I’ve been speaking with a number of senior creatives in the car world lately. My interest is in understanding how various brands are navigating their way to the new electric and autonomous age of the automobile. Like many, I am hugely excited to see a genuine shift in attitude, even among the more conservative makers. And I’m eager to see how designers are responding to change – if they are willing to radically rethink car design.
In the last few months alone, most of the major makers have set out their net zero plans, and we are now beginning to see and drive products designed and engineered purely for electric drive. What has become clear though is that this first wave of clean(er) powered transport are not revolutionary in design. The radical approach I was hoping for may happen along the journey once makers and users ease into electric drive.
That said, my fear is that collectively car companies will become too comfortable in this interim phase – that they will see enough profit not to push for real change. Yet, electric drive offers a golden opportunity for the design community to lead the way in expressing a whole new form of transport – possibly find a new form language that can explore the car’s larger societal responsibilities. Surely there is so much excitement in this.
On that note, happy Spring and happy Nowruz – to a new day and all its possibilities.
Contemporary dance company Wayne McGregor has teamed up with experimental art studios Random International and Superblue to explore the human relation to machine and technology. Informed by the technology behind BMW i, ‘No One is an Island’ combines sculptural, performative and musical elements. Through electrified movement steered by advanced algorithms and inspired by Picasso’s light drawings, it reflects on how the human mind can empathise with artificial intelligence and automated processes. Dancers perform to the electronic sound of Chihei Hatakeyama adding a performative dimension to the sculpture, while re-translating and celebrating the connection between human and mechanical movement.
The Urban Mobility Vehicle hovers somewhere between a motorbike and a conventional car. It is agile like a two-wheeler, but with the comfort and safety of four wheels. the UMV runs on electricity has a much smaller footprint than a standard city car and is around 34% more energy efficient than your average electric vehicle. Plus, it is designed as a premium product by former creatives from Pininfarina. Possibly even more exciting is the brand behind this inaugural product, Komma. See my interview with the creative team leading this new Swiss start-up setting out to rethink our future cities here.
We are at a really critical time in history – more than 70% of the world’s population is migrating to cities over the next 30 years, and technology is completely altering our reality. We have to rethink how we live, work, interact, consume … I see this as a hugely exciting time. And there are some very exciting innovators and thinkers and designers working on highly progressive concepts. Here’s the latest one I came across
Needless to say, it has been a turbulent introductory decade to the new millennium with so much profound change and so many challenges ahead. Yet, even as dark as it is politically around the world, and hopeless as it feels with our planet’s health and our people’s happiness, we may have climbed the steepest part. Joan Didion wrote, ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means.’ Great words. I’ve been writing most of my life, and the decade gone has been the most challenging and possibly exciting. In particular, the last twelve months have pushed me to explore beyond my comfort zone and to stay focused despite the chaos that surrounds us. It is equally terrifying and thrilling visiting new people and places, discovering new ideas and worlds that shift the mindset – question the dogmas.
So, what have I learned? Our lives may not look quite the dystopian vision pictured by the 1980s films ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Running Man’. Many of us live in homes with doors and windows and refrigerators, and still, drive rectangular cars with four wheels and a conventional engine. But our homes and refrigerators and cars talk to one another and with bigger forces. And, in the way these plots predicted, corrupt elites around the world are gaining power over hopeless populations through media manipulation. The films all have happy endings though.
This year I met visionary artists, architects, designers, scientists, musicians who are collectively pushing their creative forces to find better solutions for how we live, drive, learn, wear, eat. I drove some conventional motor cars, relics of a bygone era, almost dinosaurs unwilling to give up pleasure when it is clearly killing our planet. I met self-congratulating architects and designers reluctant to part with their egos, still creating work with little social relevance. But then, I also experienced hugely progressive design – community-building, socially-engaged housing projects, and transport ideas envisaged and created by generations embracing change.
Look beyond the headlines and there is much progress out these. Women in art and design are finally getting noticed – as was evident in the number of powerful exhibitions dedicated to lost females of creativity. Vehicles coming off production lines are cleaner, safer and smarter. They may not conjure up the immediate visceral joy of the motor car in its golden age, but why should that matter? Why can’t they instead have their own language to express the new era of clean transport – this brighter future ahead of us. There is huge visceral joy in that. Likewise, with the global population expected to increase to 9.8 billion by 2050, we have to rethink urban planning, architecture, and design, examine health (physical and mental), produce and food, work towards a green economy. And there is excitement in all this. We need to step outside the nostalgia lane and shift our attitudes.
Which brings me to another subject which will increasingly shape the world in this coming decade: movement and migration. Kwame Anthony Appiah writes, ‘cultures are made of continuities and changes, and the identity of a society can survive through these changes. Societies without change aren’t authentic; they’re just dead.’ Towards the final days of the 2010s, I met with a visual artist concerned with the narrative given to the refugee. I am always amazed at how a term, a simple word, can alter the image of a displaced people: émigré, migrant, immigrant, refugee – the first carries such romantic notions, the last such demons. Émeric Lhuisset’s work is a critique of a global culture where facts and truths are in danger of losing all meaning. He offers an alternative story to media photography of war and migrants, with its immediate yet temporary digital age shock value. His is about the power of a photograph, of art to influence humanity’s collective consciousness.
My predictions for 2020? There are huge challenges ahead of us as we figure out how to balance the physical and digital world – how much of our privacy and freedom to give away for security, how to shift our attitude and lifestyle to help better this world, how to be more generous with ourselves and our skills, and towards our planet. And we all need to be involved and be held accountable. Too many rely on others to make things happen. And we need a certain amount of optimism. I am convinced more than ever that, to borrow from the words of another great female Louise bourgeois, ‘art is the guarantee of sanity’. Here’s to a new decade of possibilities.