Critical design duo Dunne and Raby have made their contribution to the show in St Etienne this year by displaying some of their most recent "design fictions"; a collection of arresting design proposals that transport the mind to an alternate, perhaps future, world in which products and technology are used very differently.
Seeking to demonstrate the philosphical and aesthetic potential of design freed from market conditions, the works on show explore the possible and probable rather than just the "preferable". The three projects displayed reveal a distinctly dystopian edge: "Designs for an Overpopulated Planet" (pictured above), for example, exploring how "Foragers" of the future might gather and artifically digest plant matter in a food scarce world.
Battling, as ever, with the question of how best to present their conceptual narratives, the pair have used this exhibition to experiment: layering up their alternate worlds by juxtaposing objects and large-scale images with sculptural text—the communicae of a mysterious, future (and of course fictional) "Humanity Defense Group", through the lens of which the fictions are explored.
Objects from the project "Public Mind" (above) explore a world in which brain scanning technologies have become powerful and widespread; the last vesitge of privacy, the mind, lost to a society that values security over autonomy. The headpieces on show give a glimpse of new products and social hierarchies that might emerge in this scenario—silver, gold and titanium shields protecting state secrets inside the minds of civil servants, government officials and, perhaps, even their families.
More mind-boggling food producers from the "Designs for an Overpopulated Planet" project.
Also on show is their "Afterlife" machine—a proposal developed alongside the Auger-Loizeau "Afterlife Battery" project—a chilling glimpse into a euthanasia-desensitised society in which the experience of suicide becomes a ripe market for innovation. Dunne and Raby's example allows users to take their own life with the energy collected from a deceased loved one.
As something of a role call to designers that might stumble upon their exhibit, Dunne and Raby offer up a comparison of A) design, as we know it, under market conditions and B) what design could be and how it could function in our society when freed from these shackles. Food for thought, indeed.
Sam Dunne is a designer, strategist and writer based in London. Sam is founder of design strategy agency Cohere and Contributing Editor at Core77—reporting broadly on design, technology, food and object culture.