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Interview with Mill + Jones

Following their short graphic novel Ghosts story featured in AR December 2019 / January 2020, Anna Mill and Luke Jones speak to the AR about layers, circular economies and fictional worlds

Mill jones ghost story sketches index architectural review

Mill jones ghost story sketches index architectural review

What draws you to the form of the graphic novel? What does it allow you to communicate that either words or drawings do not communicate on their own?

Comics and sequential art are positioned between (and therefore able to borrow from) films, novels, drawings and poems – taking sequence or staging from one, composition from another, allusion or quotation from a third. Having drawings and words together in the same composition allows them to act either with or against each other. You can layer things. It’s potentially both very deep and very accessible. 

What are your criteria when creating and drawing these worlds and how do you hope audiences will relate to these settings and landscapes?

Part of the license of fiction is that the settings can be ambiguous in their value. They aren’t propositions or utopias. We aren’t proposing to live there. They should be pleasurable to explore and they should touch and provoke you in some way, but that’s enough. For us the fascination is exploring the dimensions and internal logics of these other possible worlds.

How does the graphic novel open new ways of discussing ideas like rewilding, degrowth, and the climate crisis?

Part of the motivation for our approach was to articulate degrowth as a thought-world in its own terms. The poetics of human retreat seem to be significant to it, as does a centring of cultural transformation as a prerequisite for effective action. Those ideas are beautiful and romantic, but we aren’t arguing for them as the only ones available. 

What do you hope readers will take away from Ghosts story (AR Dec 2019 / Jan 2020)?

There’s something spooky about the persistence and reappearance of materials in future circular economies. For the system to operate, materials have to remain in some way addressable, even when they’re buried deep inside a building or other construct. They don’t vanish into amortised forgetfulness and then reappear like nowadays. Narratively, this seems to exaggerate a human fear about the irrevocability of actions and choices, which are a kind of haunting. The world becomes a minute and uncanny perpetual record of itself. In the drawings this is reflected in the insubstantiality of the human characters (who are lines only), and the relative solidity of the materials that surround them. We thought about the artwork almost in terms of an old photograph: the longer that an element has persisted statically in the same location, the more presence it has burned into the image. The only exception is a hand on page 4 of Ghosts story, which in the end stayed solid because it worked better on the page – sometimes your conceptual logic and compositional instincts are in conflict. 

What can architects learn from this story?

They can learn anything they want, and the motivation isn’t to teach them any kind of lesson! Good speculation can’t just be didactic or propagandistic. If there’s something we would stress it’s that the future we’re creating has to understand itself systemically. The problem of a future decarbonised society is a systems design problem.

In Exile’s Letter, which appears in the book Gross Ideas, published as part of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019, you tell a story of ‘unbuilding’, ‘healing the poisoned land’ and ‘seeding the inscrutable clay’ – to what extent is this a story of rewilding? What are its lessons?

The story is spoken in a particular voice, and to some extent is a piece of ventriloquism. We’re trying to imagine the people and communities that might be able to centre themselves around rewilding – what it would be to draw strength and purpose from that kind of labour, and how it would shape your feeling for, and understanding of, the world. How would it change you?

What about this story is important for architects to know?

The project of restoring humanity and Earth systems to a sustainable equilibrium is the great labour of this generation. In a way that sort of purpose is actually a great privilege. It demands a lot from us. We aren’t proposing to know exactly what it looks like. It almost certainly doesn’t look like the story! And that’s OK.

Ghost story, a short graphic novel created by Mill + Jones, is featured in the AR December 2019/January 2020 issue on New into Old and Preservation – click here to purchase your copy today