I admit it – most of my products I design are very un-product-like. Not many of them will ever reach the shelves (NB potential employers: this is not to say that I am unable of creating comercial type products!), I find myself repeatedly being drawn towards objects which are curious, unusual, a little bizarre or controversial. In my own work too I think that these characteristics often emerge. But I think there should be a clear distinction between work which is out-to-shock, work which is intentionally controversial in order to make a point, and work which is slightly outlandish or curious due to the subject it is dealing with. I hope I can always stay on the right side (in my opinion) of this divide.
I was recently in London for the New Designers Exhibition (blog post to follow sometime) and whilst I was there I managed to fit in the RCA degree show. There were some fantastic pieces in the show, but three pieces in-particular captured my imagination and excited me.
The first piece was Marguerite Humeau‘s “Back, Here Below, Formidable” project. In this project, Humeau began an epic quest to find out what the creatures long gone sounded like! We have lots of records of what extinct animals may have looked like, their skeletons and impressive models trying to recreate a realistic aesthetic, but Humeau identified that this aspect of the animals is only one dimension of the fuller picture. To get a closer connection to these lost creatures, a truer feeling of their presence, other senses have to be exploited. We often forget about sound in relation to interaction – possibly because it is so fundamental that it is often overlooked.
The objects created are striking works in themselves, but the real thrill comes when you hear (and feel) the rumbling sound created by them. Humeau had to do extensive research and groundbreaking new work to recreate the soft tissue of the dead animal’s respiratory systems as no such data existed before. This fact in itself makes this project really outstanding. I’m not sure if there is a place online (check youtube?) where you can hear the sounds produced, but find them if you can. They were amazing to hear in the flesh and really did bring the beasts to life.
The next piece I really enjoyed was “Urban Stargazing” by Oscar Lhermitte. Due to the large amount of light pollution in most major cities today, the light from the stars at night is being overwhelmed, drowning out the wonderous constellations. As a result, amateur astronomers in places such as London are losing the sight of stars at night. Lhermitte’s project aims to combat this problem by creating new constellations which can be seen at night.
Lhermitte has taken local legend, myths and lesser known facts about London and created new constellations of ‘stars’ to illuminate the heavy London skies. Using small ultra-bright solar powered LEDs and invisible wire, these digital stars were strung up in various locations around London. Charging by day, naked to the eye, suspended above reach, the LEDs come alive at night. Each one having a deeper background narrative like the traditional constellations, they created a new ‘astronomical’ experience for those of us not lucky enough to clearly see the universes natural lightshow.
I was naturally drawn to both of these project, and it was only after that I really identified why. Both projects did something you could never imagine could be achieved! Who thought you could hear a wooly mammoth or create new constellations of stars? OK so they didn’t reincarnate the dead or create balls of fusing gas, but the results were the same. They create wonder and incite curiosity. They show that design can be used as a tool to take people beyond what most of us think is possible and after to see them, you just might think a little differently. I would love my work to do the same as these projects have. I hope that even a few people who saw my Parallelograph went away thinking a little bit differently than before they saw it, and questioned what they ‘knew’ just a little.
I did say at the start that there were three projects I really liked. The third project was “Known Unknowns” by Steffen Fiedler & Jonas Loh. This project looks at the idea or randomness. As I discuss in a previous blog post, ‘randomness’ is more often than not far from random. The two designers created three pieces to attempt to create truly random numbers. One uses cosmic rays in a wilson chamber to produce random numbers via good old quantum physics, the second uses the emissions of a radioactive material to again use quantum physics to create random numbers. The third however uses wind to create random numbers. I haven’t herd of this approach before, and I’m not 100% convinced that it produces truly random numbers but I don’t know.
This was a little different to the other two projects and I think I really liked this one because of my bias towards physics based projects. IT was still a great project though.
Try and have a look at any of these projects if you can – I don’t think you’ll regret it.