One role of major national institutions like V&A is to use their exhibits as a historical record, but when is the right time to start collecting artefacts? How long should they wait before an item’s historical significance has been proven?
This latest display at V&A suggests there’s no time like the present and they’ve accumulated items that have recently made the news, including the controversial Liberator gun that was made using a 3D printer. Despite the controversy, there’s no doubt this item signifies a potential game changer both for the distribution of arms and the ability for anyone to become a manufacturer.
Technological items such as a smart thermostat, allowing remote control of heating, and carbon fibre lift cables facilitating taller skyscrapers also could change our homes and cities.
The potential pitfall for this type of collecting is that ‘faddish’ items are less likely to stand the test of time. The mobile game Flappy Bird may have become an overnight sensation but will it be remembered by many in five years? And though we note that Katy Perry-endorsed false eyelashes may signify the breadth of her popularity, it may not be the best choice from across her vast array of merchandise.
Political items are also included, such as the much maligned anti-homeless studs and Primark trousers made in the unsafe factory that collapsed and killed 350 workers in Bangladesh. These items rightfully have greater potency, but it could be argued that they will only gain historical significance if they mark a change in attitudes towards homeless people and labour rights in foreign countries respectively.
These items are likely to divide opinion but we believe it’s only right that the V&A should be documenting the changing world around us in what we assume to be a low cost exercise, for who knows which items will be deemed as representative of our times in 50 or 100 years.