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Safety instructions, safe driving poster campaigns, access control in company lobbies, X-ray tunnels at airports and protective gear for leisure activities are just some of contemporary society’s many rules and procedures designed to improve security or prevent dangers. Insurers, lawyers, engineers, designers and scientists pay very careful atten- tion to public safety. Over the decades, these measures have helped to prevent plenty of accidents. Nonetheless, we can find ourselves wondering whether security might actually have become an obsession over which we have sometimes lost our reason.
There is such a plethora of information aimed at ensuring our safety that we no longer pay any attention to it. But what is the point of these items? Are they a shield against fear, whether well-founded or fictional? A need for total control? Do consumers demand them? Are they a pretext for taking risks? Why do we devote so much energy to security these days? Why have certain States made them a virtual profession of political faith? Nowadays, ultra- security, the denial of the unexpected and the desire for total foresight are the norm and go together with a certain denial of death that characterises our society.
The exhibition Safe and Sound examines the current state of these phenomena, bringing together #design works, everyday objects, photography and #contemporaryart. It touches on the interconnected subjects of safety, fear, pro- tection and surveillance, four key terms which guided the selection of works in the exhibition. Its starting point is the conviction that these terms are inseparable in human psychologies and in the way society treats them.
Some projects present #design solutions to very concrete problems, such as Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin’s airbag for cyclists, which deploys in the #event of a collision, or the $1 gauge which enables the right amount of bleach to be diluted in a bucket of water to make it an effective disinfectant. The earthquake-proof table designed by Arthur Brutter & Ido Bruno can shelter two schoolchildren during an earthquake, and protect them from heavy falling debris.
Other artists and designers, by contrast, take the side of détournement, humorously pointing out the fantasies of security and control. The Earthquake-Proof Table by ECAL/Martino D’Esposito is a parody of this device, com- posed of all the necessary elements for survival in Switzerland: milking stool, fondue pot, sausage and a bottle of Henniez, not forgetting, of course, a military blanket, and leisure material – an adult magazine! The duo SUPERLIFE create dual-purpose objects, which enable us to face up to sudden threats of all kinds, such as a simple pencil case which transforms into a respiratory filter, echoing the constant research carried out by survivalists who aim to prepare their environment for catastrophes to come.
Other projects highlight all the ambiguity of our relationship with security and play on the discomfort it evokes. These include the spectacular installation Fences, by the designer Dejana Kabiljo: a bed enclosed by protective yet disturbing fences. Happylife, a domestic appliance by James Auger, Reyer Zwiggelaar and Bashar Al Rajoub, helps us identify the mood of family members; it is thus an aid to communication, yet it works by submitting them for profiling and regular evaluation by the machine.
Several designers and artists have developed a critical discourse around surveillance and control of the general population’s deeds and actions, particularly in the public sphere. Nils Norman presents his project The Urbanomics Archive, an archive begun in 1995 inventorying street furniture aimed at controlling people’s behaviour: anti-ho- meless benches or spikes, parking bumpers, surveillance cameras, urine-repellents, graffiti-proof walls, etc. Both Ruben Pater and Trevor Paglen address means of identifying threats from the sky. The former is the author of a pos- ter identifying types of drone so that civilians living in the areas where they are used can recognise them and better protect themselves. The latter is a photographer and geographer who tracks and photographs secret satellites in orbit, thanks to data gathered by a vast international amateur network.
Fear – primitive, intuitive, universal – has always influenced human behaviour, for better and for worse. It has contri- buted to the survival of the species as we have developed natural reflexes, and put various protective devices in place. It has also given rise to ostracisation, exclusion, condemnation and over-protection. It is now advancing side by side with the notion of risk. Anticipating danger takes up an important place in everyday life. There is a tendency for protection to become a civic obligation, and surveillance is accepted because it is thought to have security benefits. The urban environment and domestic life are chequered with features aimed at ensuring our safety. Sur- veillance, protection, safety and anticipating risk are given priority both on a private level and by politicians. If we briefly compare our over-protected society with living conditions for less privileged populations around the globe, a striking difference in treatment emerges, to the point where we might start to wonder whether protection is a duty or a luxury.
Whether the objects in the exhibition are inconspicuous aspects of contemporary life, or were created by artists and designers to express a particular point of view, they combine to form a revealing panorama of these inseparable issues and their everyday ubiquity.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, edited by #mudac and Editions Infolio, which brings the exhibits together with texts by Claire Favre Maxwell, mudac’s deputy director and the exhibition curator, David Le Breton, professor of sociology at the University of Strabourg and Claus Gunti, art historian, teacher and researcher at Unil, EPFL and ECAL.
SAFE AND SOUND
SURVEILLANCE AND PROTECTION IN THE 21ST CENTURY 23 MARCH – 21 AUGUST 2016
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