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Science Gallery Detroit explores design "in a time of urgency"

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

The name of the new show from Science Gallery Detroit, "Future Present: Design in a Time of Urgency," was picked long before the COVID crisis hit. But now, in a time of real urgency, it all seems downright prescient.

You'll find "Future Present" on the first floor of 1001 Woodward in downtown Detroit. The exhibition will be up through Dec. 2.

Windsor resident Marc Ngui contributed "Welcome to Dee Double Dub," a sci-fi comic that describes a futuristic, eco-utopian megacity on the Detroit River in "Future Present" from Science Gallery Detroit.

The show, said Devon Akmon, Science Gallery director, was conceived to think "about the implications of design, its impact on humanity, and what the future looks like."

Akmon, who used to head the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, explained that it's all about "imagining more equitable futures" and how design, broadly defined, can help.

"What can our futures be?" he asked. "Can we imagine more sustainable futures? We're hoping this exhibition will inspire people to think about their role in this."

When Science Gallery Detroit put out a call for entries, they got over 150 responses from around the world -- and whittled those down to the 16 on display.

With "Parallax," Lebanese immigrant and Detroiter Aya Krisht graphically contrasts interplanetary migration sometime in the future with the plight of the migrant today, caught between two lands.

"We had sub-themes we were try to learn more about," said Antajuan Scott, one of the curators who pulled the show together and the gallery's head of programming, "whether architecture, technology design or social media platforms. The show isn’t specifically about  a certain sector of design," he added, "but design as process." 

The projects range all over the map, and in some cases take a whimsical approach to complex problems -- as with the multi-paneled sci-fi cartoon from Windsor resident Marc Ngui, "Welcome to Dee Double Dub," which imagines an eco-friendly mega-city on both banks of the Detroit River.

Others give sober consideration to the bathroom of the future or the nature of our energy dependence. In one entertaining case, New Yorker Liliana Farber's "Anonymous" enables you to collaborate with the 18th-century English novelist Daniel Defoe, author of "Journal of the Plague Year," via an artificial-intelligence algorithm.

Detroiter Rosa Maria Zamarron explores photography and its power in a quickly changing time, and the medium's use as a tool for change in "Future Present."

While everybody is welcome at "Future Present," the goal -- as with all work by Science Gallery Detroit -- is to grab the attention of 15-25 year olds, the young people "traditionally lost by the cultural system" of museums and exhibitions, as Akmon put it.

Science Gallery Detroit, which at present doesn't have its own gallery space -- it's aiming to change that -- is one of eight university-sponsored Science Galleries worldwide that look to marry what often seem to be the contradictory goals of art and science.

Michigan State University, Akmon's alma mater, sponsors Science Gallery Detroit. "We’re nested within the hub for innovation and technology," he said, "so I think that indicates how MSU thinks about us."

First started at Trinity College Dublin, the galleries reject the idea that art and science are separate silos, and try to create cross-pollination between those disciplines.

All of which is rather high concept, albeit admirable.

But what may amuse you the most -- and in particular, any kids you bring along -- are the thoughtful "telepresence" robots that in an age of pandemic have taken the place of the human mediators Science Gallery Detroit would normally have on hand to engage visitors in conversation.

The robots look a bit like Segways have screens framing the face of the live, off-site mediator, follow you around like a gracious digital docent, interacting only when you want to.

If it's not precisely "Star Wars" R2-D2, they come awfully close.

In the exhibition "Future Present" from Science Gallery Detroit "telepresence" robots staffed by off-site mediators, in this case Patrick Vaughn, can follow you around and engage you in conversation.

mhodges@detroitnews.com

(313) 815-6410

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

'Future Present: Design in an Age of Urgency'

Through Dec. 2

Science Gallery Detroit, 1001 Woodward, Detroit

Free

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat; noon-1 p.m. Sun.

Note: Attendance is limited to 30 people per hour, and face masks are required.

Click here to register and reserve your free ticket.

info@detroit.sciencegallery.com

detroit.sciencegallery.com