Useless? — The Wandering Pain
Exhibition design for EXD’11, together with António Pedro Louro and Gonçalo Prudêncio
Lisbon, 2011






As a result of decades of highly specialized production to meet the needs of an increasingly complex daily life, we live surrounded by thousands of objects whose usefulness is now more than ever in question. The global market crisis, the looming energy crisis, the new ethos of economic social and environmental sustainability, are pushing contemporary society towards a thorough inquiry of what is ultimately useful, i.e., necessary, relevant, fit to fulfill a function. Almost automatically, this condition or state of usefulness is converted into ethical judgments or a “design morality” – useful is good, positive, it represents added value and is therefore desirable. On the other hand, the opposite reasoning condemns the “useless” with the same ease with which it praises the “useful”; the word “useless” itself is charged with a connotation that is as negative as it is irredeemable.
But if, abstractedly, this logic appears linear and easily accepted, this is not the case when we apply it to the field of objects, to their underlying processes of choice and decision and that, ultimately, shape the gestures, instruments and habits of our everyday existence. Is there a universal system, a measure of usefulness? If so, who came up with it and how is it applied?
The exhibition “Useless?” presents two parallel curatorial narratives that explore these issues in an attempt to outline a sort of anatomy of use. Autonomous but potentially complementary, both set out from a penetrating analysis of objects as the main subjects in the judgment of usefulness, reflecting polarized perspectives.
“Useless? An Exploded View”, curated by Jonathan Olivares (US), focuses on the effects and impact of objects, their inception and operativeness with different individuals and contexts. “Useless? The Wandering Pain” curated by Hans Maier-Aichen (DE) and Max Bruinsma (NL) exposes and critiques the tyrannical imperatives of market economy and how they dictate, instead of following, the intrinsic functionality – and ensuing usefulness – of objects. Situated at the object’s inception, “The Wandering Pain” denounces the constraints placed upon the design process by revenue calculations and expected market success, of which usefulness becomes a derivation. “An Exploded View” centers on the previous stage of the objects’ existence, surveying their performance and extended repercussion as a functional and material units within a given time-space context. “Useless?” questions usefulness and its relation with functionality and relevance – real or fabricated – of the objects that surround us.”

in EXD’11 website






An Exploded View

Jonathan Olivares

Graphic and Exhibition Design
Jonathan Olivares Design Research

Assistant Curator
Jerôme Nelet

Kleenex, Volvo, Swann-Morton, Mark Gonzales, American Apparel, Achille Castiglioni, Steelcase, Konstantin Grcic, Franz Anton Bustelli, Philippe Starck, Siemens

The Wandering Pain

Max Bruinsma and Hans Maier-Aichen

Assistant Curator
Matthias Leipholz

Exhibition Design
Hans Maier-Aichen and Max Bruisma with António Pedro Louro, Gonçalo Prudêncio, Pedro Ferreira and Rita João

Graphic Design

Represented designers
Alessandro Mendini, Atelier Van Lieshout, Barbara Visser, Daniel Eatock, Hans Maier-Aichen, Hella Jongerius, Jaime Hayon, Julia Lohmann, Jurgen Bey, Karen Ryan, Katharina Wahl, Marc Newson, Marcel Wanders, Marijn Van Der Poll, Marti Guixé, Michele de Lucci, Philippe Starck, Ron Arad, Stephane Barbier Bouvet, Stefano Giovannoni, Tejo Remy, Tord Boontje