The 2012 instalment of the Australian International Design Awards (AIDA) was launched recently without a parbuckle, or should I say hitch? For those who don’t know about AIDA, each year, since 1992, the Powerhouse Museum has made a selection of outstanding products from those entered in the competition administered by Good Design Australia. In making its selection the Museum considers factors such as excellence in design, innovation and the potential of products to improve our environment, health or wellbeing.
And pardon me, there was a parbuckle present: a silver hinge, or hitch, key to the design of the man overboard (MOB) rescue device, Sea Scoopa. This fantastic device has revolutionised the sea rescue industry by using the ergonomics of the vessel to reduce the weight of the victim by 50%, thereby enabling rescuers to lift up to 200kg out of the water with minimal strain. The number one design challenge was to reduce the staggering statistic of 80% ofdeaths at sea being MOB related. Designer Robert Wright was in attendance at the launch to tell us all about it, as were some 40 other designers, engineers, industry collaborators and museum staff who have contributed to this year’s exhibition. Brandon Gien, Manager, of Good Design Australia remarked that the exhibition marks a 20-year relationship with the Powerhouse Museum.
Robert Wright’s Sea Scoopa is just one of eleven design stories on display. It’s a thrill to be engaged with practitioners at varying stages of their careers. I am even more thrilled that the Museum has acquired a number of objects from James Cameron and Ron Allum (of Acheron Project Pty Ltd) in relation to the development of the award-winning DeepSea Explorer. They have broken so many records with their single occupant submersible, that James Cameron, writer and director of Hollywood blockbusters such as Titanic, Aliens, The Abyss, and Avatar, now refers to himself as an Explorer first and then, Film Director. The team was awarded ‘Australian Design of the Year’ by Good Design and whilst the 12-tonne submersible was not able to be on display, several items which help to tell the story of their action-packed research can be found in the exhibition.
Many of the Australian designers exhibited are emergent, independent practitioners or small studio houses and they need to think laterally and inclusively to get the job done. One of the winners of the Powerhouse Museum Award, Andrew Simpson of Vert Design was very happy with the way the Bung Plug was displayed and in particular, his pleasure that the design sketches were backlit and the prototype mechanism and its pieces set in reference to them. The Powerhouse Museum judges chose the Vert and Bestaax design not only because it will revolutionise the smallstock industry by reducing the number of meaningless animal deaths, but because Vert Design’s industry partners, abattoirs and slaughterhouses, are not usually known for engaging designers. It was this unusual partnering that caught the eye of the judges. When queried about this, Simpson smiled and said, “They’re just people, we’re just people, why wouldn’t we work together?”
That being said, telling stories like Simpson’s through the medium of exhibition is a difficult task. In the traditional museum landscape, these robust industrial prototypes transform into precious objects, are handled with gloves and are showcased in glass cabinets under lock and key. While I was fully complicit in this, after all they do provide a compelling snapshot of contemporary product design, my desire to throw open the cabinets and have the designers demonstrate the techniques they were discussing amongst themselves became overwhelming. I wondered: Really, how inappropriate would it have been to have Simpson demonstrate the Bung Plug on the model of a lamb carcass at a breakfast do? What about wrapping the display cabinets in the EchoPanel® Mura wall textile so that people could touch it and get a sense of what living/working with it might be like? What about setting up the RØDE Stereo VideoMic and having our in-house videographer on hand to do a rave about why he should have one for his documentary work here at the Museum?
Why not set up a tangible display for the UltraStudio 3D video editing unit that has been co-developed with Apple and Intel (for nerds on both sides of the Apple vs. PC debate)? Visitors could shoot a short video, edit it onsite and email it to themselves, all in the record breaking time that the device has, well, won awards for. Would it be so bad to have the Chapelli NuVinci bicycle available for pedalling, so that the revolutionary NuVinci® N360™ drivetrain (the gears) could be experienced first hand? Think of all the orders their studio of two would get for these suave, sophisticated, urban, luxury bicycles!
Talking to design professionals and curators can get you thinking – not only about objects and their stories, but about audiences and how they might experience design. Coming from the bang and clatter of organising independent exhibitions featuring prototype artworks – here inside the Museum, I find myself in a warm cocoon of supporting departments, inherited spaces, exhibition templates and loan agreements bartered on my behalf. Where the universe seems to have decided I should formalise my somewhat ‘liberal’ curatorial practice, I wonder if I might just be able to accomplish what I was hired to do: shake things up a little…