[ISEA2011] Paper: Daniel Wessolek & Jamie L. Ferguson – Crafting Complaints as Civic Duty


Complaining as a means of expression should encourage the individual to acknowledge the seemingly inconsequential annoyances of everyday life as opportunities for discussion and participation. By encouraging potential for engagement, awareness and conscious expression can be experienced as creativity and even denote performativity. It is our understanding that expression in this sense can also lead to self-worth, gratification, and even collective well-being. Studies show that emotions are as contagious as a virus.

Inherent to being human, to complain was once seen as a powerful source for citizen definition and direction; to speak-up, to object and to protest was understood also as a reaction for something. The Complaint Department recognizes the importance of a platform for complaining and see this as a powerful means of expression and of citizen agency.

It’s not polite to bitch, grumble or wine. To protest against something, which is how the term is now usually implied, is discouraged. The ‘complainer’ is typically depicted as self-interested, cantankerous, over-emotional, even anti-social. One might find little understanding in a pervasive market where the ‘person as consumer’ becomes an aggregated commodity item with little individuality. One’s efforts seem lost in as many products and services and consumers out there as there are complaints to be made. Complaints are met often not without some sympathy but without agency. The current state of making a formal complaint seems curtailed to an industry operation, an endpoint having little palpable impact. Few bother, understandably, to invest the time or energy.

Complaining is at once a strategy and mode of intervention, a means to counter-act. By encouraging the expression of one’s reactions to events or situations, the act of complaining can be reappropriated. The Complaint Department regards the ability to crafting complaints as a civic imperative for the public good, to which any small contribution is valuable. Enacting a call for change, choice, or accountability, citizen democracy can promote accessibility and transparency. By leveraging the freedom to disagree, those who are dishonest or do not act in favour of the public good can be discredited.

  • Daniel Wessolek works as a re­search as­so­ci­ate in In­ter­ac­tion De­sign at Bauhaus Uni­ver­sity Weimar, Germany. He holds an MFA in Media Art & De­sign from Bauhaus Uni­ver­sity Weimar, an MA in Art The­ory from Tongji Uni­ver­sity Shang­hai and a BA in Dig­i­tal Media from Uni­ver­sity of the Arts Bre­men. His re­search cur­rently fo­cuses on glow­ing mat­ter, open de­sign and civil en­gage­ment.
  • Jamie L. Ferguson holds a BFA with a specialization in Design from Concordia University in Montreal, and during that time spent one year at l’École nationale des beaux arts de Lyon, France. Previously she completed a professional diploma in Interior Design at the Academy of Design in Toronto, Canada. Jamie is currently working towards completing her MFA in Media Art & Design at the Bauhaus University Weimar, Germany, and recently completed a one year stint as a guest student at Transmedia, Sint-Lukas Brussels, Belgium.

Full text (PDF) p. 810-812