Design & Violence
What started as a website and digital gallery to catalogue the history, design and uses of some of humanity’s most violent gadgets has now become a captivating book.
The book, Violence and Design, by Museum of Modern Art New York Curator Paola Antonelli, and design critic Jamer Hunt, highlights a collection of design objects, projects, and concepts that have a relationship with violence. Either animating it in order to condemn it or instigating it in order to prevent it.
Design has a history of violence. It can be a double-edged sword; an act of creative destruction with consequences intended or often times unintended. Yet professional rhetoric has been dominated by those that only proclaim design’s commercial consumerism and aesthetic successes, but not its psychological discourse.
Designers, architects and typographers have played a role in the reconfiguration of ways of life. Although designers aim to work toward the betterment of society, it is and has been easy for them to overstep, indulge, or succumb to a moral dilemma.
Violence is a manifestation of the power to alter and accommodates a wide spectrum between the symbolic and the real. Now, technology has introduced new threats and added dramatically to its many manifestations—in example, modern mechanical warfare and its weaponry design.
“Our exploration of the relationship between design and violence will shed light on the complex impact of design on the built environment and on everyday life, as well as on the role of violence in contemporary society.”
Anotelli first opened the Design and Violence exhibition in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2013, following with the publication of the book last year in May of 2015.
The project came from Antonelli’s reaction to the discovery of plans for a 3-D printed gun. She reached out to authors, activists, scientists and artists to contribute essays about design objects that could be used for violent means. Antonelli and Hunt, with MoMA curatorial assistant Michelle Fisher, have now assembled roughly 40 of these morbid objects into Design and Violence, a 232-page book. The products range from actual objects, like plastic handcuffs and “green” (eco-friendly; made without lead) bullets, to the speculative designs for a euthanasia roller coaster.
Pairing the scholars with examples of challenging design work, is intended to present case studies that spark discussion about the relationship between design and violence to center stage for all of us.
Design, whether through applied medicine or mechanical engineering or computer science, has helped propel societal advances. As such, design has been rightfully influential as a force for good, a facet of creative production that touches all of our lives.
Albeit, throughout history, design has perpetuated and mediated violence, giving rise to tools that harm, control, manipulate, and annihilate—from the simple, handheld weapons of ancestral times to political-art movements of the past to undetectable computer malware of contemporary times.
Who sat at the drawing board (or AutoCAD program) and devised the mechanics and aesthetics of these weapons?
For whom and why?
The objects, many ubiquitous such as the modern day plastic, toy-like handcuffs, seem almost ethically unreal– like the moral creations of some far out world. Except, they are all real, and it’s possible to see our human imprints.
From the foreword of the book :
“Design’s history of violence, unless linked overtly to political and social suppression, too often goes unexplored.”