“The Power of Design” on Arte, its political and ecological issues


“For me, design is a political instrument. But the problem with most of today’s design is that it’s almost always designed for profit, for disposable use, for obsolescence. All this to keep people dissatisfied and buy new gadgets, new items and throw away the old ones. “

These words could be made today, where the need to recycle plastics is acute and the need to rethink the economy of objects is essential. But they are those of one of the great references of political design, the Austro-American Victor Papanek (1923-1998).

This observation was made during a filmed intervention by the latter, included in one of the installations of the exhibition “Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design”, to which reference is made. The power of design, scored by Reinhild Dettmer-Finke. This very interesting documentary recalls how much this pioneering reflection on the place, function, durability and ecological impact of design has not changed things since the 1970s.

“The answers have changed”

Except, specifies Amelie Klein, the curator of the exhibition, that “The answers have changed: the young generation of designers, architects and artists are very informed and have a keen mind.” This is illustrated by some avant-garde and innovative designers filmed and interviewed by Reinhild Dettmer-Finke. In Amsterdam, the designer of solar panels Marjan van Aubel wondered how to improve the attractiveness of these “Ugly signs that nobody wants on their roof”. It proposes in particular to contribute to it by adding a “Emotional dimension” to the tools it designs for the interior of habitats.

Julia Lohmann, German designer who teaches at Aalto University in Helsinki, works on the material provided by algae and is the author ofmagnificent facilities which demonstrate the aesthetic and ecological virtues of this material, applicable to certain utilitarian objects.

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The studio team Superflux has designed a kind of show apartment evoking a deliberately dramatized future in order to bring the public to a reflection on the climatic future and the provision of food by “Food Computers”. But, rather than proof by fear, these solutions are aimed more at the“Shock mitigation” predictable, which is one of the slogans of Superflux.

Certain remarks sometimes stray towards inclusive superfluities (the wheel decorated with a disabled person’s chair that would facilitate dialogue, a design that would take into account the fluidity of gender, the alarm messages on water-soluble paper thrown into the sea during of a somewhat grotesque ceremonial). But, for the rest, Reinhild Dettmer-Finke’s observation testifies to enlightening and promising avenues.

The power of design, documentary by Reinhild Dettmer-Finke (Germany, 2020, 52 min). On demand on Arte.tv until May 27.