Design for the Alien Within

Jenny Polak

Designers respond to perceived needs in the mainstream world but rarely design for millions whose lives are forced outside the framework of legality. Modern design has tended to eliminate hiding places. Design for the Alien Within unexpectedly infuses design logic with the danger and irony of today’s immigration politics. The hybrid that results may be for a nightmarish parallel universe, or ours. It begs questions about paramenters that they share. Visibility, used to expose or to trick, and secrecy, used to repress or to resist, do battle as never before.

Design for the Alien Within is my designer alter ego, invented to frame fictional architectural and furniture design projects. It is situated at an intersection of art and design, where there is a fruitful conversation. It responds to current US reality but is not a direct action tool like some interventionist art or tactical architecture. 26,000 immigrants are held in US detention each day, thousands more are pouring over borders to do needed jobs; a vast government force, larger than the US armed forces put together, is busy locking up and repatriating even more, and hundreds of thousands of immigrants and citizens demonstrated last year against yet more punitive legislation. Design for the Alien Within celebrates allegiance between citizen and immigrant against anti-immigrant laws, along with our desire to buy furniture that reshapes our homes as expressions of our beliefs.

Design for the Alien Within has launched online as an ironic virtual store promoting hypothetical illegal behaviour by offering built-in furniture with hiding places, secret accommodation for people without documents fleeing immigration authorities. Several fictional sanctuary structures have already been installed. I plan to realise the promise of the online designs by constructing objects like them, and making them available for sale and use. By initiating ‘in-store’ performances I will be able to bring the project to people and neighbourhoods who may understand their relevance first-hand, both people without immigration documents and their employers or neighbours who may soon need to consider how to hide them from the government.