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More on “Mine Kafon”

Massoud Hassani is an Afghan who designed a device to clear landmines – it’s a fascinating story and it is true that design journalists (and the public) love a good story, especially ones with a social core.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 28-02-2013

Everyone has a comment or ten to make about the debate unfolding within Dutch design re Massoud Hassani’s “Mine Kafon”.

“Breaking news: Dutch design educators defend faux-humanitarianism,” tweets That New Design Smell regarding our article last week.

“I wonder what the media in America will write when the ‘Mine Kafon’ ends up the showstopper of an exhibition at the MoMA,” writes Marc Vlemmings, editor-at-large at Items magazine.

Vlemmings had an interesting for and against argument with Walter Amerika posted on Items magazine where he noted that the object had been so popularly received by the media with no serious design criticism.

The only person who doesn’t want to enter the fray is Hassani himself.

“I am not really interested in this debate,” he says from Berlin.

He had earlier sent me an email saying’s reporting of De Rijk’s op ed in the NRC Handelsblad was unfair. “I don’t like that people are talking about ‘Mine Kafon’ like they are experts and really they have no idea,” he says.  “They are putting false opinions into the media about my work just to generate a debate and I don’t want that.”

Given the attention this object has received and the even more interesting debate it has sparked regarding Dutch design and Dutch design education, it is inevitable that people are going to watch with interest the professional trajectory of both Hassani and ‘Mine Kafon’.
“’Mine Kafon’ is not a toy to attract media attention,” Hassani asserts.  “We’re very serious about further development and it can go in any direction. There’s even a model that clears mines 100% without getting damaged itself. We’re working on patents.”

Just how it can work, however, still remains unclear.

"The problem with all this is the concept,” says Vlemmings.  “It is a wind powered contraption that can never work …. And it is ridiculous that the MoMA will show the ‘Mine Kafon’ at an exhibition called ‘Applied Design’. The thing hasn't been tested yet.”

Whatever your position is on this argument it should be noted that Hassani is serious about furthering the functionality of this object.  “I don’t care about how it looks, only about how it functions,” he says.  “In the last 1.5 years there have been so many improvements and I am constantly working on how to make it more reliable.”

And obviously for his graduation, the object needed to be kept as simple as possible   “I was just a concept, the very very first stage,” he says.  “There was no money to do anything more than just that.”

To me he talked (albeit very vaguely) about engineering companies, helicopter companies, a motor, and adding more sophisticated data.  “We are not talking about a chair or a table,” he says.  “It is a complicated and interesting project.  It is about the evolution of an idea.”

It is the idea, however, as well as Hassani’s very personal story that is so terribly seductive.  “I think that most people are seduced by the poetic design of the ‘Mine Kafon’ and the noble intentions of the designer,” adds Vlemmings.  “The problem is that Mr. Hassani first had his conceptual story (his childhood memories) and then asked himself if he could use that for a product, while it should be the other way around.”

And it was only the very personal story behind "Mine Kafon" that Paola Antonelli, the curator of "Applied Design", focused on when she was interviewed last night by Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report.  As if any audience - design educated or otherwise - won't be hooked by that tale.

Hassani in the meantime just does not want to become a poster boy for this or that aspect of Dutch design.  “I am not even Dutch, so do not use my work to represent Dutch design,” he says.  “My work might be about politics or art or design.  It is up to you and I do not really care.  It challenges people to think differently.”

Our conversation is cut short because Time magazine is waiting on the line for an interview.

Main image: Paola Antonelli with Stephen Colbert.


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