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Design Museum Holon presents: State of Extremes

November 20, 2019 Attraction No Comments Email Email
Design Museum Holon presents State of Extremes, an original large-scale exhibition of contemporary design that probes the social, technological and environmental crises that increasingly define our current condition of extremes—while also showing ways in which design can act as a mediating, moderating and healing force.

Curated by Aric Chen with Maya Dvash, Chief Curator of Design Museum Holon, and Azinta Plantenga State of Extremes includes over 70 works by international and Israeli designers and studios. It marks the museum’s 10th anniversary, coming a decade after the museum’s inaugural 2010 exhibition, The State of Things.

In 2010, The State of Things inaugurated the Design Museum Holon by presenting a landscape of objects,” says curator Aric Chen, who was also a member of that earlier exhibition’s curatorial team. “Now, ten years later, State of Extremes instead describes a condition—one in which the world has changed and, with it, design and design practice.

Extreme weather, produced by climate change, is scorching and inundating the planet with record temperatures, unprecedented wildfires and ever more frequent and severe droughts, storms and floods. The echo chamber of the internet is exacerbating extreme political beliefs and social divisions, further polarizing societies already inflamed by extreme, and growing, inequality and resentments. Extremes breed more extremes, creating self-reinforcing cycles of pushback and backlash, and fueling spiraling feedback loops of increasing intensity.

Meanwhile, science, technology and the human imagination are opening extreme possibilities that pose existential questions about what it means to be human, what is natural and artificial, and how we might adapt to “new normals” whose full implications we do not yet understand.
Rather than addressing any topic or issue in particular, State of Extremes aims to show the potential of design to reveal, critique, resist, mitigate and sometimes even exacerbate extremes and the mechanisms that drive them. At a time when our technologies, power structures and impact on the planet are engendering ever more extreme scenarios, State of Extremes is a call for moderation.

In the last decade, design and innovation have driven us to envision newness in the world, in the pursuit of solutions to everyday problems,” says Maya Dvash, Chief Curator of Design Museum Holon. “However, our advancements have created unforeseeable consequences to humankind. ‘State of Extremes’ offers a vivid picture of where we are and where we are going”.

State of Extremes is divided into five thematic categories that illustrate the mechanisms and processes that drive extremes through installations, objects and conceptual videos by local and international designers and studios.

Extremes are difficult to temper. They tend to feed on themselves, metastasizing into self-reinforcing feedback loops of spiraling intensity. Despite the Internet’s early promise to act as a force for civic good, the echo chambers of social media have been revealed as a darker, more sinister place in which extreme perspectives fuel their own viral momentum, and the need for constant online affirmation creates its own downward spirals. At the same time, we are caught in cycles of economic exploitation alongside a disastrous environmental spiral of our own making, as the effects of climate change accelerate in feedback loops that may be escaping our grasp. Whether through protest, raising awareness, or reinserting human values and judgment into technology, design can help us understand these cycles – and also, potentially, break them.

Presented as part of ‘Spiraling’ is Retreat by Xandra van der Eijk, showing three 3-D printed scans of a shrinking glacier in Switzerland. As global warming is accelerating, the landscape is undergoing dramatic changes. Retreat asks how we deal with the feelings that arise from being complicit in losing land to sea, losing ice to the heat, and losing animals to history. The designer went into the wilderness to document the receding glacial ice as a ritual for dealing with her own ecological grief: a way to document and archive what is being lost.

Physically manifesting the psychologically damaging effects of social media is the Emotigun by Tadas Maksimovas. Emotigun is a motor-powered, remote-controlled slingshot that fires physical versions of the most popular social-media emojis at users. In our current society, with our addiction to instant gratification and need for constant affirmation via social media likes and followers, Emotigun raises the question: Would we chase this online affirmation as desperately if it were to hit us directly in the face?

Human cognition often structures the world according to binary categories such as “right and wrong” or “good and evil,” while our deeply-ingrained tribalism fuels a collective instinct to distinguish “us” from “them”. In recent years, these tendencies have been exacerbated by resentments stemming from shifting power balances, migration, growing economic inequality and the shortcomings of globalization. Animosities have been further inflamed by online amplification, and manifested in the form of deepening nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiments, political polarization, and what seems to be a general decline in empathy. As political positions and worldviews become more and more extreme, pushback and backlash prompt an equal and opposite reaction, driving contending points of view even further apart. Addressing issues ranging from economic inequality, gender and race to political extremism and isolationism, design offers possibilities for bridging the gaps that divide us.
Nathan Smith and Sam T. Smith’s ME & EU, one of the works in ‘Polarization’, is a collection of 116 postcards designed by UK-based creatives in the wake of the Brexit vote in 2016. Expressing regret at the vote’s outcome and a desire to stay connected, the postcards were sent to fellow creatives across all 27 EU countries as a positive and humorous response that aims to find ways to continue engagement.

Revealing the social divisions embedded in our physical landscapes, artist Johnny Miller’s Unequal Scenes is an ongoing research project that uses drone photography to expose the social and economic dividing lines inscribed in the urban fabric of the world’s most unequal societies.

Extremes can be good, as when they propel human achievement to its noblest limits, or drive ideas and creativity to points of resolution and clarity. However, they can also pose questions about how far we are willing to go. Once set on a trajectory, extremes often acquire their own momentum as they are pushed ever further towards their seemingly logical conclusions, with often unintended consequences. What scenarios can we imagine for a future time when technology completely takes over our lives? What becomes of the human body in a virtual reality, and at what point is nature rendered artificial? Moreover, extremes may themselves have limits. To what extremes can we push extremes, and what comes after?

Shown for the first time, Compression Cradle by Lucy McRae is a new installation that explores a future in which technology has dissociated us from our bodies. Through its sequence of aerated volumes, the installation affectionately squeezes users by swaddling, wrapping and inviting them to lay down and immerse themselves. We live in an era bound by fear, manipulated by science and isolated by technology – a “touch-crisis” world that has triggered a lonely disconnection from ourselves and each other. In a possible future devoid of human touch, Compression Cradle is a suggested remedy.

Critiquing the complicity of both corporations and individuals in the environmental crisis is The Bleached Coral Collection. Created by Huei Yin Wong and Jack Railton-Woodcock, the project consists of a collection of mundane objects painted in a color they’ve named “Bleached Coral”—a critical reaction to the official announcement, in early 2019, that the color standards company Pantone had named “16-1546 Living Coral” their Color of the Year. In recent years, climate change has caused an unprecedented death of coral on a global scale, making Pantone’s choice, however well intentioned, painfully ironic.

New Normals
What seems extreme today may become normal tomorrow. Similarly, what we embrace as normal today may have seemed extreme in the past. Extremes are contingent on their deviation from norms, both of which are neither fixed nor absolute, and are constantly subject to recalibration. Many of the works in State of Extremes prompt questions about what we are willing to accept as normal. What new norms should we welcome, and which ones should we resist? The current epoch of the Anthropocene, in which human activity is irrevocably changing the planet, will include some new normals over which we will have little control. How should we adapt?

Over the years, elements of Eastern culture such as Yoga, Buddhism and meditation have been integrated into Western society. Combined with rapid technological developments, these elements are giving rise to a new hybrid culture represented, for example, by meditation apps. Siri Zen Master questions the contemporary fusion of technology and spirituality. The installation by Varburg Group presents a new type of Zen garden, transformed by projections, light and Zen phrases spoken by Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant technology. Created for Jerusalem Design Week 2019, Siri Zen Master reflects on this hybrid combination of artificial intelligence and consciousness practices.

With rising sea levels predicted to submerge many coastal mega cities by 2100, affecting 0.5–3 billion people, Amphibio is designed in anticipation of a future in which human habitation will likely have a very different relationship with water. Created by Jun Kamei, Amphibio is a 3-D-printed amphibious garment that consists of a set of gills and a breathing mask, allowing the wearer to breath underwater. Though currently not quite strong enough to sustain life, this working prototype is capable of extracting oxygen from water and releasing carbon dioxide – the basic necessities for underwater breathing.

Extreme Lab
Extreme times call for extreme measures, and designers, scientists and engineers are responding with innovative new approaches to materials and production processes. Ranging from objects grown from mycelium fungus and vases 3-D-printed from algae to artificial flowers that provide an emergency food source for urban-dwelling insects, these projects blur the distinctions between the natural and human made, production and consumption, raw materials and waste.
A speculative design project that investigates the potential of merging traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) with emerging biotechnologies is the Tiger Penis Project by Kuang-Yi Ku. In TCM, the tiger penis is believed to increase virility, posing a severe threat to that endangered species as it is harvested for its parts. Working with geneticists and TCM practitioners, the designer has proposed genetically engineering a new, synthetically enhanced tissue that combines the properties of the tiger penis with properties of oysters and octopus tentacles – which are believed to increase virility in other cultures – in order to preserve both animals and traditions.
While our health still relies on nutrients normally provided by nature, the world population is growing, and arable land is becoming increasingly scarce.

Neo Fruit uses contemporary technology to create man-made fruit that contains an array of nutrients tailored to our daily needs. Neo Fruit’s shapes and textures were designed to fulfill both our sensory and our nutritional needs, providing a physically and emotionally wholesome meal. This work was created as a graduation project in the Department of Industrial Design, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, in collaboration with the company AMP, which specializes in 3-D printing and advanced technology modeling.

Special Installation: TBC
UN Studio has created an installation in the museum’s courtyard to visualize the properties of Coolest White, a new paint it has developed, with manufacturer Monopol Colors, that aims to reduce the urban heat island effect. The heat-retaining materials used in our built environments are one of the main causes of the urban heat island effect, which makes cities significantly hotter than their surrounding areas. As buildings absorb solar radiation and store heat from the sun, greater energy is required to cool their interiors, while more heat is released and trapped in the urban environment.

The Coolest White is an ultra-durable paint based on fluoropolymer technology, which protects buildings and urban structures from excessive solar radiation – thus slowing down the urban heat island effect. Partially painted in Coolest White, and partially covered in regular paint, this installation uses a heat-sensing camera to allow visitors to see the difference in temperature.

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