Twenty-five years in technology would be roughly twelve life-spans of a computer today. Twenty-five years is also the span of the objects featured at the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition at New York’s MoMA (until it closes next week.) At the intersection of design and science, it studies the unique products and concepts born out of the flexibility, or elasticity as the title says, that a future designer has to develop to keep up with the pace of technology. Paola Antonelli, MoMA’s senior curator of Architecture and Design, talks with PingMag about how she brought this exceptional exhibition to life. (And quite a few of the exhibits emerged from London’s RCA, we noted.)
Written by Verena
First, Design and the Elastic Mind displays quite a bunch of artists we fondly remember from earlier features over here. To refresh your cherished memory, have a look at Oded Ezer, Philip Worthington, Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg, Ben Fry, Chuck Hoberman, Crispin Jones, Geoffrey Mann, W. Bradford Paley, Noam Toran, Portable Light Team, Troika, Stamen…
Now, first of all, where did the idea for this comprehensive project come from?
With every show I organise, I try to find a more effective way to expose MoMA’s public to the universe of contemporary design and to explain how designers do much, much more than carpets and expensive chairs. Design and the Elastic Mind came from the observation of the impact of disruptive innovation on our lives and from the idea that design and science could actually work together to create a brand new field of studies. Designers traditionally act as intermediaries between scientific and technological revolutions and people like you and me. They make sure that the disruption a new technology brings in our routine is transformed into at first a learning experience and then into normalcy. By collaborating with scientists from the start, they could have an even more powerful impact.
How did you approach the topic then?
Patricia Juncosa Vecchierini, the curatorial assistant on the show, and I began, as is our habit, by researching all publications and blogs and by sending e-mails to hundreds of people, presenting our ideas and asking for suggestions. We also always travel, visit designers, see exhibitions, drop by students’ shows… A lot of information and ideas came from the Royal College of Art where the Design Interactions program run by Anthony Dunne already focused in part on collaborations with scientists. Other ideas came from all over the world and we had more than a thousand at the end. Now, there are about 250 objects in the show.
That is a lot! Where else did you get advice from?
At about the same time – in fall 2006 – we began the research. I also met another precious friend and collaborator, Adam Bly, the founder of the science magazine Seed. Adam and I began a monthly Seed/MoMA salon for scientists and designers. Every month, scientists and designers would present their work, get to know each other, and have ideas for collaborations — some of them are part of the show today. The partnership with Seed strengthened the scientific content of the show, provided us with some knowledge of the topics we were covering, and gave us credibility in the scientific world. Only last week we had a symposium that was packed and truly excellent.
The rest is history: a catalogue, designed by Irma Boom, a website by Yugo Nakamura and an installation, designed by Lana Hum, were the tangible/readable outcomes of a truly organic — a nice way to say chaotic — process.
In your essay you explained elasticity, the byproduct of adaptability plus acceleration as a future human trait for survival in an information-saturated environment. What cognitive skills, do you think, will future designers have to have?
Designers always work from a centre of gravity, which is the human being. I believe they are so important to society because they are like the worms that eat the earth and then digest and expel it as something fertile to make the terrain more fruitful. They are great synthesisers, very curious of all different viewpoints. The best designers enjoy design as an affirmation of life and a way to discover the world. And they render back to the world what they have learned.
What happens with the users who can’t keep up with the pace of the developments until old age? Since elasticity seems to be a mindset that can only partly be trained…?
A few stretch-marks perhaps, nothing serious.
Or how can design train people in elasticity?
By making things easier for them and gradually build up the technological portion of the interface.
So how do you imagine a future user interface? In what ways could it evolve with recent touch-screen interactions, for example, the iPod touch or TED talks presentations?
It will have more intuitive commands, a mix of voice, touch and other gestures.
You mentioned before, but accompanying the exhibition is the beautiful website by Flash veteran Yugop. It’s remarkable how the objects visualise certain structures, resembling mind patterns! How did you develop the concept for this kind of data and information visualisation?
Thank you, I agree, it is gorgeous. Yugop was suggested by my colleagues Allegra Burnette and Shannon Darrough, who produce the MoMA website. We worked on it all together, and Yugop came up with the scheme. I trust designers completely… The same degree of collaboration happened with Irma Boom for the catalogue and Lana Hum for the exhibition design.
Awesome! Thank you, Paola Antonelli! Now, people, in case you’re not making it to the fabulous exhibition before it closes next Monday, May 12th, be sure to go to the Design and the Elastic Mind website and have a look at the catalogue!