Shift 1: Ebony Harrison

Words by Isabel Hood

Ebony Harrison is a Brisbane-based digital designer. Also nicknamed ‘Bones’ she appropriately works under the pseudonym ‘The Bone Collector’ curating and producing work at a much more critical standard than most traditional design portfolios.

Bones’ passion for art and design has gradually redefined itself over the past few years. It was first encouraged at the Queensland Academy for Creative Industries in 2010. There she achieved an International Baccalaureate Diploma. Bones then went onto study a Bachelor of Design at the Queensland College of Art (QCA). It was at QCA where Bones was introduced to critical design and realised that it had the capacity to become a change agent. The course inspired an interest in non-compliant methods of design and disruptive technologies. Bones started to define her work at university and looking into alternative mediums of communication; glitch work and datamoshing. Over the course of her studies, Bones’ work impressed peers and teachers, receiving several accolades, including a feature on Typolitic for her work #iggymosh with guest commentary from Douglas Rushkoff. Post graduation, Bones continued her involvement at QCA. She was invited as a guest lecturer, hosting a talk on zines and took part in a Design Thinking Workshop with Sunbourg, a design thinking and business development collaboration, in 2015. The same year she was the Design Institute of Australia (DIA) Graduate of the year. Bones refined her talents in ‘traditional design’ as web designer at Department Group at the end of 2015 to the start of 2016. Bones’ passion for art and critical design was furthered whilst working as the in house designer and shopkeeper at Kunstler. In 2015 Bones returned to study at QCA to do a Masters of Design Futures, facilitating her desire as a research based designer. After a semester of study she was then invited to join the education faculty, teaching ideas on design and intercultural understanding. She currently balances her study, tutoring and freelance projects.

This research and interest into non-compliant methods of design has also been a very personal endeavor. Bones is Anglo-Indian. Her work transpired from an understanding of herself as a ‘glitch’ in the colonial system. Her research primarily focuses on decolonisation and the rejection of assimilation. Glitch work and datamoshing has been the medium of choice for Bones and has been a successful method to communicate these themes. She explains “colonised Others are given no other option but to assimilate and appropriate Western culture in order to play the game that is not theirs”. By ‘destroying’ digital frameworks, Bones asserts her awareness of the governing digital and political system. She reorientates, subverts and challenges expectations of identity and culture, through her engaging digital design practise.

Bones first began to explore and implement this research at university where she was tasked to make a personal zine. The zine focused on her transition into critical design thinking. She formulated a visual language that communicated the significant effects it’s had on her personally and professionally. It is also the project where Bones first began to implement and experiment with glitching and datamoshing, an integral part to her practice since.

An example of Bones’ work that destroys a digital framework and defined her visual language is #iggymosh. The work is a critique of cultural appropriation. Bones has destroyed the code from Iggy Azaleas’s music video “Bounce” and overlaid scenes with commentary. The music video features the artist adorned in traditional Indian attire and dancing in culturally sensitive environments. Bones makes the argument that culture is not a costume and people are not commodities. Cultural signifiers, such as the bindi, are perceived differently on white people and generally interpreted as fashion statements. Bones also explains how skin colour can dictate the way in which these cultural signifiers can be interpreted. Ebony explains,

My work references the histories of “Colonised Others” as having experienced a forced assimilation in which they were to actively reject their own cultural signifiers in favour of the Colonisers. It is therefore inappropriate for the Coloniser adorn themselves in the Other’s signifiers, when worn as fashion items.

The use of culturally pertinent items or spaces as accessories, by Western people, will often reduce its value to a commodity or gimick. #iggymosh is a perfect example of Bones’ work that destroys a digital framework, in order to assert an awareness of forced assimilation and transnationality.

It was an obvious decision to involve Bones in In Residence: Shift 1. In most instances the theme of displacement is synonymous with colonialism. Ebony will share her experiences as an Anglo-Indian woman and her response to colonisation and the people who in exist in spaces between cultures, through her digital language.

For more information about Ebony’s practical and theoretical work, venture to her website here