Look but don’t touch: digital objects and design during the pandemic


While social distancing has resulted in more screen-based routines, some of the distinctions between IRI and digital sensations bleed together. Whether it’s choosing how to see friends, making medical appointments, or considering work or online learning options, the impact of increasingly virtual lifestyles (for those who are fortunate enough to have access to a computer, i.e.) can be felt in almost any setting. Although their contours are different, the experience of living and virtual spaces generally reflect pre-made decisions regarding aesthetics, accessibility and intended use. In other words, the design and decisions made by designers inform how we live in online and offline spaces.

Recently, GARAGE spoke with Natalie Kane, curator of digital design at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London, to try to better understand how the pandemic can elucidate the role of digital design in everyday life. In Kane’s own words, the Architecture, Design and Digital department “[doesn’t] collect chronologically. Instead, Kane and his team “collect groups of objects that point to different themes, topics, or ideas.” During our conversation, Kane spoke about what it means to collect and curate digital design and its physical equivalents, and how museums and the public can learn from each other when it comes to digital design. ” interpret digital cultures.

Satirical print showing class divisions between those who can afford to stay sober and those who cannot. A dandy inside talks about spending all his loose change on a quarter of soap, while the sailor and chimney sweep watch from the outside. Great Britain, circa 1810 (E.82-1936) Victoria and Albert Museum

Can you describe what the work of a curator in digital design involves? And how has your work been affected by the pandemic?
I was on leave for three months and just returned to work, so this is the biggest way my job has been affected by COVID-19! [Laughs] I work at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in a collection called Design, Architecture and Digital, and our particular mission is not tied to the timeline or the medium. It’s over … I try not to use the word philosophy, because I think my colleagues might hate it, but our department reflects the idea that design is within and responds to society.

Living with design is an integral part of public life and many of my colleagues study objects that have had particular impacts on socio-economic, political or cultural conversations. Or they research the ways in which design is impacting or helping people. My colleagues Corinna Gardner and Rory Hyde created a show called “All of This Belongs to You” [which coincided with the UK’s general election] in 2015, and this cemented our department’s philosophy that design is something everyone can participate in. It is not only relevant for manufacturers and users.

Thinking about how we bring digital design objects into the V&A is interesting, because it’s an institution known for decorative arts and fashion – for William Morris and plates, ceramics and theater. The [Architecture, Design, and Digital] The department would really like what we are studying to be integrated into the whole institution, because the design is reflected in all kinds of objects. Right now, we have an amazing initiative – well, I’m very proud of it and I love acquiring for that – called Rapid Response Collecting, which deals specifically with recent and contemporary objects.

Pussy Power beanie knitted by Jayna Zweiman.  Photography (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2) .JPG

Pussy Power beanie knitted by Jayna Zweiman. Photography (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Can you explain how the rapid response collection works?
Yes! It’s a project that was started by Corinna Gardner, Senior Curator of Design and Digital, and Kieran Long, who was then custodian. They launched Rapid Response as a way to acquire design objects that respond to particular current times. For example, they acquired [a] womens march pussy hat [in January 2017] and also the Liberator, a 3D printed handgun, which is a very problematic object, but also important to understand. Rapid Response also collected design objects that span the gamut from the first Tampax menstrual cup, to the hijab that was banned by France, to the X-Box adaptive controller for Microsoft, which was the first controller created for them. people with different abilities.


The Liberator, 3D printed pistol, designed by Cody Wilson / Defense Distributed, manufactured by Digits2Widgets, 2013, USA. Museum n ° CD.1: 1 to 16-2013. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Why do you think it is important for the public to be able to think about or discuss the design?
We know that all design is political, so a museum or gallery can frame particular objects and invite the public to discuss them, but the dialogue can also start in the other direction. I think we’re at a point now where [museums] should invite more diverse stories and listen more to people who have direct experience of the objects and technologies studied. Funny you ask that question, because I was just reading about post-conservative archival theory – basically that’s a powerful and important perspective on why certain objects should not be put in museums. For example, some objects have difficult or complex cultural histories and others are simply very fragile. Some artefacts that should not be collected can still be loaned to a museum to be digitized or preserved in some way, which will hopefully make a record accessible to future generations without removing the original artefacts from. their communities.

“Prevention is better than cure” (poster), Dorothy Adelaide Braddell for the Health and Cleanliness Council, c.  1925. (E.721-1978) Credit Victoria and Albert Museum.jpg

“Prevention is better than cure” (poster), Dorothy Adelaide Braddell for the Health and Cleanliness Council, c. 1925. (E.721-1978) Credit Victoria and Albert Museum

I recently read your “Pandemic objects: the doorknob” room, which describes how some COVID-inspired designs, such as doorknobs that don’t require hands to be touched, may have accessibility benefits that could linger after the pandemic. Do you think the pandemic is encouraging people to think more critically or creatively about who design can be used for?
My colleague Brendan Cormier put together the idea for Pandemic Objects as a sister project to Rapid Response Collecting. [Pandemic Objects] is an editorial platform that explores how everyday objects can change meaning, purpose or value in times of crisis, in this case due to the coronavirus epidemic. Personally, I have always been fascinated by retraining design, because of its relation to disability theory and design. Liz Jackson, founder of the [Disabled List] that I mentioned in the doorknob article, explains that people with disabilities are life’s first hackers – pushing something until it breaks or gets a new fit and works suddenly for you.

The idea of ​​constantly hacking things is something that a lot of people in certain communities have become accustomed to. I’m interested to see how the coronavirus prompts people from different communities to adapt and increase more collectively. With COVID-19, we’re suddenly seeing conception hacks happening on an astronomical scale. It is not only a matter of materials and resources available, but also of saving time. I don’t know if you know the concept of “Crip Time”? This is time lost or extended due to disability. For example, as a person with a disability, I may waste time because of waiting for things, or because of fatigue or because my brain is not functioning properly that day. Even things like scheduling medical appointments – being on the phone and planning things can take forever – or just having to rest for a few days because my brain isn’t working properly. All of these factors can slow down time in a particular way.

With the quarantine, [“Crip Time”] is happening on a larger scale. People have to cancel their social commitments and say, “I’m sorry. I’m going to have to work from home today.” Suddenly the whole world has been lobbed into this particular condition and your intimacies, your relationships and the way you function are forced into this new slice of experience. What I find really interesting is to look at how design and digital platforms are now forced to accommodate, or at least understand, this relationship to time. Society is definitely changing en masse.



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