The dark side of design: MoMA’s digital project ’Design and Violence’ makes the transition from pixels to print
Started in the autumn of 2013, last month saw the close of MoMA’s 18 month-long experimental project, Design and Violence; an online exhibition that examines the inextricable relationship between these familiar yet uneasy bedfellows.
Organised by Paola Antonelli, MoMA’s senior curator at the Department of Architecture, and design critic and director of the graduate program in Transdisciplinary Design at Parsons The New School for Design, Jamer Hunt, the website functions as a showcase for violence-related design objects (ranging from the lethal injection compound to the stiletto heel,) and also houses provocative essays by experts and thought leaders in response to the objects, which inevitably have sparked furious debate in the comments section. ’By making feedback a permanent and central part of the project, we gained some of our greatest insights,’ notes Antonelli. ’We had two (two!) comments on the post on death penalty design and over 100 on the post regarding the design of the slaughterhouse. The death of animals galvanises more than the death of humans, and that was a surprise.’
Offline the project was fortified by a series of live-streamed panel discussions and an installation in the MoMA galleries. ’The online format was the best means, in the end, to begin this project,’ reflects Hunt. ’Starting as an “online curatorial experiment” allowed us to be very nimble, and approach themes, authors, projects, and ideas that larger, well-known institutions aren’t always comfortable tackling, especially via design.’
Although covering all different scales of violence in design, the digital project centred on the modern day with almost all the featured design objects, projects and concepts being conceived post-2001 - a year which the curators posit as a pivotal moment in history, heralding the beginning of a permanent War on Terror; a global shift from symmetrical to asymmetric warfare; the emergence of nation-building as an alternative to military supremacy; and the rise of the intangible and complex battlefield of cyberwarfare.
Although the platform will remain online for the forseeable future, the project has now been translated from pixels into print in the form of a hefty book of the same name. Chronicling the design objects alongside the expert commentary, ’Design and Violence’ is an era-defining design tome that should be essential reading for those interested in fields as diverse as journalism and art and design to science, law, finance and criminal justice.