Four lengths of thick grey wire hang in an aluminium display case in the V&A, looking as if someone forgot to hide the electric cable in the latest exhibition.
But these dumb grey strips, according to the caption, could change our cities' skylines for ever. They are new ultra-strong carbon-fibre lift cables that allow elevators to travel in uninterrupted runs of up to 1km. With this single invention, skyscrapers will become taller and slimmer than ever before.
The Kone UltraRope is one of 12 such objects on display in the museum's new Rapid Response Collecting gallery that talk of much bigger social and political stories than their humble forms might suggest. There is a simple pair of
"At the heart of the debates about international labour laws and building control was a material thing that you can buy on any British high street," says curator
The gallery is the work of the museum's new Contemporary Architecture, Design and Digital team, headed up by former architecture journalist
Conceived as a topical foil to the sluggish pace of the South Kensington institution, with its three-year lead times for large-scale exhibitions, the initiative began with the acquisition of the Liberator handgun, when the first 3D-printed "wiki weapon" made headlines last year.
Developed by Texan law student
Across the room, a stuffed toy wolf sits slumped on a shelf. This is Lufsig, available from Ikea for pounds 8, which shot to fame last year when it became an unlikely symbol of political dissent, after being thrown at
On the same glass shelf is a box of
"So remote are we from manufacturing today," writes Long, "that a company can celebrate the making of these objects as a positive marketing story ('handmade, 100% natural'), while indirectly employing workers in exploitative conditions. If we are serious about design in the expanded field, we have to inquire after not just the semiotic resonances of these objects, but the human costs too."
It is a curatorial approach that at times feels a little too journalistic, a bit like walking through a "most read" list of articles-as-objects, some of the artefacts on their own having little to hold your attention without the accompanying story. It occasionally feels in need of something to tie this disparate bric-a-brac together.
But this scattergun approach is intentional: it is a snapshot survey, a collection that is light on its feet and will continually change over the coming months. As I leave, a set of "spike studs" arrives, in the news this month for deterring homeless people from loitering in public spaces. The collection also includes
But the biggest impact of the show is making you see the rest of the museum afresh. Brimming with the embroidered thrones and lacquered vases of despots and dictators, these are objects over which wars were fought, trade routes opened up and empires built. Rapid Response brings these stories to the fore, as a powerful reminder that, beyond the craft of their making, every object is political.
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