These big, lofty questions are at the heart of the new V&A museum exhibition exploring the power of design in shaping the world of tomorrow. The Future Starts Here showcases 100 cutting-edge designs and technologies that are predicted to profoundly impact the future of humanity, the environment, synthetic biology, space and life after death. The first exhibition produced by the V&A's new Design, Architecture and Digital curatorial department tackles topical and very pressing matters, and should be praised for its ‘conscious grappling of modernity’. But with so many questions and themes at play, the exhibition lacks coherent direction and is exasperatingly random at times.
Masdar City, the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city, Foster + Partners. Photography by Etienne Malapert, 2014 © Etienne Malapert
Split into four distinct zones – Self, Public, Planet and Afterlife – the exhibition boasts a diverse array of objects spanning disciplines and mediums gleaned from research labs, design studios, aerospace centres and development laboratories around the world. There’s everything from Foster + Partners’ gigantic architectural model of Masdar, the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city, to Facebook's Aquila, a solar powered aircraft, which aims to bring affordable connectivity to unconnected regions around the world. Cedric, Volkswagan’s first driverless car, is also a star piece. But with so much on show, the Sainsbury Gallery is transformed into a sensual minefield. Clustered objects mounted in glass vitrines fight for attention with looming trees, large-scale video screens and interactive installations.
As you move from exhibit to exhibit, it is unclear which ideas are being addressed at any one time. One minute you’re confronted with the future of democracy via Cambridge Analytica video footage, the next, the grave socio-political issues posed by an international social housing crisis. You unwittingly become embroiled in a multi-sensory global debate that confronts every issue under the sun without providing any of the solutions.
Luchtsingel, pedestrian bridge crowdfunded by citizens, ZUS, Rotterdam. Photography Ossip van Duivenbode, 2011 – 2015 © ZUS
Despite moments of brilliance – Hanif Shoaei’s touching images of a couple on their phones in bed with their backs to each other highlight just how lonely we can be in a hyper connected society – the poignancy of their tale is somewhat lost. With futuristic sound effects, gimmicky sand-pit installations and ipads galore, it feels, at times, like a haphazard children's playground. The childish undercurrent is further emphasised by the final exhibit. Before leaving, we are invited to spell out our own future with little plastic letters. The irony is not lost: design may shape our future but it won’t determine it. For now, at least.
It’s refreshing to see an exhibition exploring a near future rather than a distant past, but, quite frankly, it’s exhausting.
|What||The Future Starts Here, V&A,|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
12 May 18 – 04 Nov 18, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Price||£15 (Advance tickets)|
|Website||Please click here for more information|