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Selected works from the
38th Annual Fine Arts Exhibition
Born out of Necessity
Museum of Modern Art, NY
Architecture and Design Galleries, third floor
until 28 January 2013
AMONG THE most common and enduring definitions of design is “problem solving.” A problem arises, the designer analyzes it and distills it into goals, and then she creates a roadmap to a solution, working with the means at her disposal. These include the budget, the materials and techniques she can afford and master (for an object like a chair, a lamp, or a bicycle, for instance), or the code and software she favors (for a digital product, such as an interface or an interactive map). She must also consider the requirements of distribution and marketing, if the product is meant for wide dissemination. If she is good, this process, simple and linear, will result in an elegant, functional, economical, and meaningful solution, the splendid outcome of an inspired syllogism. Design is often not linear, however, and sometimes, rather than focusing on solving existing or forthcoming problems, designers-informed by current technological and social developments-imagine possible future scenarios and infer from them urgent issues that may eventually need to be tackled; in other words, they design problems for which we all one day might need solutions.
Born out of Necessity features objects of design from the collection of The Museum of Modern Art that are solutions to problems, some of them real, concrete, and urgent, and others speculative, tied to possible future scenarios, their urgency removed but no less intense in the designers’ minds. Some highlight emergencies at home or at sea; others are made to be used efficiently in medical crises or to be deployed in response to natural disasters. While some are staples of everyday life in the present moment-such as Band-Aids, earplugs, and coffeecup lids-others address possible problems of the future: a planetwide food shortage caused by overpopulation, for instance, which leads to an inventive redesign of the human gastrointestinal system; the ethics of lab-grown meat; or the psychological effects of organ transplantation from animals. In some cases, challenges specific to people with disabilities (the problems of a few) have led to products that improve everybody’s life (solutions for all); in others, solutions to pressing needs in developing countries are extrapolated successfully to the environments of cities in wealthier nations.
Design that is first problem making and then problem solving often veers dramatically from the visual and functional catalogue of the modern tradition. Its predictive and narrative power comes alive in objects that address present and future cultural developments-such as the integration of environmental responsibility into everyday behaviors or the marriage of ancient religious beliefs with up-to-date media and habits-and that aim to anticipate and prevent future technological and ecological quagmires. Goals and means come together in the design process, a remarkable synthesis whose ambition is to distill an object that is much more-in significance, functionality, innovation, and elegance- than the sum of its parts.