30 June 2020
Design has always catered for people and their needs. Now more than ever, rather than winding down, designers, engineers and creatives the world over have figuratively deployed their weapons – pragmatism, ingenuity, common sense, intuition and vision – and come up with proposals to help us tackle this epidemic. There have been lots of projects in all sorts of fields – fashion, furnishing, architecture, the motor industry … In order to sort through, not overlook and give due visibility to the top ones, the Museum of Craft and Design in Los Angeles has decided to bring together those solutions that harness new forms for a new purpose, that of curbing the transmission of viral illnesses.
One such project is Design by Distance, by Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox of c2-curatorsquared, which is a digital exhibition “in real time,” that virtually brings together objects, clothing, PPE, accessories and indoor and outdoor space-planning suggestions to smooth our transition to the “new normal” in a world threatened by the virus.
At a time when we have all, like it or not, become stern critics of chairs, sofas, tables, lights and much more besides, no new projects and no “innovative” designs intended to improve and facilitate our daily lives have escaped our attention. Thus, we’ve spotted projects that channel optimism, flair and wisdom both online and in magazines and newspapers.
Which of us hasn’t stopped to admire the lyrical flights of fancy in new PPE designs? Who hasn’t felt their heart lift at the sight of masks printed with smiles of all kinds? Who hasn’t stopped hoping to get back to dining out, going to the beach or the park, even in modern plexiglass boxes or charming “greenhouses” for personal use? Who doesn’t want to go back to flying, even in super-safe diving masks, if that’s what it takes to get to a longed-for somewhere?
Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox have trawled through a huge pool of proposals, which, after a moment of bafflement and immobility, have immersed us in truly new ideas and proposals that are not merely reworkings of forms we’ve already seen. These projects, some of which have been conceived precisely for production, while others just serve as triggers for a more in-depth reflection on what’s going on, offer a hint of those many emotions that this new need for “social distancing” has sparked. It all shows that our need for personal protection is taking the form of a series of body protectors and spatial interventions that underscore just how important, precious and indispensable profound, authentic human contact between individuals really is.
So, after sifting out all the projects that Kate Wagner has described as just "coronagrifting” or "PR-chitecture," there remain, amongst others, Nendo’s joyful projects for ensuring children keep the correct distance even while interacting and playing together; the design screens produced by the Dutch Invertuals collective, headed by Wendy Plomp, which call to mind Light and Space sculptures by Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Doug Wheeler and Craig Kauffman; the elegant plexiglass “hoods” by French designer Christophe Gernigon which respond to our need to be able to eat together without unthinkable distancing or claustrophobia; the marvellous woven rattan “hoop skirt” reminiscent of the same 18th century model, from Livable – the design and research platform headed by Sep Verboom, which was set up in response to the United Nations’ Global Call out to Creatives – which helps respect current recommended social distancing parameters or, alternatively, the skirts designed by the multiply collective, inspired by Victorian women’s ballet costumes and traditional men’s Highland kilts. Then there are the costume designer and stylist Veronica Toppino’s “Structure hats,” reminiscent of the wide-brimmed hats of the 18th century; the cleaning kit for people and the surfaces around them, which looks like jewellery set, conceived by Birgit Severin and Guillaume Neu, and Kiran Zhu’s Handy Capsules, which contain a disposable mask, hand sanitiser, sticky labels and disinfectant wipes.
Clearly that’s not all - the exhibition is, and will remain, a work in progress until December. The Museum of Craft and Design will add many other projects to the showcase that creatives, designers, architects and engineers want to share with the institution and with a wider public keen to stay abreast, imagine part of the future and, sometimes just dream and smile. Something that’s crucially important right now.