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TechnoCRAFT curated by Yves Béhar

Official entitled "TechnoCRAFT: Hackers, Modders, Fabbers, Tweakers, and Design in the Age of Individuality," this exhibition explores the disappearing boundaries between designer and consumer, focusing particularly on the intersection between technology and craft.

By No author /asdf 29-07-2010

Years ago, a relatively young product designer confided in a reporter that he avoided embedding too much changeability into his designs. Many of his mentors and colleagues shared that point of view, he added, because “the consumer wants to be told how to use the product.”

“Many designers do feel that the project outcome is compromised if the process gets away from them directly.” Yves Béhar, star of the San Francisco–based design office fuseproject, is divining an ulterior rationale. “And I think that distrust has had to do with the way they’ve felt compromised by [formal] clients.”

Since that long-ago conversation, a new phenomenon of openness between designers and consumers has begun bubbling to the surface. A Freitag messenger bag is assembled from an almost endless series of textile swaths, from which the buyer picks and chooses upon order; a Bouroullec-designed kit whose equally sized parts may be transformed into a wall decoration or a living-room igloo; a cutting-edge chandelier by Lindsey Adelman is actually a free, downloadable set of instructions that includes tidbits ranging from material sources to a how-to in wire-stripping. Such relationships caught Béhar’s attention and, a year and a half ago, when Yerba Buena Center for the Arts invited him to curate his first exhibition, Béhar chose these and other almost-conspiratorial endeavors for his subject. The show “TechnoCRAFT” opened at YBCA on July 10, and runs through October 3.

Officially called “TechnoCRAFT: Hackers, Modders, Fabbers, Tweakers, and Design in the Age of Individuality,” the exhibit opens with Do Hit, by Eindhoven-based designer Marijn van der Poll. This chair begins life as a steel cube, which users then hammer, beat, and altogether coerce into shapes that may be considered primitively ergonomic or highly expressive. Do Hit’s pole position in the show may signify the disruption of this new movement — it is literally shattering the power dynamic between designers, manufacturers, and consumer. More directly it represents so-called “Incompletes,” or products that depend on the consumer’s creative involvement prior to use. So does another one of the three Dutch entries in the show—Color-in-Clothing by Berber Soepboer and Michiel Schuurman. (Dutch design has its third cheerleader in Studio Makkink and Bey’s House of Furniture Parts, made, like Do Hit, by Droog.)

“TechnoCRAFT” groups its evidence into five additional categories, which include Crowdsourcing, Platforms, Blueprints, Hacks, and Modules. “My goal here was to create a comprehensive show that would be more than just objects on platforms, but really a compendium of the different ways this is done,” Béhar says. Adelman’s You Make It Chandelier hems to the blueprint paradigm, the Bouroullec brothers’ Cloud for Kvadrat represents the modular tack, and the online tool F-Cut serves as a platform for Freitag’s endless permutations.

As for the TechnoCRAFT name, Béhar says he believes that technological shifts make it possible to reintroduce craft in products via mass customization or, in the case of projects like F-Cut or Puma’s make-your-own-shoe operation Mongolian Barbecue, an easy and prolific digital interface. Although technology served as a facilitator, the trend’s fundament is moodier. “Mass production and mass marketing has created a real similarity in everything we consume, and you become somewhat disconnected from your consumption,” Béhar posits. “I believe that people have more of an emotional connection to what they make and consume as participants, and that emotional connection has been lost in the mass-production era.”

To prove that cultural backlash to mass retail predates technology, Béhar has included vintage examples of technocraft. They include A-POC, the cut-it-yourself fashions that Issey Miyake launched in 1997, as well as Autoprogettazione furniture pieces that Enzo Mari first submitted to consumers’ imaginations in 1974. To be sure, the aesthetic vocabulary of the “TechnoCRAFT” entries is far more “punk-ish” than the hand-wrought beauty of design history’s last major backlash, the Arts and Craft Movement. Then again, technocraft’s leaders seem not to oppose consumption as vehemently as Ruskin and his acolytes rejected late-19th-century industrialization.

Given that Béhar’s subjects aren’t turning their backs on the marketplace, perhaps it’s not surprising that this designer-curator views the technocraft phenomenon as a boon to designers, rather than a shovel for their early graves. “This is another tooI in the designer’s toolbox, it’s another element that puts us into direct contact with people and enhances the role of design,” he says. Indeed, Béhar himself has begun using the tool and its accompanying mindset in his work. Each new Aliph Jawbone is actually part of a collection that floods the market with choices, for example. Moreover, this year saw fuseproject’s unveiling of super-affordable two-tone VerBien glasses, whose colors and materials may be selected by deserving students.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
10 July until 3 October 2010

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