Designers can be an ambitious bunch, hoping to lead us all into a better, color-coordinated, minimalist future. “The Fab Mind” aims to show off attempts “to understand and to resolve social issues through design’,” based upon the earth-shattering notions that the world is in the midst of change, and that we must all act, think and communicate individually.
The underground Bond-villain lair of 21_21 Design Sight is an appropriate venue for such a grand vision, though thankfully the exhibition does carry through on the “individual” part. Rather than being a unified selection of clever and beautiful objects that don’t work very well, this is a very catholic assembly that runs from the cosmic and aesthetic to the pedestrian and practical. The “Alma Music Box,” for example, is the transformation of radio data from distant stars into soundscapes, while the “sock horn” is a device designed by two young members of Fixperts — a social project that aims to share knowledge and expertise — to help the elderly put on their socks without having to bend over.
As with any exhibition there will be hits and misses according to taste; in this sense the diversity of projects is a plus. Thought experiments envisage objects and practices that attempt to solve a future need, such as the Takram Design Engineering group’s “Shenu: Hydrolemic System,” a set of stylish prosthetic reservoir/recycling devices that anticipate a growing scarcity of clean water. Ushigome Yosuke, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, meanwhile hypothesizes that wearable technology can be used to monetize our time and senses through the recording and uploading of live data, and thus redefine what it means to “share.”
Other exhibits are case studies in technology and recycling from developing nations — jewelry made from pet bottles in the Western Sahara, furniture from aluminium cans in Sao Paulo, a cheap wind-borne land-mine clearance device. Such projects that are worthy in intent and stunningly ingenious but, for one reason or another, have failed to seriously make the difference that their designers may have hoped for.
One of the largest and most central displays of the exhibition is a collection of baggy hand-knitted jumpers, which are a spectacular contrast to the smart, high-end fashion designs of, say, Issey Miyake, one of the organizers of “The Fab Mind.” These were created quietly by pensioner Loes Veenstra, who has made several hundred since the mid-1950s, and which had never been worn until the collection was turned into an archive project of local culture by the Museum Rotterdam. A video of a flash mob wearing Veenstra’s life’s work while dancing to the tune of “Happy Together” is genuinely heartwarming, but playing it on a continuous loop in an underground concrete bunker is not advisable.
“The Fab Mind: Hints of the Future in a Shifting World” at 21_21 Design Sight runs till Feb. 1; open daily 11 a.m.-8 p.m. ¥1,000. www.2121designsight.jp/en