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Communicating through immersive environments

Portrait of Mále Uribe Fores
Mále Uribe Forés
Photographer: Felix Speller
Mále Uribe Forés (MA Information Experience Design, 2018) is a London based architect, artist and researcher working at the intersection of art, spatial design and material design. She was Designer in Residence at the Design Museum in 2019 where she developed a project re-imagining salt as a precious material based on her research in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

As Head of Art Development & Research at Storey Studio, Mále has worked on spatial and exhibition designs for clients including Prada, Hermés and the Victoria & Albert Museum. She is also a visiting lecturer on the IED programme.

You studied architecture before coming to the RCA, why did you decide to study MA Information Experience Design (IED)?

I was looking for a critical background that could bring meaning and a solid conceptual direction to my work. IED seemed like a place where I would be able to experiment with new media, with a really diverse transdisciplinary freedom and enough space to develop self-directed projects. 

At the same time, it covered lots of possibilities under the umbrella of research-led projects that encouraged a strong emphasis on research methodologies and critical thinking. While I wanted to dive deeper into the world of art, it was essential for me to develop research-led projects that could relate to real world critical problems. That was exactly what interested me about IED the most: it focuses on information and discovering new ways of communicating it through meaningful experiences.

Could you tell me a bit about your Design Museum residency?

The Design Museum residency was a perfect way to continue developing the ideas and framework initiated at the RCA, where I had started to work with surface design and spatial experiences around material culture. I developed the project Salt Imaginaries, which is part of my broader, ongoing research investigating minerals and extractive processes from the Atacama Desert in Chile. Salt Imaginaries was a proposal to re-discover this territory from the lens of salt, and re-think the value of mineral residues, specifically saline mineral waste. 

After an experimental process with different saline residues, the outcome was a multimedia installation with a large wall made of 1,300 tiles of plaster and salt. The aim of this installation was to present salt from a new perspective, as an evolving surface that could create an immersive experience for museum visitors.

exhibition installation with wall of salt bricks and orange seating
Salt Imaginaries, Mále Uribe Forés
Photographer: Francisco Ibanez
Why is the exhibition or immersive environment an important site for the public to engage with these kinds of ideas?

Research-led projects can be complex and multilayered and it is essential to break them down into outcomes and experiences that communicate clear ideas to the public. Exhibitions can unpack information into different layers and media that can relate to people in different and multiple levels of engagement, allowing the audience to actively participate in their own way.

This is why my installation at the Design Museum included a vitrine, a film, a book that people could take home and mineral sculptures for children to play with. The audience could engage with it freely but they would all share a common spatial experience created by light, sound and scenographic elements linking this spot in London to the Atacama Desert. As an experience, the installation could make us think of a material in a different way without the need of much context or academic background.

a person leans in close to look at a light installation
Texture of Light, Mále Uribe Forés
What excites you most about communicating ideas in this way?

I love the fact that through immersive environments or installations you can connect with people on emotional levels. Light, sound, colour application and curated spatial arrangements can trigger different sensorial and emotional effects that can help us to poetically connect with things that are otherwise too abstract or alien. This helps to make ideas more accessible and relatable to everyone. 

What else have you worked on since graduating?

Since graduating, I have been working at Storey Studio as Head of Art Development & Research. Alongside projects for prestigious clients including Prada, Hermés and Nike, I have been working with Robert Storey on research and architecture festival proposals, and I had the incredible opportunity to work for the Victoria & Albert Museum on the design of their recent exhibition ‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’ with a fantastic multidisciplinary team. 

installation shot of the Kimono exhibition at the V&A
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, V&A, Storey Studio
Photographer: Francisco Ibanez
How did studying IED prepare you for what you do now?

IED was a space for me to explore and tie things together. The critical focus of the programme prepared me with a strong conceptual framework and helped me define the critical standpoint driving my work, both as an independent creative and working for other projects or studios. Being involved in such varied projects and collaborations in sound design, moving image, quantum physics, among others, gave me good practice of how to oversee projects with different technical complexities and collaborators, without losing the conceptual strength. 

photograph of rock salt
Salt Imaginaries, Mále Uribe Forés
Was there a particular IED project that was influential in the development of your practice?

During the first year I worked a lot with quantum physics, visited laboratories and collaborated with scientists on a few briefs. Through this work I discovered the writings of Karen Barad and her theory of ‘agential realism’ which fascinated me and introduced me to many other feminist writers in the world of philosophy and New Materialism. This completely changed my way of thinking and had a huge impact on my dissertation and work, which now revolves around material culture form a New-Materialist approach.

Claudia Dutson was a great personal tutor who encouraged me to be very critical about my own work. She initiated a short brief about deserts, starting by looking at the Atacama. This resonated with me as a Chilean student who had very rarely heard Chile or even South America in academic conversations. I already had an interest in this beautiful territory but I have now realised that this brief opened up the possibility of looking at it as a case study and indirectly influenced my decision to properly work with the Atacama after graduating. 

Person sits in an installation
Medium Fuun, Mále Uribe Forés 2018
What do you have planned next?

Alongside my work at Storey Studio, I am planning to keep developing other stages of Salt Imaginaries within my broader project around mineral waste in the Atacama under Studio Male, which I am expanding and relaunching in 2021. This will also mean establishing a closer relationship with Chile and spending some more time there. 

My final RCA project started from my disappointment of seeing how invisible Latin America is here in the world of museums, exhibitions and international cultural history. This is still something that concerns me and it is an exciting challenge to address it from my own work as an artist and designer in relation to topics that involve us all: our material resources and the ecological crisis.

Aligned with my art and design studio practice, I am starting a new platform called Material Encounters to keep my research work going on through collaborations. More about this to come this 2021!

Find out more about MA Information Experience Design and how to apply.