; ; 5 Jun 2017


By Vivien Chan, Sophie Chatellier and Andrea Foffa

Image by Yusra Makhdoomi

As we approach the end of our time at the RCA/V&A, this is the second-years’ final keyword on Unmaking Things. During the past year, Unmaking Things has been a platform for reflecting on topics we did not otherwise find ways to express and to showcase how design history can interact with contemporary issues. We have addressed these month after month, through various keywords, inviting many friends to collaborate with us on articles, films, posters and interviews. We were ambitious with our takeover, and we hope that Unmaking Things will continue to be a space for reflection, experimentation, and collaboration.

We began with ‘Restarts’ in January, our first push for connecting our everyday with design and design history. 2017 so far has been full of uncertainty, anxiety, potential and questioning in all fields. We shared our thoughts on museums, methodologies and objects, showing how new beginnings can add layers to histories of things, institutions, and thinking. We continued with provocative keywords to keep expanding this process:

Objects’ addressed our object-based research practice, and prompted us to think about the significance of the object within the discipline of design history. For instance, the controversial acquisition of the ‘Pussyhat’ sparked thoughts about the role of the museum in contemporary politics, how it comes to mark places and events, tying us to the museum physically and emotionally. By taking the object out of the display case, we learn to recognise how things move, evolve and materialise in their surroundings.

Facts’ reflected on current questions about ‘truth’, ‘lies’ and ‘alternative facts’ in the media and elsewhere, but also within our practice as historians – how much can our methodologies be incremented in reality, since the past is not fixed, but a continuously moving instance? We questioned the power and validity of the digital and the real, as well as the status-quo, with the possibility of alternative histories and narratives.

Boundaries’ explored experiential notions of space. The subject enabled us to interact with the imaginary, the intangible, and the possibilities of the future. We thought about fantasy, and how it cannot be bound by social norms and might be potential spaces for action, reflection and innovation. We wondered how far we can push, to what extremes we can go, how ‘fixed’ the boundaries set out before us in society really are.

Nature’ brought us back to the materiality of design history practice. The subject allowed for an exploration of production processes that use natural ingredients to create man-made, ‘designed’ objects, but also the ways in which we interpret and project nature. The binary of nature and culture was explicitly challenged and reframed, but also co-opted for the belief that nature holds the answer to man-made problems.

This month, we have chosen to introduce ‘Endings’ as a theme – not a single ‘End’, as on the last page of a book or the last scene of a film, but multiple moments which mark a change. Because that’s what endings are, in design history as in many other context: they are evidence of a change of context, conditions, environment, rhythm. And, in a satisfying and cyclical way, they often allow for restarts. Endings are open: for reflecting on our previous keywords, on our futures, presents, pasts, and dreams, especially now, as we graduate and prepare to step into the real world. We have several endings coming this month: the RCA graduate show, the publication and the symposiums celebrate the end to our two years on the MA. While they mark a conclusion of our time on the programme, they also signify our new beginnings.

To celebrate these last few months of Unmaking Things, you, our readers, are invited to our event on the 27th June, at 4pm in the History of Design space at RCA Kensington. We will be hosting an Unmaking Things takeover, putting the website in conversation with our exhibition, followed by the launch of the end of year publication in the evening. Stay tuned for a full schedule!

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