A new show opens at the London Design Museum today, curated by designers Eduard Barber and Jay Osgerby and entitled “In the making”. It focuses on aesthetic and educational aspects of the production process of everyday objects. The exhibition, which will stay open until the 4th of May this year, displays over 20 items; all displayed at different unfinished stages of their production processes.
From glass marble to an aluminum can, a tennis ball and Derwent coloring pencils to some of the most successful pieces signed by the firm such as the London 2012 Olympic Torch and a two Pound commemorative coin released for the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, the show strips these pieces of their final look to reveal the aesthetic qualities of their manufacturing.
The first part of the exhibition guides the visitors into a dark tunnel with pedestals where each piece is on display and labelled like any respectable item in a museum; only through the video that interrupts this path and the images at the end of it is it possible to trace the exact moment in time of the manufacture processes that identify each object and to understand their history of making. What we could define as the “key-frames” of the early life movie of these objects accompany the viewer in a journey into the metamorphosis of them as living beings.
Interestingly, most of the items picked by the designers and here displayed, are made out of one single component or material, and processes such as extrusion (see the Coca-Cola can for instance) are privileged because they produce the object out of a single piece of material rather than through the making of several components. This is in line with the designers’ research on folding surfaces at the basis of many of their own projects. In addition it certainly reminds us of the popular trend that since the 90s has dominated the design scene (and particularly the architectural world) that sees the use of surfaces – and especially their design through digital techniques – as a central design tool and which has recently been responsible for the proliferation of environments made out of seductive and fluid envelopes.
Nevertheless, the designers and curators of the show attempt to strip the narrative of the production process of any reference to the information age (as well as of the user experience) in favor of some sort of retro-taste or nostalgia for the so-called first machine age. The most obvious historical reference to mention is the Bauhaus of Walter Gropius; in the attempt of reinventing and protecting the role of designers in the industrial age, the German architect was among the firsts to get designers involved in “the making” and to claim some kind of authorship departing from their involvement at that stage of works. Likewise, Barber and Osgerby support the educational scope embedded in the knowledge of process of making and are clearly claiming some sort of authenticity implicit into that process that can eventually justify and distinguish their work (or the work of whoever embraces this “making religion”).
Besides any judgment on the validity of this narrative with functionalist echoes (honesty of material, authenticity in relation to the process of making, etc.), what seems to be partly at odds with it and which makes of the show a bit of a shallow experience, is the fact that the unfinished objects presented are here utilized and fetishizised mainly for their aesthetic qualities (even the “key-frames” of their production process seem chosen according to such qualities). If similarly to the ready-made of Duchamp the objects displayed in the show are stripped of their use or function as well as of their existence in the context which they belong to, differently from that one they are not really randomly chosen (a marble in the moment of detaching from the glass bar and turning into a sphere for example is carefully picked) and it is not their placement in the gallery context that transforms our perception (including the aesthetic perception) of them but rather the somehow negated indexicality between them and their image as finished products.
Why do the designers choose to focus on this particular moment of making in the object production? And how can “the making” still inspire the imagination of designers in the digital era?