Of the wrap culture

What we are designing is so exclusive and inaccessible, so sterile that it can not make kin with other ideas and thinking, despite how much we put effort in making this perception visible

Essay by Trang Ha. Part of Episode #2.

I want to talk about the wrap culture. No not the rap culture. The wrap food kind of culture.

But I specifically want to talk about the kind of wrap that is cylindrical in form because it is related to some social and cultural significance, as well as environmental and ecological ones. Also because its shape is the most conflicted with the sandwich, either tri- or rect-angular, either close or open. The wrap conflicted with the epitome of our accelerated time, our systematic thinking, our control and our rules, paradoxically believed as our open(-minded) society—a society of disclosure, of democracy, of transparency, of freedom and of security. A society we are currently not living in.

A wrap is an environment created to let individuals be in close contact with each other, touching each other to the point that they have to accept the awareness of the others. The inhabitants of the wrap are forced to be in trouble and to create frictions—precariousness that will learn them the causes of their actions in the wrap network. Unlike a sandwich, whom the order of ingredients, be it slices of cheese and ham, or walls of shredded pork, decides upon the stability of its architecture, a wrap doesn’t need such calculations. It has already surpassed the mathematical barrier thanks to its naturally stable structure that allows every “inhabitant” to engage closely with the shell and thus is able to renew and adapt to changes in stability.

Rolling, wrapping, or covering are universal gesture of care. The act involves protecting a content by wrapping a deformable shell around it and strategically close everything up with the least damage to the inherent architecture of the shell. The movement of wrapping or rolling can be felt with a circular force, suggesting that when there a starting point it should eventually meet with an ending point, though not with static determination but in constant motion. The enclosure that a wrap provides doesn’t mean that its “inhabitants” are limited or narrow-minded. They are there to nurture the understanding and kinship of their companions so that when the wrap is cut open with a hungry mouth, the myriad of flavorful creatures crawl out and exude a sense of loving and caring to the outer world. The world of wrap dinners, of DIY spring- rolls and taco shells, when friends sit together at a round table full of components, a forest of hands and an ocean of laughter. Oh, and the one friend that never knew how to roll a spring-roll.

Why aren’t we in a wrap culture yet? Because the sandwiches we eat are still tiered and stacked. There are layers of complexities and organized diversities but they are always hierarchical. We bite into the sandwich with the inclusions of all ingredients and felt that we have achieved the understandings of diversities and complexities, but in reality, we have only possessed a bunch of ready-made dogmas. We see how a sandwich is constructed—through the 3D-rendered menu. We see whether we want it or not, and whether it is worth for us to commodify. A sandwich is like a Disneyland, the effort to make it look great exceeds the reality of its taste and even its overestimated convenience. The normalization of such created a false sense of comfort, comfort food. A man, a newspaper, his coffee and his sandwich. He dreamt about a far away enlightenment as he sank his teeth into the soft bread. His depression has been mild. At least he doesn’t have to deal with people around him.

But what I am trying to say with wrap culture is that we, designers, are too scared to face the contaminants of our time. What we are designing is so exclusive and inaccessible, so sterile that it can not make kin with other ideas and thinking, despite how much we put effort in making this perception visible. But visibility is not enough, especially in our current isolating stage when the inclusion of other bodies is even more difficult. So then what will happen to the discourse about complexity, precariousness, diversity, multi-species, non-human and commoning within the context of environmental crisis? Sometimes I even think that design is not even necessary to start realizing and encouraging the realization of urgency. There are too many representations in design, and too much theoretical knowledge. This then goes back to the need of reforming education, towards the learning of and in a social environment. Not just any environment, but the environment that is the closest to you.

It struck me all the time how much a gathering could bring people to a natural state of design. When you started to pick up the food from the table, put it inside a piece of rice paper and then looked at your skillful friend rolling her perfect-looking spring roll. Then you started speaking about the latest protest, or the latest forest fire. This is when design comes in. You design as you speak. You also design your plate as you eat. From material to language, all encased in a social-cultural platform. This platform is what the wrap culture could picture for us. We can not continue to produce sandwiches, or the packaging of those sandwiches and eat them alone. We have to use our hands to eat, despite having to sanitize it ten times. We have to gather and talk, despite having to shout louder than we used to. The contaminant is not just the pandemic, it is the outdated social order that tries to hold on to its power behind the face of dreads. And we have to start to forget it.

When the wrap gave you diarrhea, it must have felt like a volcano. When you exploded with fear, you wished for the shit to go back up. You wished for the world to undo the failure it bestowed on you. But the volcano had no mercy on you. You have already been born in “a time” and so you must have accepted its dangerous temporalities. Why try to restore the economy and wipe it clean with normalization knowing that undo-ing is a friend of nostalgia and the enemy of new assemblage? Are they even antonyms? At the end of the day, the wrap was the most delicious thing you had. You went back to sleep with the biggest stomachache of your life.