Design and the Elastic Mind

Delight, shock and amazement are natural responses. Although the galleries of this show are somewhat small in square footage, it is a mammoth undertaking to absorb and process the diverse set of objects and principals on display.

In Uncategorized by Heather Christensen 2008-12-23 print

Oracle“Design and the Elastic Mind,” currently on view at MoMA, is an exhibition about revolution, technology and the impact of design on our lifestyles, both today and in the future. The introductory wall text states that adaptability is a fundamental part of human nature, and leads to elasticity, which is the trait of grasping progress and altering the status quo.

This exhibition contains hundreds of objects, projects and concepts offered by teams of designers, scientists and engineers. Most items displayed refer to recent or future changes in the way our society functions. Others nod to peculiar traits of our changing behaviors. Delight, shock and amazement are natural responses. Although the galleries are somewhat small in square footage, it is a mammoth undertaking to absorb and process the diverse set of objects and principals on display. The show is divided into chapters: Personal Environments, Interaction Design, Design for Senses, 3D Printing, Design for One and Many and Organic Design.

James Augur and Jimmy Loizeau created the Interstitial Space Helmet in 2004. Although one can easily exist in another reality or an alternate world online, Augur and Loizeau have created a helmet that allows a user to exist as a screen-based entity while in the real world. They suggest that new behaviors are developing as a result of complex social interactions online, and the preferred location of existence is the digital form rather than the actual presence.

Arguably the most beautiful piece on view is Rachel Wingfield and Mathias Gmachl’s “Sonumbra.” This large yet delicate structure dominates the central gallery with its grace. Shaped like a tree, it is created by weaving electroluminescent wires into a “sonic shade of light”, mimicking nature with advanced technology.
Equally powerful, yet extremely basic, are Emili Padros’ “Ask Me!” badges, which are designed for locals to wear in locations where tourists frequent. The badge marks an individual who desires to interact, preserve and educate others about his or her own culture, cuisine or neighborhood. The commentary here is that even in a globalized and information-rich world, nuances of culture and knowledge are best drawn from local sources.

In the same theme of social interaction, Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar have created I Want You To Want Me, a complex computer program based on delicate and personal feelings harvested from the Internet. An interactive installation on a 56” high-resolution touch screen displays emotional data where an individual is represented by a balloon. The viewer can access and review each individual’s profile, both at the museum and on the internet at

As curator Paola Antonelli explains, the show questions our Internet lifestyles and the need for cues to meet and talk with others. The concept of privacy has mutated to signify not seclusion but rather selective ways of making contact.

The relationship between the indoor human world versus the outside natural world is examined in Simon Heijden’s “Lightweeds.” He has created digital organisms for the indoors – light shapes on the wall resembling plants – which grow in response to the outdoor world of weather, soil nutrients and sunlight. The plants also respond to the environment of the indoor world and will sway gently as you walk by.

The interaction between the body and its shadow is brilliantly exhibited in Philip Worthington’s “Shadow Monsters,” which are designed to explore a common fear among children. Standing in front of a large screen, noises erupt as a hand turns into a shark and the space between arm and abdomen becomes a bat with blinking eyes. This piece is captivating and will take you back to your playground years. It can also be viewed on YouTube.

The exhibition also covers furniture design and engineering. Joris Laarman’s “Bone Chair” is an optimized structure that utilizes a minimal amount of material (strangely similar to a Zaha Hadid creation). A Mercedes Benz prototype mimics the anatomy of the boxfish, which is, yes, boxy but easy to maneuver. A hexagonal bony plate system protects the fish, and soon it will keep passengers safe as well.

Heather Christensen

Heather Christensen. Born in Kenya and raised in California, Heather received a BA in Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Based in New York for the last fabulous five years, she has traded in her surfboard for a blackberry and heels, and evolved into an independent curator and freelance writer by night and a museum professional by day. She enjoys studio visits, discovering new fonts and chocolate chip cookies. » See other writings

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