Does the current wealth inequality really come from individuals' abilities?
In the United States of America, there is a strong belief in the 'self-made' story; that wealth can be achieved by one's abilities and efforts, that we are a meritocracy. While this is true for some, the strongest predictor of
wealthy you will be in your lifetime is how wealthy your parents (or grandparents) were.
Darwinian Candelabra is designed to demystify the premise of meritocracy and to shed light on the underlying cause of wealth inequality. The candelabra represents the 'balance' of wealth in society. It is set up to begin in a
of more-or-less equality standing for a meritocratic society, but as candles burn, its underlying structure creates an inevitable shift in balance, a transition, to a highly unequal form, revealing the structurally determined
inequality from wealth accumulation over generations.
43 x 36 x 33 inches | before burning 44 x 22 x 44 inches | after burning
Gilding is a surface treatment, a process of applying a thin layer of gold to a material, to create a sense of luxury, solidity, and an illusion of depth. The process lends its name to a period in the late 19th century known as
the Gilded Age, a time of extreme wealth, but also extreme inequality; hence it was a gilded, rather than a truly golden age. Today, increasingly high levels of wealth inequality have led some critics to argue we're living in a
Second Gilded Age.
Darwinian Candelabra was designed during the advanced studio at RISD; design in the Second Gilded Age, taught by Thomas Thwaites. The studio took critical,
and experimental design approaches to interrogate questions around money, luxury, and inequality. To push this thought, the class experimented with a 'new' gilding process by applying virtual ornamentation to physical surfaces
One of the most critical issues in the first gilded age was the idea of Social Darwinism, arguing that economically and socially successful people are
"naturally" the fittest (conversely reasoning that the poor were "naturally" weak and unfit), and it pervaded many aspects of the American society in politics, the economy, and society in order to justify discrimination
So, I decided to rebut the meritocratic justification from Social Darwinianists and to instigate discussion about the underlying cause of current wealth inequality through a candelabra, a symbolic object of wealth in The Elms, the symbolic space of the gilded age.
Site visit: The Elms_exterior
form exploration & prototyping
I started from a look of the phylogenetic tree, a branching diagram showing evolutionary relationships among organisms, as I planned to discuss the misapplied evolutionary theory, Social Darwinism. However, I shifted to a
abstract form as it might cause misunderstanding to someone as the 1st prototype looked like a Menorah in a way.
As this candelabra is about revelation, I came up with the idea of a kinetic object changing its structure via an event, candles burn, and it led me to a mobile-like object through iterative prototyping.
Before candles burn, Darwinian Candelabra represents 'more-or-less' equal society with its 'balanced' form, but it reveals the structural inequality of our society through its structural shift as candles burn.
Form exploration: from phylogenetic tree to mobile
augmented reality development
As it was not allowed to light candles on in the museum, the footage of the transition was 'gilded' using augmented reality technologies.
The virtual video was mounted on a specific image target and incorporated into the Newport Mansion Tour App, so visitors were able to watch the clip by spotting the image target through mobile devices.