Monday, December 5, 2011

Steampunk Wheelchair

from Ebert's Journal
From Jeff Shannon by way of Roger Ebert's Journal, there comes an appreciation of a wheelchair designed from the Steampunk ethos, about which there is the comment, "It doesn't matter that Valdez himself is not disabled. Instead, he encourages authentic wheelchair users to think about how they'd modify his design, or to imagine Steampunk chairs of their own."

The first sentence is correct, of course. The design is art. But the "is not disabled" reference reminds me that it appears as if so many wheelchairs are designed with less than a sense of workability than might be had were there input from long-term wheelchair users. What I wouldn't give for a design that didn't have so many corners and utensils that either damage door frames and cabinets or lend themselves to being damaged in the same collisions.

That begs, I suppose, an answer to the second question: "how they'd modify his design, or to imagine Steampunk chairs of their own."

My answer: I wouldn't.

To me, the perfect wheelchair would follow the Bauhaus ethos: "there should be no distinction between form and function." Count me as a minimalist. I want wheels. I want motors. I want a comfortable, adjustable seating. I want a minimal amount of storage space. I want all of this within the smallest physical framework possible.

There is a perfect aesthetic purity in the utilitarian essential, and that can apply even where art is not found. An instrument of war is an example -- a military jet aircraft. There is no attempt at art. There is only present what serves its purpose, but the design of a Chance-Vought Corsair or the McDonnell Phantom or the Lockheed Blackbird live within the realm of beauty. Less dramatic is an example of a knife. An artist might etch the blade or inlay jewels in the handle, but the knife is perfect art before that superficiality is applied. 

Is the Steampunk wheelchair art or an affectation? Both, no doubt.  


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