In November 2015, citizens of Brussels were confronted with an erratic situation, when the police raided twenty-two apartments in the city in search of a terrorist cell and its supporting network. The raids took place in several districts of the city without anyone knowing where exactly. The police asked the media and the public for radio silence during the operations. No locations or addresses of the raids were to be leaked into the news or social media. In the resulting atmosphere of gloomy uncertainty, the people of Brussels spontaneously responded to the request of radio silence with an absurd act. They tweeted thousands of images of cats instead of coordinates of the police operations – cats dressed as Superman, musketeers, ninjas; cats in bikinis and in spa treatments; cats playing, sleeping and just being cats 1. The Federal Police responded to the absurd reaction on the following day with a tweet of an image of a bowl of police cat food thanking all the cats for their help and radio silence.

In situations of great abstract fear and non-tangible threat, people can react with distress and worry, but also with positive counteracts of irony, absurdity and conviviality. These reactions can enable joy, hope, distraction and escapism from the immediate present. Does this offer a possibility to gain back control against indirect, often abstract threats?

During prohibition times – periods in which producing, selling and consuming alcohol was prohibited – speakeasies mushroomed in the basements, and nightlife blossomed in secret wild parties. Recently, hackers responded to the current conflict that reaches Europe non-violently by hacking online ISIS propaganda, replacing fightersʼ online photos to faces of yellow bath ducks 2. In a completely different context, the Italian prime minister proposed in 2015 that the government could combat terrorism by investing the same amount of money invested in military vehicles to culture. Even though these actions are very different, they aim to enable a sense of joyful solidarity amidst uncertainty and fear.

Fear and joy strongly contradict each other. How can design interventions respond to situations of abstract threat? Can design trigger possible positive consequences, such as joy, hope and solidarity and usurp the status quo?__

Jessica Smarsch

Performance and Symbolism: A Designed Negotiation

The most significant actions of early societies were performed and then literally translated as symbols onto objects of daily or ritual use, creating both an ephemeral and lasting narrative. These symbols and performed actions were part of a belief system that brought joy and hope to often perilous situations. Jessica Smarsch explores the negotiation between performance and symbolism from a historical and contemporary perspective.

Aya Bentur, Bili Regev


Flight, fight or freeze responses alert us to danger. Aya Bentur and Bili Regev create an abstraction of these gestures by removing them from their natural context, and placing them in a dance accompanied by upbeat music. The absurdity of dancing without fear, yet with the gestures of fear, facilitates an active control over physical and mental reactions.

Joan Vellvé Rafecas
Gif, still images; posters.

The Dots

The Dots analyses social uprisings, collective behaviour and individual pull through a series of illustrations. It is a closed narration and a metaphor to create a bridge to simplify the complexity of social behaviour.

Corradino Garofalo
Essay, image; glass, rag paper, ink.

Figli del Vesuvio

‘Figli del Vesuvio’ reflects lightheartedness in youth as a spontaneous and natural reaction towards uncertainty of the future. In five short, introspective chapters, Corradino Garofalo analyzes social and cultural contexts of football through memories of social conditions that deeply influenced his vision of society.

Heini Lehtinen

Design for Errorism

Both abstract fear and hope are illusions; projections of the mind into a possible different tomorrow. Hope, pessimism and joy can be observed as potential contexts to relieve fear caused by abstract threats. What should design aim for – oblivion, counter-realism, or religion?

Lodovica Guarnieri, Lorenzo Gerbi

Memedom Of Expression

‘Memedom of Expression’ explores the potential of Internet memes as digital folklore. It speculates about memes as the new arena of bottom-up expression, and suggests that they are an element that is already building a European social memory. Therefore, memes are important culture to be archived.

Silvia Neretti, Wei Lun Wang,
Aldo Cancino, Raphael Volkmer
Website, video, images.

The Black Hole Said

“What would you do if you had no fear?” asks the speculative service ‘The Black Hole Said.’ The service allows clients to time travel and change their past, present and future situations to transform themselves and their realities. On the other side of the Black Hole one will live in a fear-free environment.

Teresa Palmieri
Essay, gif, collage.

The Millennial
Republic of Imagination

In Italy, more than half of the youth cannot envision a future. In a crisis of imagination, the very idea of a possibility is disappearing from the generation of teenagers. As a specialist of imagination, a designer can ignite a dialogue about how to subvert the way we learn and perceive reality.

Supported by


In no particular order.

1 Lomas, Tim. Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching our emotional landscape through 216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being. (2016). The Journal of Positive Psychology. "This paper outlines the beginnings of a positive cross-cultural lexicography of ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being, culled from across the world’s languages." 
Helen Fisher, Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, 1992. Pub: W. W. Norton & Company. • There is no bigger joy than love itself. What we call free will in life is tainted by societal norms and collective consciousness. This book explains the untainted truth between males and females, how and why they choose each other, mate and part ways. • Recommended by Pinar Demirdag from design duo Pinar & Viola.
Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, 2018. Pub: Viking. • This book is for each pessimist who preaches that the world was a better place in the past. Pinker analytically smashes all false claims and belief systems that the world is a darker place now, and shows us that there is more joy in the world right now than ever before. • Recommended by Pinar Demirdag from design duo Pinar & Viola.
Lilli Botchis, Awakening the Holographic Human: Nature's Path to Healing and Higher Consciousness A Course In Miracles, 2017. Pub: 1st World Publishing. • This is one of the most mind-blowing books I have ever read. It correlates consciousness with biology and gives insights on how we can cultivate the wisdom of nature into our everyday life. Eventually the reader learns how to self heal and bring out the joy within. • Recommended by Pinar Demirdag from design duo Pinar & Viola.
Esther and Jerry Hicks, Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires, 2004. Pub: Hay House Inc. • For those who have read “The Secret” and want to have a deeper understanding. For me, Joy can only be felt when one is aligned with its essence and their unique life purpose. Only then, one can be in the moment, can stop their monkey minds and flow into the rivers of life. This book channels the teachings of an ascended master, gives insights on the techniques for how to make each of our wishes come alive. • Recommended by Pinar Demirdag from design duo Pinar & Viola.