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Milan 2013: Linking Process

For the third and last Milan Breakfast hosted by The New Institute and Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE), the theme of discussion connected to the DAE exhibition on show: Linking Process. 

By Jeanne Tan /asdf 18-04-2013

The exhibition’s curator and DAE alumnus Miriam van der Lubbe aimed not only to show finished products but also the process of making. But why show the process, and for whom is it relevant? Why is there a fascination with process right now?

At the Vitra Design Museum, explained its director Marc Zehntner, exhibitions feature not only final products but process has always been on show for instance through prototypes, drawings and tools. Through social media, the museum tries to reach a wider audience to engage them during the process leading up to exhibitions. Process was a strong element of a recent exhibition Confrontations, where the show gradually took shape during the duration of the exhibition. The empty gallery at the beginning somewhat perplexed visitors but through communication and explanation, visitors began to understand that the exhibition WAS the work in progress. It’s interesting to consider the role of the museum in the process noted Van der Lubbe, “As a museum, you are helping to develop the profession in a another way.”

Corinna Gardner, product design curator at the V&A suggested that process helps make an object more intelligible – perhaps even demystifying it – and shows the maker’s work in a new light. On an aesthetic front, it also makes an exhibition look more attractive holistically. More importantly, it shows the design in its complexity. Equally important as process is context, where it’s important to make a distinction: context being the framework of a design, and process relating to its development. Showing process is often a designer’s perspective.

Design critic Vera Sacchetti supported the active approach of museums to become platforms hosting broader initiatives, engaging designers and reaching broader audiences but she questioned the validity of the ‘backstory’ used to communicate a product. How much value does it really add?

So why is showing process so hot right now? It’s related to the crisis and creating transparency especially within manufacturing, suggested Gardner. “Companies need to communicate to people about how good they are: you need to know what we do and that we can still do it.” One should be aware of the ‘glamourization’ of process and take it with a grain of salt.

More interesting than the process itself, commented Van der Lubbe, is the connecting of processes to the world around you. Unexpected but perhaps more beneficial outcomes could result if design processes allowed for deviations or detours. The multidisciplinary approach of the V&A supports these connections and museums play an active role in the design process through their patronage and engagement with designers. Gardner poses the question of whether exhibiting is the best way for sharing contemporary design? Can connections be made elsewhere for instance through action - via workshops in exhibitions - or other platforms outside the museum. Additionally, the open design movement has helped to democratize and open up the making process.

With regards to the exhibition, Van der Lubbe commented that it was a challenge to get the material from students that showed the development of their design and their mistakes. “Do designers recognize the value in showing these moments during the process?’’ she asked. At a context like the Milan Furniture Fair, Gradner commented that students may be slightly apprehensive about only showing failures. This raised the issue of how process is actually (re)presented in design; are tidy, stylized, organized sketches an accurate indication of the process?

“Process then becomes reduced to the product of process instead of the real thing,” says Gardner. “We should be cautious of the trend of showing process in retrospect instead of during the point of conception.” Sacchetti urged that complexity should be a fundamental component of exhibitions, to show the whole big mess. Concluding, the exhibition’s subtitle, ‘Where do you link in?’ invited visitors to participate in the process in their own way.

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