I cannot forget the first time I heard and saw Björk. It was 1987, she was part of the Sugarcubes, and she was singing the most arresting song, “Birthday.” The video was shot in Rejkyavik—otherworldly light, curious characters, peculiar architecture. She looked like an alien Tinkerbell and her voice was simultaneously haunting, corrosive, and incredibly moving. In the decades since, Björk has never ceased to experiment and surprise. Read more
Right now the U.S. military is preparing to allow women to serve in combat roles for the first time, and pressure is growing from international precedent for the U.K. to follow suit. Yet there are still many who feel that the frontline is just not a place fit for a woman. Such a prospect was certainly out of the question a century ago during World War I. Read more
Can design mitigate or eliminate the inherent violence of the slaughterhouse? Can and should the experience of pain transcend gender boundaries? Should design production be normalized to the extent that we are able to print weapons from the comfort of our own home?
Design and Violence is an online curatorial experiment I’ve co-organized with Jamer Hunt, director of the MFA program in transdisciplinary design at Parsons The New School for Design, and Kate Carmody, Curatorial Assistant and Michelle Fisher, Exhibition Coordinator, both in the Department Architecture and Design at MoMA. Since fall 2013, the project’s website has hosted a weekly series of posts that, we hope, challenge established discourses of contemporary design and provoke new discussions through an open forum. The questions above are just some the project has offered up for online discussion and dissemination.
On March 27, and April 10 and 17, we’re bringing this discussion into the physical world through three debates staged at The Museum of Modern Art. Each debate will center on a provocative project featured on the Design and Violence site. We hope the series will offer a way for audiences to truly and deeply engage with thought-provoking issues contemporary society grapples with through design. We want to hear voices raised alongside issues, and to offer a public event that goes beyond the traditional panel format.
Too often, and naïvely, we only celebrate the positive impact that design artifacts have on the world. However, design also has a history of violence that, unless linked overtly to political and social suppression and upheaval, often goes unexplored. Humanity continuously changes and adapts. Considering the pace of innovation and creative disruption, designers’ responsibility for this legacy is heavy. Violence—defined as the manifestation of the power to alter the circumstances around us, against the will of others and to their detriment—needs to be explored and grappled with. With the Design and Violence project, we intend to present thoughtful, incisive, provocative, and intellectually elegant case studies that will spark discussion and bring this issue to center stage for designers and for the people they serve—all of us.
Jamer and I began this project online in an effort to bring a conversation we think matters to as broad an audience as possible. Violence has always been part of the human condition—perhaps even a prerequisite for an evolutionary process that favors the survival of the fittest. In the post-2001 era, however, at least in the U.S., violence pervades our experiences in a new way. It has become so large a part of media feeds and daily life for many that it is a shared shadow over our collective humanity, but is also under threat of a certain invisibility because of its quotidian nature.
To do justice to the complexity of this topic and to understand the impact of violence from many angles, we have selected a range of design case studies that in some way—speculatively, obviously, ambiguously—intersect with violence. As the designs our site has foregrounded show, violence is not only the logical preserve of box-cutters and bullets. Violence is, arguably, part of our biological design in our carnivorous teeth; the natural violence of a bee’s sting or fungal digestion may be co-opted; and violence may be visualized and mapped or captured in scent. Each week, we invite one expert, from fields as diverse as science, philosophy, literature, music, film, journalism, and politics, to respond to one object we have chosen. Arianna Huffington responded to James Bridle’s drone shadows; architect Ayssar Arida responded to artist and gamer Vincent Ocasla’s Magnasanti, a dystopian SimCity breaking at the seams due to overpopulation, overuse, and over-development; John Thackara’s repudiation of Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta’s Republic of Salivation provoked a heated and passionate debate over the place of speculative and critical design practices in our project, and in the wider landscape of contemporary design and society; and Gillian Tett responded to Jonathan Jarvis’s visualization of the violence the credit crisis wreaked globally. In the coming months, we’ll be tackling prison design, rodent control, designs for public health, and riot gear, and look forward to equally fiery conversations.
The debates this spring will center upon the 3-D printed gun, The Liberator; Sputniko!’s Menstruation Machine; and Temple Grandin’s serpentine ramp. Debate motions will be delivered by speakers who are directly engaged in issues germane to these contemporary designs—the Liberator’s designer Cody Wilson; Chris Bobel, author of New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation, and distinguished professor of law Gary Francione, to name a few. We want them—and you—to explore the the limits of gun laws and rights, the democracy of open-source design, the (im)possibility of humane slaughter, and design that supports transgender empathy.
Join us this spring for three conversations that we can’t promise will be easy, but we are certain you would benefit from.
When we think of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), aka drones, we generally think of drone strikes. But they aren’t all used for state surveillance and military sector attacks. Read more
Massoud Hassani’s wind-powered land minesweeper, the Mine Kafon, was inspired by the handmade toys from his childhood growing up in the desert north of Kabul, Afghanistan. As a boy, Hassani and his brother would fashion small paper toys to roll in the wind, racing them across the local fields. Read more
Young Frank, Architect, MoMA’s first storybook for kids ages three to eight, follows the adventures of Young Frank, a resourceful young architect who lives in New York City with his grandfather, Old Frank, who is also an architect. Young Frank sees creative possibilities everywhere, and likes to use anything he can get his hands on—macaroni, old boxes, spoons, and sometimes even his dog, Eddie—to creates things like chairs out of toilet paper rolls and twisting skyscrapers made up of his grandfather’s books. But Old Frank is skeptical; he doesn’t think that’s how REAL architects make things.
One day, donning matching bow ties, straw boater hats, and Le Corbusier-inspired glasses, they visit The Museum of Modern Art, where they see the work of renowned architects like Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright. And they learn that real architects do in fact create wiggly chairs, twisty towers, and even entire cities. Inspired by what they see, Young Frank and Old Frank return home to build structures of every shape and size: “tall ones, fat ones, round ones, and one made from chocolate chip cookies.”
Written by award-winning children’s author and illustrator Frank Viva, a frequent cover artist for The New Yorker whose previous books include Along A Long Road and A Long Way Away, Young Frank, Architect is an inspiration for budding architects as well as a lesson for those who think they’ve seen everything. With its rich color palette of grays, olives, ambers, and cream (it’s printed using nine colors instead of the usual four), it’s a great introduction to MoMA’s diverse architecture and design collection, which includes surprising objects like Arthur Young’s helicopter in addition to furniture and architectural models.
Young Frank, Architect is a MoMA Exclusive for the month of August, meaning it’s available only at the MoMA Stores now through its wide release in September. Snag a copy and spend the dog-days of August exploring architecture. What will it inspire you to build?
To see more of Young Frank’s adventure, check out our video book trailer below.
On any given day, The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Print Room may be full of studio art students viewing contemporary screenprints, art history students researching works for their term papers, or curators from other institutions planning exhibitions. Read more
The MoMA Stores have devoted our New York retail windows to feature a very special little product, a product “big enough” to be included in the Museum’s own design collection. The windows include larger than life-size objects that flicker, move, and spin through the technology of littleBits, tiny circuit boards with specific functions engineered to snap together with magnets. Read more
Although there are a million typefaces to choose from, MoMA Design Studio chose to only use one typeface for the majority of The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition identities. Why?
At MoMA, we are tasked to design roughly 40 different title walls each year to accompany a wide variety of exhibitions. To manage workload, we made the decision four years ago to have two-thirds of the workload “templatized” by sticking to one typeface—our house font, MoMA Gothic (which is based on Franklin Gothic)—for all collection rotations. Read more