Objects wish you well
It looks like one of those typical ornithological boards where the silhouettes of the birds are drawn in black, with their wings spread out, to be recognizable from the ground by those who observe them.Except that the map is made of wood pigeons, representing drones flying over the skies of warring countries.It was the Dutch graphic designer Ruben Pater who came up with the idea for this census for the populations targeted by these unmanned aeroplanes.Dimensions, autonomy, armament, all the scientific information appears on each drawing.There are even the flags of the different countries that contribute to the manufacture of these killing machines.And where a red banner with a white cross flashes in the corner of the poster.”We tried to find out which elements are made in Switzerland, but without success,” explains Claire Favre Maxwell, curator at the Museum of Design and Contemporary Applied Arts (Mudac) and curator of the exhibition Safe and sound, watch and protect in the 21st century.Or how design enters the field of safety.”By necessity, security, we live with it, we endure it but we accept it.The cameras that film you on every street corner are no longer even hiding.The instructions that instruct you to be careful are posted everywhere.So much so that these objects, which have become commonplace, now belong to the landscape.I wanted to check the impact of our obsession with safety on design, photography and contemporary art.”
This alliance of panic and aesthetics is recent.Twenty years ago, no one cared about making a smoke detector pretty.Twenty years ago, no one was as obsessed with security as they are now.In fact, most of the objects on display at Mudac rarely date from before 2010.”We are now members of a ‘global risk community’,” writes sociologist David Le Breton in the exhibition catalogue.
Natural danger, economic precariousness, pandemics, the indiscriminate violence of terrorism and war have changed habits and mentalities.Yet the world, paradoxically, has never before lived so peacefully.”Our society, which mediatizes everything, which wants to know everything and which legislates on danger to the point of obsession, exacerbates fears,” says Claire Favre Maxwell.But why make these products, which must above all be effective, beautiful? And why not at the bottom? “The helmet is a category in which design has evolved a lot.It is no longer used only in jobs involving danger, such as firefighting.Skiing, cycling, skateboarding…It has also become an indispensable accessory for leisure activities.” Protecting yourself is one thing, but don’t forget to look after your style.Aesthetics would thus serve to take the trauma away from the disaster to come.The classic gas mask remains a horror film survival object.That of the SUPERLIFE duo (Edrris Gaaloul and Cyrille Verdon) is a pencil holder that transforms itself into a filter mask that is downright nice.Clever the cup that slows down the toxic dust.
From Maïdan to migrants
The combination and the trick are often the two udders of the designer.Applied to the earthquake, this results in a chair whose backrest, which is removable, can be used as a helmet when the ground is shaken.The Mamoris Chair was designed by Japanese designers Takayuki Kawai and Kota Nezu of Znug Design, who know a lot about earthquakes in their country.
The exhibit features more symbolic pieces.The great hall of the Mudac embodies the 4200 soaps that Indian artist Shilpa Gupta piled up to make a wall.Each scented loaf is engraved with the word “Threat,” threat.”The idea is that people take them home and wash their hands to erase the inscription.As a way of gradually making the threat disappear, the one that hovers around us but also one that has been straining relations between India and Pakistan for decades,” explains the curator.Just next door, Bureau A is assembling metal plates, an exact copy of the Ukrainian police riot shields.The architects’ collective active in Lisbon and Geneva are thus building a makeshift shell with an inevitably political resonance.The emergency shelter is called Maidan, after the name of Kiev Square where pro and anti-Russians fought each other during 2014.
But there are also more problematic objects.A specialist in medical design, David Swann is the multi-award winning inventor of the syringe that changes colour after use.At the Mudac, he is exhibiting his project for a backpack made from the life jackets abandoned by migrants who come ashore on the European coasts.It is difficult not to note the ambiguity of this recycling in view of the drama it underlies.Claire Favre Maxwell acknowledges this.”It’s a project of ecological concern that offers an alternative solution to the thousands of floats left on the beaches.But it would have been even stronger if the vest was originally designed as a survival bag.”
Hence also that Sains et saufs sometimes splits between the product with a utilitarian function and the purely artistic vision.Designer Mathieu Lehanneur presents here his extensible water transporters to transport water to wells that are miles away.The French designer is also the author of urn-shaped sculptures whose undulating silhouettes are determined by population curves.The Age of the World is thus a poetic way of showing at first glance the countries where youth is exploding and those where the generations are ageing.The shape to alert and it doesn’t matter whether you are a designer or an artist.James Auger, Jimmy Loiseau, Reyer Zwiggelaar and Bashar Al Rajoub straddle the two.Adepts of the concept of “critical design”, a principle developed by the British company Dunne & Raby, they invented Happylife, a pre-monitoring system.”Good protection also means predicting what may happen,” says Claire Favre Maxwell.”Thanks to technology, our society is increasingly anticipating events.Algorithms can speculate on the desire to buy.At an experimental stage, some are trying to predict criminal activity before it happens.” Happylife claims to detect the moods of family members.Lined up on a board, a series of electronic circles measure each user’s state of mind by retinal reading.The aim is to prevent both good and bad deeds of the subject being analysed in this way.So yes, it’s scary and nobody would want it at home.But that’s the goal of the designers’ collective: to provoke a moral crisis by pushing the limits of design to its limits.
The invisible threat also promotes ironic distance.The Dutch Julia Veldhuijzen van Zanten offers a do-it-yourself pepper spray kit.The mixture is then poured into an old-fashioned pepper spray but affects the shape of a hand grenade.Designer Ying Gao imagines a camouflage dress that reacts to photographers’ flashes by covering its owner’s modesty.There is also the cynical counterpart.We remember Philippe Starck’s lamps, whose golden metal feet were based on models of machine guns.The group Humans Since 1982 created a suspension where each lampshade is a carcass of an urban snitch.With its black reflectors and insect look, Surveillance Chandelier would almost look like a vintage ceiling lamp by Serge Mouille.Isn’t hanging authority figures above the living room the ultimate sign of alienation?