Design and Violence as Open Curatorial Experiment at the Science Gallery Dublin, Ireland
Design and Violence was always conceived of as an open curatorial experiment that might find life on other platforms outside of its genesis at MoMA. Science Gallery Dublin in Ireland is the most recent home for this project (find their website for DESIGN AND VIOLENCE here). DESIGN AND VIOLENCE at Science Gallery Dublin has been developed by Ralph Borland, Lynn Scarff and Ian Brunswick and is based on an online curatorial experiment originally hosted by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and led by Paola Antonelli, Jamer Hunt, Michelle Millar Fisher, and Kate Carmody.
In the introductory statement for the online curatorial experiment Design and Violence at The Museum of Modern Art, design was defined within the parameters of the museum’s collection as a compelling marriage of economy, elegance, functionality, and timeliness. As co-curators, we—Paola Antonelli and Jamer Hunt— also defined violence very broadly as “a manifestation of the power to alter circumstances, against the will of others and to their detriment.” As we said then, although designers aim to work toward the betterment of society, it is and has been easy for them to “overstep, indulge in temptation, succumb to the dark side of a moral dilemma, or simply err.” And yet the intersection of design with violence is a history rarely, if ever, told by critics, historians, or designers themselves; the public, therefore, remains unaware—unless they become one if its victims. Over a period of two years, we, along with MoMA Curatorial Assistants Michelle Millar Fisher and initially also Kate Carmody assembled a range of design projects, objects, and ideas that lived between these two guideposts of design and violence. The works were as varied as the discussions they provoked online, in the galleries, in the public debates we held, and, eventually, in the pages of the book we published.
Our initial conversations were catalyzed by two key projects: Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) and Defense Distributed’s 3D printed gun, The Liberator (2013). It is impossible to simplify Pinker’s weighty tome but his argument suggests that we live in more peaceable era compared to our ancestors; however, the design and dissemination of open source files for a printable, untraceable gun marked, for us, a watershed that contradicted Pinker’s research. Instead of dissipating, violence seems to have morphed and recombined into novel, intangible, or ghostly forms—into the roadside bomb, cyber threats, the unmanned aerial drone, and the everyday household tool repurposed into a protest weapon. The works we included in our online survey responded to this shape shifting: Google’s Digital Attack Map, for instance, charts distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks across the world; James Bridle’s Drone Shadow project evokes and reveals the fear of a distantly-controlled overhead attack; Volontaire’s elegant, strong poster series for Amnesty International raises consciousness of gendered violence and female genital mutilation.
And yet the intersections of design and violence are never static, never circumscribable. They continue to mutate and they appear differently, inhabiting discrete localities as often as they become global phenomena; they manifest newly in the hands and minds of individuals, collectives, and in the molecules of materials into which they pass. It thus makes perfect sense for this conversation to move into other institutions in order to spark overlapping yet distinct reflections to those we articulated in New York. Just one of many possible examples: where our last post in the U.S. focused on the lethal injection—written by Death Row exonoree Ricky Jackson—the conversation has shifted in Dublin to the sensitivities and politics of the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution.
Initiating a discussion with our precious colleagues at Science Gallery Dublin—former CEO of Science Gallery International Michael John Gorman in the early stages, and then Director Lynn Scarff, Head of Programming Ian Brunswick, and Exhibitions Producer Aisling Murray—was like sitting down at a table among old friends. Indeed, Michael John and I, Paola, have known each other for a very long time—ever since MoMA’s first foray into design and science with the exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind in 2008—and I greatly respect and trust his vision for the intersection of contemporary design, science, and technology and the track record of boundary-crossing exhibitions at the Dublin Science Gallery and beyond. Adding Ralph Borland to the mix—a designer whose work has been held within MoMA’s own collection since 2006—as the external curator for this presentation of Design and Violence at Science Gallery Dublin made great sense given the longstanding relationship he has had with both of our institutions. The regular conversations between our teams over the past year, led here at MoMA by Michelle Millar Fisher, have resulted in a thoughtful translation and augmentation of the original project. When colleagues know each other well—and we do, even more so after this adventure—dialogue can immediately become frank and deep, which allows partners to challenge fruitfully each other’s established ideas and preconceptions. In his parsing of violence along semiotic, systematic, and spectacular lines, Ralph has widened the definition of design that we at MoMA started out with.
The Science Gallery Dublin team has retained several of the works from MoMA’s exhibition, and brought them into orbit with a new constellation of objects. In doing so, they have forged perspectives on the intersection of our material culture with our capacity for sometimes terrible but often quite mundane forms of violence. Most importantly, this new manifestation of Design and Violence has opened up the conversation to audiences far beyond those originally imagined. The intention of this experiment, in New York, in Dublin, and in any future locale and incarnation, is not to glorify or spectacularize violence, nor to engage in voyeurism or didacticism, but to place these quotidian, theatrical, systemic, and hidden relationships between design and violence into new relief. Science Gallery Dublin also has an amazing record of lively conversation through public engagement with the exhibition visitors. We look forward to the opinions, questions, and actions that will ensue.
Paola Antonelli and Jamer Hunt // New York City, September 2016
An addendum, May 2017: As part of their research, the Science Gallery Dublin team produced three zines during the course of the exhibtion at their institution. We archive them here: Zine 1, Zine 2, and Zine 3.