Grand Hornu. A design exhibition to break down the dogma of growth

Realising how the dogma of growth leads to a dead end, “The Limits to Growth!” at Grand Hornu, Belgium, proposes a wide range of alternative projects.

Lenka Vackova, Fast or last, 2016

“The Limits to Growth!” is the result of a three years analysis in design trends in the field of sustainability by curator Marie Pok – director at Grand Hornu’s Center d’Innovation et de Design (CID). Quoting MIT professor Dennis Meadows, who in 1972 first sounded the alarm, the exhibition addresses what researches form around the world have been pointing out since the late ’60: the risk of excessive consumption that results from an all-out race for growth.

Divided into six chapters, the exhibition brings forward the works of over 30 young designers born into a generation whose values are changing, no longer motivated by mass production of consumer goods. “Young generations are no longer obsessed by owning a house or a car,” Pok explains, “Instead, they are focusing on having more time, better working conditions, also taking care of environmental and social issues.” Can we use design to limit or reduce waist? Which projects invite us to reduce consumption of raw materials and fossil fuels? Is there such a thing as not-for-profit design? The Six lines of reflection propose alternatives for more sustainable design, answering these questions and raising awareness.

Deliberate simplicity and Low tech. Quoting Paul Ariès and his “gourmand socialism”, degrowth is synonymous not with austerity and privation, but with innovation and pleasure. Two examples are the Shakers’ furniture and Studio Simple’s propoals of restained artisanal work to produce everyday objects. In reaction to the hegemony of high tech, designers are inventing unlikely but perfectly viable machines entirely independent from fossil fuels, as for the low-tech kitchen by Audrey Bigot and the knitting rocking chair by ECAL students Damien Ludi and Colin Peillex that uses body energy to knit garments.

ECAL/Damien Ludi, Colin Peillex, Rocking-Knit
ECAL/Damien Ludi, Colin Peillex, Rocking-Knit Low-Tech Factory, on show at Grand Hornu, 2018

Recycling and Local distribution networks. A toothbrush represents 1.5kg of hidden waste, a mobile phone 75kg and a gold ring 2 tonnes. Data on individual waste and recycling rarely takes into consideration the approx. 3,500kg of industrial indirect waste per person resulting from the manufacturing of our consumer goods. The project Matière noire by Studio GGSV makes us aware of the energy required to transform recycled material, while Rotor collective repackages and resells construction waste. The second topic highlights the difficulty of a coherent approach to local production and brings forward the numerous advantages, taking into account that the cycle can only validly operate if consumption also takes place locally.

Planned obsolescence and New economic models. As the non-sustainability of products is part of a deliberate industrial strategy that shortens the object’s lifetime, designers are trying to increase the replaceability of components through open-source platforms. Designers like Thomas Billas, Antoine Monnet and Weilung Tseng have analyzed this phenomenon. The last chapter of the exhibition welcomes the recent demands of civil society who is calling fort alternative economic models: also designers are shaking up practices to advocate a sharing economy and Fablabs. A first example of this attitude can be found in Enzo Mari’s Proposta per autoprogettazione, which in 1974 proposed that the Milano gallery should distribute the plans of several of his furniture designs for free.

Title:
The Limits to Growth!
Curator:
Marie Pok
Museum:
CID – Grand Hornu
Opening dates:
1 July – 21 October 2018
Address:
Rue Sainte-Louise 82, Boussu, Belgium

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