Design Story: Aideen McCole Curator, 100 Archive
Please introduce yourself and your organisation
I am Aideen McCole and I am a curator and cultural producer specialising in contemporary design and architecture. Alongside a role in the Irish Architecture Foundation, I work with the 100 Archive.
The 100 Archive is a platform for communication design in Ireland. Through an open submission process, we create annual archive-worthy selections of graphic design by designers all over Ireland and Irish designers overseas. Designers elect to submit their work, and choose what work to submit, and an archive selection is created from the perspectives of two separate panels of designers, educators and commissioners of design, meaning it’s as objective a selection process as we can get. We have an archive selection for every year from 2010 onwards that gives a snapshot of design, and through that, wider society. 100 projects in an annual archive, hence the name 100 Archive.
What do you hope to bring to Belfast Design Week?
At the most basic level, I hope hearing about the 100 Archive at Design Camp gives people an interesting perspective not only on graphic design in Ireland but on how we collect, present and discuss design. As a model for creating a design collection (or any type of collection, for that matter), 100 Archive is unique, and I hope that within the context of the festival’s consideration of Future Heritage it gives people some pause for thought on how we collect and present our cultural heritage, when we collect it and why.
But more fundamentally than that, I hope that being involved, even in a small way, in Belfast Design Week, helps to widen the community contributing to the 100 Archive and strengthen connections between design communities north and south. The point of the 100 Archive is to reflect the work of the design community all over Ireland and beyond, but arguably our selections are dominated by Dublin. In fact, to date we have received more submissions from Irish designers working overseas than from designers outside the capital, so this really has to change. The industry in Ireland is also terribly disparate: there aren’t actually that many designers in Ireland yet bringing them all together is often a challenge. Hopefully having an organisation like the 100 Archive participate in Belfast Design Week helps keep the lines of communication between us all a little more open.
Can you tell us what curating design is and why it is important?
The discipline of curating began as collecting and keeping: curators would find and hold onto objects of curiosity, of scientific or historical importance, of tangible or perceived value. Gradually it extended into presenting these artefacts in museums and galleries and from there curating became about using exhibitions of artefacts to tell stories, make statements, ask questions. The practice of curating has also expanded to include events, happenings, in-depth projects and digital experiences as ways of interrogating issues or exploring ideas: no longer is the curator just a keeper of objects or maker of exhibitions.
While curating as a whole has been developing for hundreds of years, curating design is a little younger as a practice (though not as young as you might think: the first museum of design, the V&A, was opened in 1852) and has gradually morphed from being about educating people as to what good taste is to having the capacity not just to inform but to inspire and provoke. It has also become a practice that doesn’t just focus in on design in isolation but rather uses design as a tool to examine the wider world. Design touches on everything, but the design industry can be frustratingly insular. The role of the design curator, and the importance of the discipline, might be to break open the industry and allow it to spill out into the world, gradually turning design from a process undertaken by designers to an enriching conversation between those who make it and those who use it.
How does curating design shape future heritage?
If we take ‘future heritage’ to mean the stuff we make now that we will learn from in the future, then the role of curating in that is vital: curating design presents what’s happening in the industry and the context it sits in; it asks questions about it and encourages others to do the same; it recognises its value now, not just when it’s old and under threat of disappearing. Curating design is particularly crucial from the perspective that design permeates so many aspects of life, society, culture and commerce: consequently, it’s an incredible lens through which to look at the world. Design is our heritage in its own right, but it also helps us to understand other areas of our culture and society. It unlocks other parts of our heritage, so anything that presents, discusses and preserves it for the future is essential.
What is your hope for the future of design across our island?
I hope that in the future design in Ireland is no longer the sole preserve of designers. That everyone who has a stake in it (which is everyone) has a say in it. That design exhibitions and events aren’t just attended by designers; and that maybe designers are too busy talking about other things — social issues, politics, the environment, entertainment, philosophy, sport, who knows — to dominate conversations about design the way they do currently. If we achieve this, design across our island will be incredible, because it will be rich, critical and integral to everyone.