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State of Extremes now open at Design Museum Holon
State of Extremes, Design Museum Holon Lower Gallery. Photo: Elag Sarig.

HOLON.- State of Extremes, an original, large-scale exhibition of contemporary design is now open at Design Museum Holon. Covering the entirety of the museum, State of Extremes investigates our current condition of extremes—defined by extreme weather, extreme political polarization, extreme inequality and increasingly extreme scenarios in science, biotechnology and the digital realm—while also showing ways in which design can act as a mediating, moderating and healing force. Curated by Aric Chen with Maya Dvash, Chief Curator of Design Museum Holon, and Azinta Plantenga, State of Extremes marks the Museum’s 10th anniversary—coming a decade after the museum’s inaugural 2010 exhibition, The State of Things—with over 70 works by international and Israeli designers and studios.

“In 2010, The State of Things inaugurated the Design Museum Holon by presenting a landscape of objects,” says curator Aric Chen, who was also a member of that earlier exhibition’s curatorial team. “Now, ten years later, State of Extremes instead describes a condition—one in which the world has changed and, with it, design and design practice.”

Rather than focusing on any topic or issue in particular, State of Extremes aims to show the potential of design to reveal, critique, resist, mitigate and sometimes even exacerbate extremes and the mechanisms that drive them. At a time when our technologies, power structures and impact on the planet are engendering ever more extreme situations, State of Extremes is a call for moderation.

“In the last decade, design and innovation have driven us to envision newness in the world, in the pursuit of solutions to everyday problems,” says Maya Dvash, Chief Curator of Design Museum Holon. “However, our advancements have created unforeseeable consequences to humankind. ‘State of Extremes’ offers a vivid picture of where we are and where we are going.”

Comprising of installations, objects and speculative proposals and videos, State of Extremes is organized into five thematic categories:

Occupying the museum’s Design Lab, Spiraling examines how extremes tend to feed themselves, metastasizing into self-reinforcing feedback loops of increasing intensity. Social media has revealed itself as a means by which extreme perspectives, and the need for constant online affirmation, fuel their own viral momentum. At the same time, we are caught in cycles of economic exploitation alongside a disastrous environmental spiral of our own making, as the effects of climate change accelerate in feedback loops that may be escaping our grasp.

Reaching into the darker corners of the internet, Norman, by Pinar Yanardag, Manuel Cebrian and Iyad Rahwan of the MIT Media Lab, is an artificial intelligence (AI) program that was fed disturbing data from a webpage discussing violent deaths on Reddit to become what its creators call “the world’s first psychopath AI.” Manifesting the psychologically damaging effects of social media is Tadas Maksimovas’s Emotigun, a motor-powered, remote-controlled slingshot cannon that fires physical versions of the most popular social media emojis at users. Retreat, by Xandra van der Eijk, shows three 3-D printed scans of a shrinking glacier in Switzerland, raising questions about how we deal with the feelings that arise from being complicit in losing land to sea, losing ice to the heat, and losing species to history.

The museum’s Lower Gallery, The Dr. Shulamit Katzman Gallery, tackles Polarization. Human cognition often structures the world according to binary categories such as “right and wrong” and “good and evil,” while our deeply ingrained tribalism fuels a collective instinct to distinguish “us” from “them”. In recent years, these tendencies have been exacerbated by resentments stemming from shifting power balances, migration, growing wealth disparity and the echo chambers of social media. As political positions and worldviews become more and more extreme, pushback and backlash prompt an equal and opposite reaction, driving contending points of view even further apart.

Polarization includes projects ranging from Anna Aagaard Jensen’s The Grand Lady, part of a series of chairs that challenge social norms by encouraging women to claim more space with their bodies, to Nathan Smith and Sam T. Smith’s ME & EU. Created in the wake of the Brexit vote in 2016, the latter is a collection of 116 postcards designed by UK-based creatives and sent to their peers across all 27 EU countries as a positive and humorous attempt to find ways to continue engagement.

Elsewhere in the gallery, Johnny Miller’s Unequal Scenes images use drone photography to expose the social and economic dividing lines embedded in the world’s urban landscapes. Meanwhile, Brian Olson’s Compact Maps vs. Gerrymandering project starkly reveals the extent to which American legislative districts are manipulated for partisan advantage by comparing the current legislative maps of several US states—with their often absurdly convoluted district borders designed to isolate particular demographic groups—with those drawn using algorithms based on more objective criteria.

The museum’s Upper Gallery includes the section called Extremer. Extremes can be good, as when they push human capacities and the imagination towards ever greater achievements. However, once set on a trajectory, extremes often take on lives of their own, posing questions about unintended consequences, and how far we are willing to go.

Under this category, shown for the first time is Compression Cradle by Lucy McRae, a new installation that mechanically, and “affectionately,” swaddles, wraps and squeezes users to explore the human need for touch in a future when technology has dissociated us from our bodies. Shot in LIDAR, the laser scanning technology used by autonomous vehicles, Liam Young’s Camouflage Choreography is a video that follows a group of rebellious youth wearing camouflage cloaks as they attempt to evade the omnipresent surveillance of a fictional, Chinese-owned Detroit Economic Zone of the future. In a different vein, Atelier van Lieshout’s End of Everything investigates the ambiguous relationship between creation and destruction. A gas tank is subjected to increasingly high internal pressure until it violently bursts and is reused as a lamp. A delicate sculpture is made from the remnants of a smashed photocopy machine, while a wooden structure is pushed apart with the use of a powerful hydraulic cylinder, only to be repaired, reinforced and destroyed again.

New Normals
Also in the museum’s Upper Gallery is New Normals. Extremes are relative. What seems extreme today may become normal tomorrow, and what we embrace as normal today may have seemed extreme in the past. This section prompts questions about what new norms we might welcome, which ones we should resist, and how we might adapt to those over which we will have little control.

Works in this category include xCoral (by Ezri Tarazi of the Design-Tech Lab at Technion), a scientifically-developed system for 3-D printing ceramic coral reefs to help maintain fragile marine ecosystems at a time when coral reefs are dying around the world due to climate change and other effects of human activity. Ai Hasegawa’s (Im)possible Baby, Case 01: Asako & Moriga is a speculative design project exploring the possibilities around same-sex couples having biologically-related children, while Jun Kamei’s Amphibio is a working prototype of a 3-D printed amphibious garment consisting of gills and a breathing mask that allow a wearer to breathe under water. The Varburg Group’s Siri Zen Master presents a new type of Zen garden that fuses technology and spirituality using Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant technology.

Extreme Lab
Showcased throughout Design Museum Holon’s Round Corridor, Extreme Lab highlights innovative developments in design and materials that blur the boundaries between natural and artificial, and raw materials and waste. Projects range from Officina Corpusoli’s Mycelium Vase grown from fungi and Notpla’s Ooho water capsules encased in edible seaweed extract to Matilda Boelhouwer’s Food for Buzz, a series of artificial flowers with sugar reservoirs that can mix with rain water to provide a food source for urban-dwelling insects. Meydan Levy’s Neo Fruit consists of man-made “fruits” that contain an array of nutrients tailored to our daily needs. Hongjie Yang’s Semi-Human Delft presents miniature vases grown from human HeLa cells, while Kuang-Yi Ku’s Tiger Penis Project is a speculative proposal that investigates the potential of merging traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) with emerging biotechnologies.

Special Installation: The Coolest White
Featured in Design Museum Holon’s outdoor courtyard is a special installation by UNStudio with manufacturer Monopol Colors. Called The Coolest White, the sculptural installation evokes the towers of a cityscape to help visualize the properties of a new paint, also called The Coolest White, that aims to reduce the urban heat island effect. Partially painted in The Coolest White, and partially covered in regular paint, the installation uses a heat-sensing camera to produce a real-time thermal image that shows visitors the difference in temperature.

State of Extremes is on display at Design Museum Holon until May 9th, 2020.

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