Skip to main content


Searching for Presence

In his book I and Thou in 1923, the Philosopher Martin Buber counselled that “all knowledge is dialogic” - but he did not just advocate talk. Community and connections are not just about words, he wrote; they’re about encounter, and presence. For our interaction to have vitality, they need to be embodied, and situated. And because mind and body, inconveniently, are one, there will never be a simulated alternative to actually ‘being there’. One hundred year later, the arrival of Covid 19 compels us to try harder. Brute bandwidth won’t do the trick - telecommunication companies have failed for 20 years to crack the telepresence conundrum. If we are to enhance the quality of remote communication, more artful and indirect means are needed: suggestions, story, touch, sound, ritual, ceremony. I have selected works that use the lightest touch in their search for community, intimacy, and connection. Some involve colour, form and image, as you’d expect - but others use sound, touch, even bioindication. And the works don’t just strive to connect with absent people; lost rivers, silent landscapes, and wounded ecosystems are also summoned. I thank all the students for their serious intent and the beauty of their work.

John Thackara

John Thackara is a a philosopher, writer and curator, and a Senior Fellow at the Royal College of Art. He curated the celebrated Doors of Perception conference for 20 years – first in Amsterdam, later across India – and was commissioner of the UK social innovation biennial Dott 07 and the French design biennial City Eco Lab. With a focus on focus on social, ecological and relational design, Thackara has curated place-based xskool workshops in 20 countries. He studied philosophy before working for ten years as a book publisher and magazine editor. He was the first director (1993—99) of the Netherlands Design Institute. He is visiting professor at School of Visual Arts in New York, visiting professor at Tongji University in Shanghai, and curator of the Social Food Forum. His most recent book - How To Thrive In the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow's World Today - has just been published in China.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
Royal College of Art
Registered Office: Royal College of Art,
Kensington Gore, South Kensington,
London SW7 2EU
RCA™ Royal College of Art™ are trademarks
of the Royal College of Art