In the past 3 months, I’ve probably shared this particular work with more people than any other creative work in the past year. The intersection between art and design is a blurred divide. Richard Serra and many others have said, “Art is purposely useless.” I don’t agree with that; however, I’m not posting this to spur on an age-old debate as to whether or not art has a purpose, or even whether or not it can be defined. I am interested in design as a field of creative possibility. And I think philosophical questions in the realm of what we think of as ‘design’ tend to surprise people, maybe even offend people, more frequently than questions that pertain to ‘art’.
When Julijonas Urbonas engineered the design for a roller coaster that was built to euthanize a human being, it created a stir. The coaster, provides a steady 2-minute lift to the top – a time during which its rider may ponder his or her decision to die. Following this, the rider experiences a 500 m drop followed by a series of seven loops. As the rider is forced through these loops, he or she experiences a centrifugal force of up to 10 g. Blood is drained from the rider’s head and a euphoric state comes over the passenger. The brain is starved of oxygen until the person falls asleep, never to wake up again. The roller coaster has not been built, and it has no plans for future construction. But I think the genius in it, the art, is that it provides a scientific solution to a controversial question. Moreover, the solution just happens to be, grandiose, unnecessary, expensive, and entirely possible. These are characteristics of a design that I think tend to make people respond in our present time. Urbonas’ coaster is not useless, but does it provide a function that we necessarily desire?
Urbonas, having spent a lifetime in the carnival industry, has invested his time in creating other designs that probe social expectations as well. His ‘Emancipation Kit’ comes face to face with eating disorders. ‘Talking Doors’ draws our attention to the meaning of the door and its auditory potential. ‘Objects for Arithmomaniacs’ calls our attention to not only obsession, but the need to study it. Cheeky.
Admittedly, I feel compelled to study Urbonas’ work because somewhere in the midst of it all, we see humor. But it’s thick, and dark. Don’t let me ruin a good joke by analyzing it to death though. Discover his work for yourself, and once you’ve had a good chuckle, consider the less extraordinary, but serious alternative: design for the sake of purpose, and art for the sake of nothing.