Ollie Palmer is an artist, designer, and educator whose work focuses on control systems and the absurd. His work encompasses film-making, installation, programming, composition and performance. He has exhibited at venues including the V&A Museum, Royal Institute of British Architects, Palais de Tokyo, Seoul Museum of Art, and Paris Opera Garnier. He holds a PhD from Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, titled Scripted performances: designing performative architectures through digital and absurd machines, which examines methodologies of working through scripted design processes and the role of the absurd as a critical tool within design.
From 2011-2014 Palmer taught Masters students in the Interactive Architecture Lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture UCL (currently ranked #1 in the world for architecture), supervising projects as diverse as a machine for creating a giant floating cloud of cotton candy, inflatable ‘soft’ robotics, digital sycamore seeds and series of slime-mould-inspired robotic frames which roam London’s parks. Teaching interests include advanced fabrication and prototyping techniques, passive dynamic robotics, programming and physical computing, as well as film-making and graphic design. In 2017, he authored and taught a design ethics seminar series at the School of the Art Institute Chicago.
From 2018-19 he taught in TU Delft’s Architecture department on three courses. One has its roots firmly in futures design, asking students to envision design scenarios and architecture for the post-oil port cities of Dunkirk, Naples, and Rotterdam. Another course explores the relationship between text and image in architecture, combining technical and creative writing and drawing skills. The third course is about pure creativity, encouraging freedom of process, thought, and medium, in an otherwise largely technical professional degree. This is something he finds particularly important, as he strongly believes that creativity is achieved by acknowledging and exposing one’s own vulnerability. By emphasising the importance of this humility to students – encouraging them to acknowledge that they are the product of social and environmental forces – ultimately produces more reflexive design with greater emphasis on social responsibility.
Dr. Ollie Palmer holds a PhD by Design from the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. His thesis used seven of his own design, art, and film projects to explore concepts around the ‘script’ in design, from computational, performative, and psychological perspectives. The research culminated in the creation of a novel design method, loosely based on Oulipian constrained writing, entitled Reflexive Scripted Design. This method calls for practitioners to create a radical series of contextually-defined constraints, which are then ‘performed’ into their own projects. The prototypical test of the technique was a film he made during an artistic residency at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and resulted in a work whose form was a reflection of its content. He is keen to further test and develop this methodology, both in his own artistic practice, and as a teaching tool. I believe this method of extreme self-imposed constraints may be useful for students as it forces the design process to be ‘performed,’ increasing the significance of decisions that are made, and raising the possibility of discourse around processes rather than artefacts.
Exhibitions & Bibliography
Palmer was artist in residence at the Palais de Tokyo’s research lab, Pavillon, from November 2015 to June 2016. During this residency, he produced two films in collaboration with INA (the French National Film Archives) and the Seoul Museum of Art. His project Scriptych was a collaboration with Simon Valastro at Paris’ Opera Garnier. Shown in June 2016, the performance featured a bespoke interface enabling dancers to interact with a machine-learnt database. This was the latest in a larger series of works examining the philosophical implications of computing; his earlier work, Nybble, transformed the courtyard of the V&A Museum into a large-scale computing device exploring John Searle’s ‘Chinese Room’ argument against hard artificial intelligence.
Palmer has been involved with a number of high-profile projects and his work featured in numerous media outlets. He recently co-authored the winning proposal for the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2018 (Dimensions of Citizenship), and now forms part of the project’s advisory board. His Ant Ballet project (2009-2012) was covered by the BBC, Wired Magazine and New Scientist, and appeared in numerous exhibitions around the world. In 2012 he was part of the team responsible for fabricating the Universal Tea Machine, commissioned by the Mayor of London’s office for the London Olympics, for which he designed and built a Heath Robinson-inspired kitchen which made terrible cups of tea for the public. Palmer also worked with Open_Sailing, an open-source project looking at devising oceanic technologies initiated by Cesar Harada, for which he helped the team secure a €30,000 [next big idea] award at Ars Electronica in 2009; the project was later featured on TED and numerous international media outlets.