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Alice Power (V&A) about Rapid Response Collecting

Today, information is more accessible to the public than it has been before. However, the problem now is that there is too much and people have to pick and choose what they want to engage with. This is especially the case on social media. We tend to follow sources which reflect our own views on different issues and read the kind of news stories that we like. However, exposing oneself with the opinions of others is beneficial to the individual and the society. A lack of listening increases the subdivisions and fragments knowledge because by only supporting our own areas of interest we no longer engage with larger frames of life. This means that by staying inside our own, safe1 bubbles we remove ourselves from reality and loose understanding as well as connection with other people. Therefore it is more important than ever to start initiatives which do not give you what you necessarily like, but ones which provide facts and allow the audience to form their own conclusions. An example of such an initiative is Rapid Response Collecting at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London. It was brought about as an alternative way to curate, moving away from the traditionally perceived notion that museums only store old, expensive artefacts for long periods of time. The project showcases topical pieces, whether inspired by news stories, social media trends or suggestions from others. They are acquired quickly, whilst they’re still being talked about and therefore the collection changes constantly.

The aim of Rapid Response is to trigger discussions about social design, innovation and change. However, it has some similarities to journalistic practice. Alice Power, the assistant curator at the V&A, who works with the Rapid Response team, expressed that it is very important to avoid leading people to a particular way of thinking. She said that stating facts and allowing the audience to form their own conclusions is what this project tries to do. Rapid Response Collecting brings ordinary and abstract objects into the context of the museum and gives public access to things which are very much talked about. This way the public can form opinions from coming face-to-face with the objects and facts, instead of relying on the media, for example. However, the objective is to critically consider the practice of the way the objects were designed, so the social or political history takes a backseat, but is nonetheless a big part of the discussion. The museum is there to represent the objects whether they are socially engaged or not and that’s where it starts differing from journalism and socially engaged design. Rapid Response is outside of both of these spheres, and yet it works closely with them. Looking at things in person and forming own conclusions in a physical, public space is not only a potent way to engage the public with a museum. It can also be an effective way to encourage people to unite, to better understand each other and what’s going on around us.

How Else refers to criticism of critical design. Traditionally, critical design tends to ask ‘why not’, however it is criticised for it as it is suggested that it would be more useful if it asked ‘how else’. This is because ‘why not’ often refers to imagining new, future — more often than not dystopian — scenarios of how design will impact society, challenging the status quo. However it could perhaps serve society in a more useful way if it focused on asking ‘how else’, because this refers to redefining what already exists by rethinking the ways in which they work. The Common Affairs is about taking journalism and design as they are right now and imagining new ways in which the two fields could interact. This way, the platform challenges the status quo pragmatically.

  1. Guy Cools. Imaginative Bodies: Dialogues in Performance Practices (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2016) p.11