Marcel Duchamp famously repurposed and reinterpreted a useful, everyday item and declared it a ‘readymade’ piece of art. Fountain was simply a standard urinal, often exhibited on its back, signed and dated ‘R. Mutt 1917’. His work Bottle Rack (1914) was … a bottle rack.
It feels as though, a century later, Afghan designer Massoud Hassani has done the reverse, by devising something intensely useful, that has nevertheless been displayed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. His ‘Mine Kafon’ is a mine detonator, but also a work of beauty.
Sadly, with Afghanistan mired in conflict since the late 1970s, war keeps coming up, even in relation to its art and design. As children, Hassani, his brother and their friends made light, wind-borne racing toys from paper. Living near a scene of recent conflict, these toys sometimes blew onto minefields, and couldn’t be safely retrieved.
Later in life Hassani came up with a solution to this childhood problem, using those early toys as inspiration and making something that looks delicate, like a dandelion, but which has the ability to safely detonate buried landmines. The detonator that Hassani designed comprises a core of moulded plastic, with bamboo stems and plastic feet (https://www.moma.org/collection/works/160434):
Once on a minefield, the object is heavy enough to detonate a mine, but light enough to be carried along by the wind. And if exploded by a land mine it breaks into parts that can be reused and reassembled into a new Mine Kafon.
It is an object that can be made available throughout the world at low cost, that is simple to use and fairly straightforward to make. But the Mine Kafon is the result of an ingenious and elegant design, which combines the aesthetic qualities of sculpture with a life-saving purpose. It’s just sad that such a thing should be so useful.