The most fascinating show about design in London this year (and we’ve had a lot of design shows) is not a design show. Michael Rakowitz‘s ‘The Worst Condition Is To Pass Under A Sword Which Is Not One’s Own’ at the Tate (on till 3 May) is the most revealing study of how design, fiction, and horrifying reality combine in the strangest of ways.
Rakowitz presents a rangey speculation on the relationship between Sadam Hussain, science fiction, Jules Verne, Supergun, WWF, Iran Iraq war, Star Wars, Desert Storm and the Iraq invasion. Rakowitz traces these relationships through a storyboard that leaps from one to another with total conviction.
He demonstrates the realtionship between Pop fiction and the realties of recent history through fragments of information. We see Sadam taking his son Uday to a secret screening of Star Wars. We see a paring of a Star Wars poster showing Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker clashing lightsabres next to a remaking of the Swords of Q?disiyyah monument. We see a video of Iraqi soldiers marching to the tune of the Imperial March, apparently as screened by Iraqi TV and found and posted to YouTube by a US marine.
But perhaps the strangest narrative is presented in a case which shows a trajectory from Japanese helmet to first world war gas mask to Darth Vaders helmet and then to the helmets of the Fedayeen Sadaam. In Rakowitz’s narrative this lineage switches from historical fact to science fiction then back again in a way that seems utterly convincing and revelatory, showing the reality of design in all of its bizarreness.