The new Design Museum opened in late November, now occupying the site of the former Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street. Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World is one of the inaugural exhibitions, showcasing 11 installations that explore the issues defining our time.
The prevalence of companies like Apple and Ikea mean good design is now appreciated by the public at large. However, while design is often considered as influential in terms of culture, rarely is it seen as something political. Fear and Love demonstrates the connection between design and global issues, be they economic, social, environmental, or political.
Among the installations is a Pan-European Living Room by architecture firm OMA. A reaction to the Brexit vote, the room is furnished with pieces from each of the 28 EU member states as a reminder of how European cooperation and trade has influenced our lives and interiors. The striped vertical blind that dominates the room is taken from the firm’s design for an EU flag created in 2001. Behind it is a black and white photo of Rotterdam during the war, a more harrowing reminder of why the EU exists.
Room Tone by Hussein Chalayan displays the wearable technology seen at the designer’s spring/summer 2017 show. Chalayan partnered with Intel to create smart-glasses that monitor the wearer’s breathing, heart rate, and stress levels. This connects to a belt which interprets the data and projects it onto walls for the user (and everyone else) to see. The installation looks at repressed emotions and the everyday anxieties of city living.
In response to the concerns surrounding robotics and artificial intelligence, designer Madeline Gannon created Mimus, a 1200kg robot that can sense the presence of people around her enclosure. Mimus whirls round to look at the people surrounding her, appearing to focus on each individual. The resulting interactions are intuitive and feel more like interacting with a pet rather than an industrial robot.
The aim of the exhibition is to link design to the big issues of today. The installations are mainly reactions, as the exhibition’s title conveys, questioning the role of design in causing and responding to these issues. Design has already proven it can change the world. Perhaps it’s time for it to solve its biggest problems too.