Double Edged, ADR19, Melbourne Australia
Exhibited/ Presented at Real/Material/Ethereal, the 2nd Annual Design Research Conference, 3&4 October 2019, Monash University.
This twelve piece set poses as a museum collection, artefacts rescued from some medieval battlefield, but ironically fashioned from prosaic materials bought from the local DIY tool‐shop. These weapons are pieces of bespoke craftsmanship and to hold one engenders conflicting thoughts of desire, luxury and socio‐political warfare ‐ ideas that hint at under‐examined narratives around the purpose, need, and value of weapons in a contemporary setting.
As design objects and ‘props’ in Dunne and Raby’s formulation17, they materialise a tension between the enduring appeal and authority of tools of protection, power and threat. Early combat weapons were designed for both ritual and survival, their appearance a by‐product of indigenous customs, available resources and technology. Likewise, their uses were sanctioned and circumscribed by myth and writ and convention ‐ serving multiple roles in multiple contexts. Ceremonial maces once stovein heads. Parliamentarians once had to surrender their weapons at the doors of the debate chambers.
International Humanitarian Law ‐ framed around agreements like the St Petersburg Declaration ‐ limits and circumscribes the position and presence of weaponry. This prescriptive governance, together with post‐war military‐industrial production, produced a new enigmatic kind of weaponry; the powerful political economy of weapons procurement, a trillion dollar global empire and the age of the superpowers mighty ‘deterrent’ arsenal. The general effect ‐ barring a few exceptional contexts ‐ has been to remove the tangible body of the weapon from civic space; to replace it with a far more rarefied and fetishised image, or with far more insidious and immediate violences.
In that manner the collection critiques the current era of the defendable self and the proliferation of ‘impermissible’ weapons for personal security and home defence ‐ from the baseball bat to the unregistered pistol under the bed. There are also dialogues with the ‘improvised’ weapons used by terrorists and ‘lone wolf’ actors; the discreet consumer’s resourcefulness, the age of the internet and the accessibility of illegal materials has given rise to unchecked weapons modification and a desperately lopsided balance between an actor and their destructive potential.
Gathered together as components of a possible ‘armoury’ the works require engagement as both hypothetical designer (examining the evidence of the individual recognisable tools and hardware components) as well as the universalised subject of such weapons. This symbolically materialises a tension between ‘permissible’ and ‘fetishised’ weaponry ‐ and offers a method for examining the dangerous narratives and conceptualisations of a necessary and abundant violence.
Words by Tom Morgan & Matthew Bird / Photography by Christine Francis