In 1998 I wrote a paper and presented it at a conference – the paper was called “Commodity fetishism and the need for theory building in Design”. It was one of those rare events where I showed my work – and talked about how we must all do less of ‘yet another chair’ – and we must all collectively boycott institutions like the salon satellite which promote design as an agency that creates objects for rich people. I have grumbled and been snide about the ‘art’ side to design. I have referred to this as the eilitism of a dying discourse.
There is very little of a conscience – if we set aside sustainability and the assistive side to design – energising design discourse. The gurus have their eyes firmly fixed upon the past – and even there the categories are borrowed.
I read Ian McEwan in the paper on saturday and a wonder at his take on ‘Obama will save the world’. Will Obama save design too? To do this he would need to take the preocupation of design with the ipod and direct it at something more emotional and messy. He wouldn’t do this in person – but the agenda he sets – like health care could become the clarion call for a design rennaisance. For the community orientated and bottom up to flex its brain muscles.
Some artists have been directly critical of Obama’s image, including 24-year old Chicago art student David Cordero, who sparked a controversy in the international press when he displayed a life-sized papier-mache representation of Obama as Jesus, entitled ‘Blessing’ and topped with a neon halo, at his senior show. Cordero explained to the Associated Press that the work was “a caution in assigning all these inflated expectations on one individual, and expecting them to change something that many hands have shaped”.
Many artists are politically engaged but they – unlike politicians – tend to be focused on issues rather than personality contests. Artists who create work that supports or opposes an ideology can contribute to the general discourse, and the collectors who buy such work can show their support for the ideas it expresses. But active participation in politics, whether financially or through personal activism, is also needed.
I’ve written a brief note on the June 2008 publication of Designing Denuclearization: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Transaction Publishers). Designing Denuclearization puts my case that nuclear weapons abolition should be the subject of focused research and policy discussion, a practical aim of governments to be pursued with urgence in the immediate future. The note includes links to other books I’ve written on war and nuclear policy, and to course materials on nuclear nonproliferation and abolition.