receiving love because of how they look. I’m doing hair with a consciousness that I am able to uplift people, to make them feel better — that’s a superpower.” — Asia Clarke
Signal: Unpaid Care
Entity: Emotional Labor: The Metafilter Thread Condensed
Emotional Labor: The MetaFilter Thread Condensed (2016) is an annotated MetaFilter thread about contemporary observations on emotional labour. Inspired by Jess Zimmerman’s “Where’s My Cut?: On Unpaid Emotional Labor” (2015), the thread unpacks deeply rooted collective assumptions, and ways to undo as well as rethink the cost of emotional labour, particularly in the care industry.
Signal: Ethical Framework for Emotional Labour
Entity: Clementine Morrigan, “Three Thoughts on Emotional Labour”
Clementine Morrigan’s “Three Thoughts on Emotional Labour” (2017) highlights how the acknowledgement that emotional labour is frequently exploited has translated into a belief that emotional labour is inherently exploitative. To counter this discourse, she calls for the need to accept emotional labour within an ethical framework by asking if it is consensual, valued, and reciprocated.
Signal: Drag as Therapy
Entity: Drag Therapy
Broadly speaking, drag is a way to express oneself through “appearance, action, and dress.” As an artform within the LGBTQ community, it has a history of fostering resiliency and strength. The practice is also increasingly recognized as a psycho-social therapeutic tool to address confining notions of identity and improve mental health. New York-based practice Drag Therapy, for example, is an interactive, mixed-medium psychotherapy for individuals and groups to identify, explore, and embody different “Drags” of themselves with the aim of increasing emotional flexibility, creativity, spontaneity, and joy. For the trans community, developing a drag persona can also be an important tool to take back the control of objectification — to be able to express oneself freely and also be closer to the image they see of themselves on a day-to-day basis.
“Drag fulfils many of the aims of CBT, which involves weakening entrenched negative thought patterns and replacing them with more self-reparative ones … In drag, you live out a fantasy that directly contradicts the reality of your core beliefs … It is only the gift of drag that has been able to change the very nature of my core beliefs.” — British-Iraqi writer, drag performer, and filmmaker Amrou Al-Kadhi
Signal: The Epigenetic Inheritance of Trauma
The epigenetic inheritance of trauma is a widely contentious area of debate within the living sciences. A number of studies in mice have shown evidence of the intergenerational effect of trauma, such as those associated with scent through an altered epigenetic signature in sperm DNA. Although these studies have been used as a model for studying the mechanism in humans, and recent studies on trauma transmission among Holocaust survivors and prisoners of war have indicated an epigenetic explanation, sample sizes in these studies are small and the science remains young.
Signal: Victoria-Era Hairwork
Entity: Helen Sheumaker, Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hair Work
Hairwork, which evolved from the craft of wigmakers, became a highly popular and accessible middle-class activity in the Victorian era. Mourning jewelry, in particular, was a fashionable trend of painstakingly hand-crafting lockets, rings, brooches, and weaved bracelets or wreaths with the hair of the recently deceased. Given the decay-resistant nature of hair, hairwork was an act of devotion to one’s connection with the dead, and was also a means to preserve a sentimental and everlasting memento of a loved one.
Signal: Grains in Her Hair
Entity: Judith A. Carney
Oral history offers the narrative that the enslaved African woman played a crucial role in the diffusion of rice seeds across the Atlantic. By braiding rice grains in her hair so the seeds could escape detection, her efforts established an African subsistence preference in South America and also the United States, enabling her descendants to survive on the plantations.
The field of Ancestral Intelligence (a mended iteration of AI) integrates more-than-human ways of thinking — reviving ecological frameworks from indigenous knowledge and employing the sensing and processing powers of plants to better understand our situation in the natural world. Ancestral Intelligence is governed by a covenant of reciprocity, to honourably transact with the natural systems whose intelligence we’ve relied on to produce our medicine, food, energy, and building materials. The principles of Ancestral Intelligence are applied throughout the living sciences and in the biotechnologies. New life is cultivated to heal environments: microorganisms that filter air pollutants, purify waters, and regenerate soils.
Entity: Julia Watson
Julia Watson’s Lo-TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism (2019) is the first compendium of indigenous design technologies, such as the living root bridges of the Khasi hill tribe of northern India, meant to serve as an inspiration and model for the sustainable biodesign of new infrastructures, buildings, and landscapes.
Signal: Grammar of Animacy
Entity: Robin Wall Kimmerer
“Grammar of Animacy,” coined by Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass (2013), refers to the linguistic structure to speak of the living world as fully sentient, as if it were a person, as if it were our family. Stemming from her fascination with the almost-lost language of her native Potawatomi Nation, it ascertains an Indigenous worldview that Western scientific language lacks the words to articulate.
Signal: Whole Systems Agriculture
Entity: Permaculture Women’s Guild
Permaculture Women’s Guild’s Permaculture Design Course is a whole-system design course taught by an international faculty of women. With an aim to empower busy, creative women to spend more time designing gardens, homesteads, and livelihoods, the course focuses on Earth-care, people-care, and future-care ethics to create cultural alternatives and human habitats that regenerate the Earth.
Signal: Weaving Code, Coding Weaves
Entity: The Penelope Project
The Penelope Project (2016–present) is an exploration of weaving as a technical mode of existence, as inspired by the Ancient Greeks’ belief that weaving is a fundamental link to the cosmos. Through the creation of citizen science exhibits, the project aims to design and construct tangible programming systems for live-coding looms and new forms of robotic weavers that can manipulate ancient loom technology.
Signal: Black Afterlives Matter
Entity: Ruha Benjamin
Ruha Benjamin argues for “Black Afterlives Matter” — the practice of cultivating “kinfulness” beyond biological relatives to include the materially dead or spiritually alive ancestors in our midst. Rooted in a stubborn refusal to forget and be forgotten, it invokes the idea of “ancestral co-presence,” an evocation of ancestors through spiritual practices of ancestral communication to remember and imagine things that have not been witnessed by drawing on the experiences of one’s ancestors.
Signal: Ancestral Accountability
Entity: Future Ancestors Services Inc.
Future Ancestors Services Inc. is a Canada-based Indigenous and Black-owned enterprise that provides speaking, training, research, and community services centred around ancestral accountability, climate justice, and equity. It was created in response to the demands of climate change and social intolerance of systemic racism, colonial violence, and ignorance of lived realities.
Signal: Indigenous Sciences
The Kari-Oca Declaration asserts that “the health rights of indigenous people must include the recognition and respect of traditional knowledge held by Indigenous healers.” Further, “Indigenous Peoples' harmonious relationship with nature, Indigenous sustainable development models, development strategies and cultural values must be respected as a distinct and vital sources of knowledge.” As its final point, the Declaration says, “The United Nations should promote research into Indigenous knowledge and develop a network of Indigenous sciences.”
The Declaration was adopted at the Indigenous Peoples meeting held before the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In the age of creative biology, the biggest challenge facing the technosphere is the closing of its materials loops and waste streams. Taking inspiration from the deep time-tested processes of evolutionary adaptation and Gaia-scale recycling, engineers, designers, and citizens are turning to biomaterials for inspiration — combining long-known traditional techniques with new molecular-scale capacities for intervention. One of the most influential organizations in the world, Almanac, provides the tools, materials, and training to a new generation of problem solvers working to make products (from organic buildings to bio-fashion) that are more resilient, more adaptive, and cycled more efficiently back into the metabolic processes of the Earth.
Almanac’s organizational code reads as follows:
About Almanac | We Make Living Tools™
Almanac is a design ecosystem for the era of creative biology.
We are a cooperative of citizens, makers, scientists, engineers, and organizations coordinating productive workflows for programmable biology.
Together, we’re creating a flourishing desktop biotech economy, governed by a philosophy of stewardship, sustainability, slowness, and safety.
We’re giving everyone — from curious citizens to seasoned designers — the tools, materials, and knowledge to create with biology and make the most out of life.
Signal: Mediated Matter
Entity: Neri Oxman
Neri Oxman’s Mediated Matter group (2010–present) at the MIT Media Lab researches and prototypes at the intersection of computational design and bio-derived materials and techniques, such as architectural structures grown from silk, 3D-printed composites of cellulose and pectin that can be recycled by the rain, and programmable living materials that respond to touch and light.
Signal: Creative Biodesign
Entity: Natsai Audrey Chieza
Natsai Audrey Chieza’s Faber Futures (2018–present) is a creative biodesign studio that researches synthetic biology and the use of bacteria, fungi, and algae for fabrication techniques in the textile industry, such as in-vitro biopigment dyes and waste recycling, raising questions around the desirability of biotechniques that could be more robust but less efficient.
Signal: Biology as Macrotechnology
Entity: The Biological Factory
“The Biological Factory” refers to how full control of biology through multispecies mapping of genomes can allow us to manipulate nature and reality in unprecedented ways. Paul Dabrowski, CEO of Synthego, argues that biology is a macrotechnology that can be used to imagine cities as single organisms with specialization, and that mutability on a macro level can allow us to present environments that fulfill the needs of people.
Signal: Biomaterials Community Laboratory
Entity: Somos Labva
Somos Labva is an independent and self-managed biomaterials community laboratory and kitchen located in Chile. Artists cook up and grow biomaterials, and research local and circular economies, aiming to bring science closer to the community by focusing especially on new materials or open biomaterials.
Signal: Mushroom Materials
Entity: Mycelium Foundry, Reishi
Mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, is increasingly being developed and used as a sustainable source of material. Examples include Ecovative’s Mycelium Foundry, which uses mycelium to grow advanced materials by programming biology, and Mycoworks’ Reishi, which is now being marketed as a plastic-free, non-animal premium leather alternative for the fashion industry.
Signal: Tree-Grown Homes
Entity: Fab Tree Hab
Terreform ONE’s Fab Tree Hab (2008) is a home concept where the living structure is grafted into shape with prefabricated Computer Numeric Controlled reusable scaffolds. As a method to grow homes from native trees, it enables dwellings to be fully integrated into an ecological community.
Memory Work is a research-based future scenario. The immersive audio track invites listeners to visualize — in the mind’s eye — a possible future environment. It is not a prediction. It is neither visionary, as in preferred, nor is it admonitory, as in dystopian. It is intended as material for meditation, stimuli for imagining collective future memory.
Informed by individual and communal memories of women’s work in Toronto (particularly through the prisms of class, gender, immigration, status, and race), along with theoretical suggestions toward a new socio-economic paradigm, Memory Work engages with ethical and moral imperatives across (past, present, and future) time.
History is written by the privileged, framed by their prejudices, and coloured by their biases. History records. Memory recalls — through mutual recounting and reconstruction of lived experience. Through memory work, collective futures can be imagined.
We encourage you to use this as a resource, to question it and to iterate on it, generating your own future experiences, visions, vignettes, and artifacts.
For workshops or additional educational resources, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Land Acknowledgement: This project was produced primarily in the meeting place of Toronto, Ontario, which is located on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe, and the Wendat. The territory is within the lands protected by the Dish with One Spoon Treaty – a living agreement. We acknowledge these Nations and other recorded or unrecorded Nations as the past, present, and future caretakers of this land, referred to as Tkaronto, "Where the Trees Meet the Water", "The Gathering Place".
This Women’s Work Project Team & Artists: Alica Hall, Natasha Singh, Macy Siu, Robert Bolton, Hima Batavia, Skylar Cheung, Farihah Shah, Tala Kamea, and Naomi Skwarna.
Research: Macy Siu, Asia Clarke, Alyssa Alikpala, Nehal El-Hadi, Robert Bolton, Valdis Silins, and Udit Vira.
Sound Design: Dani Ramez
Additional Music: Haniely Pableo (Han Han)
Voice Actors: Mecha Clarke, Nehal El-Hadi, Ananda Gabo, Zaki Ibrahim, Rashid Sobers, Robert Bolton, and Macy Siu, with Tony Baumann, Erin Lee, Dan Meery, Lana Royce, and Adam Stevenson.
Design: Strike Design Studio
Fonts: Glyphworld, Authentic Sans, Gallique
Special Thanks: Erin Brassel, Laura Dempsey, Ellen Hlozan, Jen Maramba, Alexandra McCalla, Radha Mistry, Maya Shoucair, Judy Virago, Dawn Walker, and Pamela Wong.