Toy wolf Lufsig, designed for and manufactured by Ikea, and an unlikely symbol of political dissent. Image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Toy wolf Lufsig, designed for and manufactured by Ikea, and an unlikely symbol of political dissent. Image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

"A complex, fluid story about our relationship to the things we produce, design and consume".


29 September 2014

Next week we welcome Corinna Gardner, co-curator of the V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting display, to Lighthouse where she’ll be talking about the team’s approach to curating the exhibition, and why there is a growing urgency for responsive space that reflects on contemporary design practise. Lighthouse programme assistant Natalie Kane shares her thoughts on this innovative development.

A range of Christian Louboutin shoes challenge traditional concepts of 'nude'. Image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
A range of Christian Louboutin shoes challenge traditional concepts of 'nude'. Image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting display (just walk through 20th Century design and you’ll find it) is a reactive space, where exhibits change regularly in response to their appearance in the news. Each exhibit is an example of the impact that contemporary design has on society, and tells a complex, fluid story about our relationship to the things we produce, design and consume. Examples include The Liberator, a 3D-printed gun that not only highlights how new technologies are changing our modes of production but the legal implications of being able to create illegal items, and a pair of Primark jeans from the factory involved in the Bangladeshi building collapse. Pictured above is Lufsig, a wolf toy made by Ikea, which was hurled by a protester at CY Leung, Hong Kong’s most senior official, also known as the Wolf. The toy sold out in Hong Kong within three days and became a symbol of political dissent.

Tim Maly’s notes from this year’s XOXO, Portland’s annual art and design conference, raised important questions on the way we talk about creativity, design and labour including who decides who is a creator, and which voices are we ignoring in conversations about design? With Rapid Response Collecting, the political and social background of an object is revealed (where applicable). The factories are shown, the workers are shown, and the selected object’s inclusion in a time-sensitive exhibition not only provides a context but highlights the urgency to address concerns of ethics and production.

Speaking to The Guardian earlier this year Corinna Gardner emphasised the importance of reacting to pressing issues in design: ‘It’s about the museum looking outwards and engaging with topics that are in the news. It’s an opportunity to think afresh and respond in a more agile way, rather than just buying more chairs.’

Meanwhile James Bridle described Rapid Response Collecting as ‘the collapse of historical narrative into the present.’ Telling the story of the London museum in Georgina Voss & Justin Pickard’s podcast Gin & Innovation, he goes on to explain that the V&A was originally conceived as a way of showing the public what ‘good taste’ was, in the hope this would sway buying habits and encourage industry. In this way, Rapid Response Collecting gives us the opportunity to look at the impact of design in a real-world context with the aim of influencing how we view the things we own and make. The display, as Voss mentions, is ‘something that allows you to move and pull through different spaces, tangibly communicating the science and technology policy that sits behind industry.’

Rapid Response Collecting had a huge influence on the way I’ve been thinking about design curation, and has encouraged me to explore the potential for curating a space that is research-driven, active, adaptive and responsive, a space that allows for flexibility in dialogue and doesn’t stand still while the rest of the world moves around it. Following the closure of design studio BERG, a need to catalogue the Internet of Broken Things is slowly developing which interrogates the ephemerality of services and products that rely on the network, and what happens when they stop working. I’m imagining something that might present the mounting series of bad pull requests from cloud services that no longer function, or an auto-refreshed bug report from a connected object that is slowly being phased out of existence.

Corinna Gardner will speak at Lighthouse’s Monthly Talk from 6pm on Thursday, 2 October. Book tickets here


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