Science Gallery exhibition shows when design and violence collide

PALISADE FENCING: Various

A fascinating exhibition at the Science Museum takes a look at examples of the darker side of designers’ work, writes Jonathan Deburca Butler

FOR most of us, the word ‘design’ conjures up images of style, sophistication and functionality. Design and its practitioners are there to make the world a better, safer and more comfortable place. But as with all things involving human endeavour, there is a dark side.

It is this murky and sometimes hidden domain that the curators at the Science Gallery’s latest exhibition, Design and Violence, are hoping to explore.

FGM AWARENESS POSTERS: Amnesty International Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a term that encompasses all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. The complications and harm inflicted on girls and women is unarguable. However, the practice of FGM is rooted in a mixture of social, cultural, and religious factors, and is a complex and controversial issue. These posters, designed by Swedish agency Volontaire for Amnesty International, illustrate the stitches and closures used in three of the four different categories of FGM
FGM AWARENESS POSTERS: Amnesty International Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a term that encompasses all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. The complications and harm inflicted on girls and women is unarguable. However, the practice of FGM is rooted in a mixture of social, cultural, and religious factors, and is a complex and controversial issue. These posters, designed by Swedish agency Volontaire for Amnesty International, illustrate the stitches and closures used in three of the four different categories of FGM

“We felt that designers were always telling a story to themselves and to the public that the role of design was to make a better world,” explains curator Jamer Hunt, Director of Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons, The New School in New York. “While we of course support that we feel there was a more complex story that could be told about the relationship between design and tools of destruction.

“So what we wanted to do was open up a conversation around the real complexity of designing in the world and show how, if design does reshape our world, that it’s not always going to be for the better.”

ANTIPERSONNEL: Raphaël Dallaporta, 2004 This series of photographs shows a variety of anti-personnel landmine designs. The beauty and stillness of the weapons is in contrast to their embedded potential for sudden and indiscriminate violence. Typically, antipersonnel mines are used to injure and maim rather than kill and the somewhat sickening paradox here is the evident level of care that has gone into their design to calibrate this level of violence effectively. They can also have profound social effects long after conflicts have ended.
ANTIPERSONNEL: Raphaël Dallaporta, 2004 This series of photographs shows a variety of anti-personnel landmine designs. The beauty and stillness of the weapons is in contrast to their embedded potential for sudden and indiscriminate violence. Typically, antipersonnel mines are used to injure and maim rather than kill and the somewhat sickening paradox here is the evident level of care that has gone into their design to calibrate this level of violence effectively. They can also have profound social effects long after conflicts have ended.

Design and Violence initially ran as a virtual online exhibition curated by Jamer and Paola Antonelli of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which saw a new piece added each week.

The public were invited to comment on and/or discuss each new exhibit and the response was enormous. Jamer explains that about halfway through the exhibition MoMA were approached by the Science Gallery with a view to hosting a show with tangible exhibits. The offer proved too good to turn down.

GREEN BULLETS: Sako This environmentally-friendly bullet swaps out the traditional lead core for copper, ensuring that it does not contaminate the food chain or water supply. Sounds admirable, doesn’t it? And yet these bullets were designed by the US military to kill people with “increased penetration of armor and hard targets”. These bullets are also used by deer hunters in Ireland.
GREEN BULLETS: Sako This environmentally-friendly bullet swaps out the traditional lead core for copper, ensuring that it does not contaminate the food chain or water supply. Sounds admirable, doesn’t it? And yet these bullets were designed by the US military to kill people with “increased penetration of armor and hard targets”. These bullets are also used by deer hunters in Ireland.

Many of the exhibits are loaded with a heavy sense of paradox. The Green Bullet, designed to be environmentally friendly while at the same time lethal is a perfect example.

“You just can’t avoid the irony that these bullets are meant to kill people but save the planet,” says Jamer. “But in a way it makes sense. They discovered that in some battlefields, the groundwater was contaminated because of the lead from bullets and so somebody well-intentioned and smart came up with a solution. Is it a bit ironic and somewhat ludicrous? Yes it is. But does it make sense? Yes, it does strangely enough.”

AK-47: Mikhail Kalashnikov, 1947 There are estimated to be 75 to 100 million AK-47s of varying authenticity in circulation worldwide, making it the most prevalent gun in the world. Named after its designer, Soviet military engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov, and the year of its launch in 1947, it was designed to be lightweight, easy to handle, durable, and cheap to produce. But has gone on to signify so much more including left-wing resistance and the anti-colonial struggle in Africa as well as criminality and terrorism.
AK-47: Mikhail Kalashnikov, 1947 There are estimated to be 75 to 100 million AK-47s of varying authenticity in circulation worldwide, making it the most prevalent gun in the world. Named after its designer, Soviet military engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov, and the year of its launch in 1947, it was designed to be lightweight, easy to handle, durable, and cheap to produce. But has gone on to signify so much more including left-wing resistance and the anti-colonial struggle in Africa as well as criminality and terrorism.

It is for Jamer, a perfect example of designers accepting a reality and getting on with making that reality, however terrible, less harmful.

“What we recognised was a need for more challenging conversations about design,” he continues.

“Human intention is never straight-forward. You may do something with the best intention in the world and it may have unanticipated consequences.

SERPENTINE RAMP: Temple Grandin, 1974 Scientist Temple Grandin created the serpentine ramp to ensure the humane treatment of cattle. The irony of this design is that he was helped to do so by animal rights activists. Grandin designed the ramp to prevent cattle from being scared by the slaughter in the abattoir up ahead. According to the Science Gallery blurb, this exhibit attracted more heated debate and commentary than any other in the original MoMA exhibition.
SERPENTINE RAMP: Temple Grandin, 1974 Scientist Temple Grandin created the serpentine ramp to ensure the humane treatment of cattle. The irony of this design is that he was helped to do so by animal rights activists. Grandin designed the ramp to prevent cattle from being scared by the slaughter in the abattoir up ahead. According to the Science Gallery blurb, this exhibit attracted more heated debate and commentary than any other in the original MoMA exhibition.

“That doesn’t make you a bad person but it does mean that you need to rethink the assumptions that go into what you do. They do this in public health already and I think design needs to develop that similar sensibility.”

Design And Violence is at the Science Gallery at Pearse Street, Dublin, until January 22


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