Gillian Russell | Royal College of Art, London, UK

ReStaging:  Speculative Design and the Curatorial

This paper examines what is arguably one of the principal challenges facing curators who work with emerging design practice; namely the challenge of working with a terrain of praxis that presents alternative roles for design from those traditionally embraced by industry and the market (ie. aesthetic, economic and utilitarian). Such a challenge becomes all the more problematic in the case of speculative design practices that invest in design as a tool, method, medium and cultural context to interpret and communicate a critical view of near-future scenarios, social contexts, politics and the self. (Garcia-Anton et al 2007, Dunne & Raby 2001)

This particular breed of design poses important questions about the systems and processes intertwined with our daily lives. In its broadest sense it challenges our contemporary understanding of ‘design’, where design becomes less about seeing and more about asserting a politicised/critical mode of looking.

In this changing climate framed by new perceptions, theories and environments, new means of expression rather than merely a language of form become imperative.

Taking this as a starting point, I will explore the complicated nature of speculative design and the museum, and the new ways in which we are using the curatorial to expand and support a dialogue with practice.

This paper considers three examples of what might best be referred to as museum ruptures (Foucault 1972) – testing sites – where the rules of exhibition are purposely subverted as a means to challenge the contextual strategies, procedures and situations of the set ways in which museums and their exhibitions function. It will trace the affinity of different forms of curatorial gestures to speculative design’s vocabulary of practice – gestures driven by the desire to facilitate everything from research to experimentation, dialogue to discourse. It imagines a moment where designers are given the opportunity to use the space and time of museums to process and realize works: a space situated between pedagogy and performativity.

At the core of this dramaturgy is the translation between the production and circulation of dialogue which calls into question the presumed determinacy and trajectory of a discourse, suggesting instead interconnected conversations, multiple layered readings and systems. The curatorial becomes intensively performative while self-reflexively challenging both the idea of praxis and research through its methodology.