2°C – Dominic Wilcox


30 October 2015

Could design play a constructive role in the climate change debate?

This was the question that Disegno posed for 2°C, a new project that spreads across our latest magazine Disegno No.9 and into a corresponding exhibition at The Aram Gallery in London.

For 2°C, Disegno set 10 leading designers and architects a challenge: could they redesign the public communication of climate change? The intention was not to provide finished public campaigns or definite answers, but rather to provocate and probe. How might a change in the way we conceive of and talk about climate change affect the climate change movement itself?

In a series of printed proposals in the magazine and objects displayed in the exhibition, the contributing designers – Marjan van Aubel, Sam Baron, Maria Blaisse, Ilona Gaynor, Ross Lovegrove, Neri & Hu, Parsons & Charlesworth, PearsonLloyd, Universal Design Studio and Dominic Wilcox – responded in hugely diverse ways.

Below, we are delighted to highlight designer Dominic Wilcox's contribution to 2°C. Wilcox is a London-based designer, and a graduate of both Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art. His practice focuses on illustration and objects, often utilising humour and slapstick to convey serious reflection on the assumptions and mores of the design world. Previous projects include a driverless, stained-glass car concept, and a series of breakfast devices for Kellogg's. Wilcox was recently a featured guest on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

For 2°C, Wilcox chose to create an illustration of the Global Warming Funtime Island, an imaginary playground island in which every ride ridicules social and political failings around global warming. The illustration references the aesthetic of theme park map, and depicts attractions such as "flooded street snorkelling" and "politician hot air hang gliding". For the 2°C exhibition, Wilcox created hundreds of poster versions of the Global Warming Funtime Island, displaying them rolled up and stacked within a booth. The posters were kindly printed by Park Communications, with visitors to The Aram Gallery invited to take a poster for free.

Why did you choose to respond to Disegno’s brief with a drawing?

Drawing enables me to communicate lots of ideas very directly and you don’t need a huge budget for your ideas! I chose a drawing as a way to communicate my thoughts quickly, rather than spending the short time I had making just one idea.

Can you tell me about the development of the rides in the playground? Did you start with one in particular?

I started with the polar bear on a melted icecap ride, because that polar bear on the icecap is such a typical image of global warming. I wanted to confront the knowledge that children will be picking up the tab on global warming; how many people enjoy their lives in the same way as usual in full knowledge that the earth is being badly affected? It's like partying on the titanic as it sinks. Perhaps a more confrontational messaging is required to get the message through.

There's a clash in my drawing between the fun and excitement of playgrounds and the reality of what is happening to the planet. I was thinking about typical playground activities, a roundabout, a slide, and whether they could become something symbolic. It went from one idea to the next and then gradually I had enough thoughts to fill a playground.

Some of the rides ridicule politicians. Is the drawing about their handling of climate change as well as our attitudes to it?

Yes. I think it sort of grew in subject matter to a general overview of the human reaction to global warming in one image. So there are world leaders meeting on a trampoline and politician hot air hang gliding facilities. I wanted to do a range of subjects, not just one particular thing. So the dress up recycling box that people can be fired into is to do with the way the public are confronted with what we can do. Sometimes proposing something ridiculous and something uncomfortable will get people intrigued and thinking around the subject.

The humour is another way of reaching people.

I tend to use humour or surprise as a vehicle for communicating ideas beyond itself. When people smile in delight then you can get all sorts of other ideas in there at the same time. There’s subtle of ways of doing it. And unsubtle ways of doing it. Dressing up and firing yourself into the correct recycling box might be extreme, but if it gets people thinking about recycling the next time the bin men come, then that's good.

For the exhibition you made the drawing into a poster that everyone can take home.

Yes, hopefully it’s something that people would like on their wall.

It has the feeling of a guide map to a theme park.

I’ve always liked maps. I have maps on the wall and I like knowing where you are in the world. It maybe brings the drawing a bit closer to a feeling of reality, as though this place does exist.

Is climate change something you think about in your work?

It’s something I thought about specifically for this project of course, and global warming is important for designers to think about. I tend to make things as one-offs or in very small batches, so I don’t think I make too much of an impact on the environment. In fact, I have a natural reticence to adding yet more objects to the world. It has to be a really good idea for me to move beyond the sketch and fill a previously empty three-dimensional space with one of my creations.

And is it something you will think about more in future?

No, I’ll just think about it the same amount, but it's good for me to keep coming back to the subject in my work, and maintain an awareness of the situation.