Review: Experimental Practice exhibition at RMIT Design Hub

By Penny Craswell

A desolate landscape with a long stretch of road. Two cold war era cars pull up and a man gets out of each car. Both men wear the cliched clothes of a cold war era spy. Solemnly, they exchange a suitcase and files before sobbing, getting back in the car and driving away, all filmed with a slow, meditative quality. This is the scenario in London artist Noam Toran’s video work “If We Never Meet Again” which features what the artist calls an “exchange of things by men”. The work explores design as an event and is one of a number of works exploring the limits of design in “Experimental Practice: Provocations In and Out of Design”.

Curated by UNSW’s Katherine Moline (my Masters supervisor), and RMIT’s Brad Haylock and Laurene Vaughan, the exhibition just finished its run at the RMIT Design Hub in Melbourne as part of the 2015 Melbourne International Design Festival and explores what Katherine refers to as “design gone feral”. Rather than showing design as a finished object divorced from its process, the exhibition seeks out work that is in progress,explores works that push the boundaries of design and art, showing process, design thinking and other experimental modes. By doing so, Katherine seeks to: “shift perceptions that works of art and design ‘arrive’ from nowhere both conceptually and materially as fully formed” and in the process provides a series of works that are about change.

Experimental Practice exhibition at RMIT Design Hub. Photo: Tobias Titz
Experimental Practice exhibition at RMIT Design Hub. Photo: Tobias Titz

A number of the works explore problems with the environment, providing designs that allow for agricultural printing (Avena+ Test Bed: Agricultural Printing and Altered Landscapes by Benedikt Groß), planning for natural disasters (Playful Triggers for Community-Centred Innovation: Co-designing for Disaster Preparedness by Yoko Akama), offering new solutions for garbage disposal (Design Anthropological Innovation Model by Joachim Halse, Eva Brandt, Brendon Clark and Thomas Binder), human waste (Erratum by Futurefarmers) and reduction of energy consumption (ECDC Energy Babble by Bill Gaver, Mike Michael, Tobie Kerridge, Liliana Ovale, Matthew Plummer-Fernandez, Alex Wilkie and Jennifer Gabrys).

Meanwhile others tackle social issues, including a data visualisation that shows changes to Australian women’s services (The Institutional Harvest by Mitchell Whitelaw), an interactive app that imagines new services and infrastructure in Australian towns using census data (Run That Town: A Strategy Game with a Twist by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Leo Burnett Sydney, and Millipede Creative Development) and a work that tracks, explores and exposes the US ruling class (They Rule by Josh On/LittleSis.org).

This collection of works challenges the notion that design is just objects, instead placing it in the realm of research and the experimental. As Katherine states: “The interconnections and differences in understanding autonomy, context and participation in these works promises provocative engagements that stimulate change.”

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