In his 2016 Christmas address, the Pope discussed the tension at Christmas between the spiritual and religious meaning of Christmas and all-pervading 21st century commercialism, supported by the media which at times appears to have only one interest – how much people are spending in shops compared to previous years (apparently the new measure of the progress of civilisation), and then how many people will be going to the sales on Boxing Day, 26th December, where it seems that everything in any shop is for sale at up to 60% discount. Where do people, religion and the future of our society fit into all this, and what is the role of design in 21st century world with tensions between the traditional ways of life and modern development, between commercialism and sustainability, between digital technology and old-fashioned romance, while robots are increasingly marching forward to take over the world?
At the introductory exhibition “Fear and Love” at the new Design Museum in London, eleven designers and architects have responded with their own views of the tensions and contradictions in the 21st century world. Japanese graphic designer Kenya Hara has started with the basics – the humble grain of rice which remains not only the staple food for many societies but where the waste products in the form of the stems and leaves are used for rice straw and paper. Nothing is wasted, while Arquitectura Expandida, an activist architecture collective from Colombia uses new and old everday materials, such as bamboo and polycarbonate sheets to create a school in a poor area in Bogota.
Fashion designer Hussein Chayalan uses sensors to gauge reactions to London life – technology linking with social issues while architect Andrés Jaque explores the role of social media through apps such as Grindr which have replaced old-fashioned romance and conversation. It does seem odd that, while geo-positioning is one of the most profound technologies of our age, security forces still can’t find terrorists as evidenced after the recent attack in Berlin.
Chinese clothing designer Ma Ke gave up a successful commercial fashion business to focus on hand-made fashions produced by a social enterprise with a strong connection to the land and the rural traditions of China, and, once this year’s fashion has fallen out of favour, Dutch product designer Christien Meindertsma explores our throw-away world and how we can improve recycling of clothes and materials by being able to creatively recycle materials by fabric and colour.
Looking spookily like something from the film “Alien”, Neri Oxman, an architect, designer and professor at MIT in Boston, has created with the Mediated Matter Group and 3D printing company Stratasys a series of death masks called Vespers, using ultra-high definition 3D printing.
Exploring other contrasting tensions – Metahaven looks at the contradiction around the fact that man still kills whales, one of the most intelligent marine animals, yet is obsessed with developing artificial intelligence, and Madeline Gannon in Pittsburg has created custom software to transform a 1200kg industrial robot called Mimus which, like an animal in a zoo, responds to visitors near her enclosure. Should we fear robots or embrace them given that they will take over 5 million jobs world-wide?
Looking at cultures in the modern world, the Pan-European Living Room by OMA is furnished with items from each of the 28 EU member states, reminding us that modern interior design is a fusion of influences from all around the world. while Hong Kong-based Rural Urban Framework explores how the nomads of Mongolia are adapting to urban life, giving up traditional freedoms for the difficult conditions of unplanned settlements.
A great start to the new Design Museum – As the first of such exhibitions, this raises expectations that the Museum will develop an agenda on the role and future of design in the 21st century, rather than just be a museum of historic design items.