Design for Ageing: Jenna Kaës’s Visual Dream Machine

In conjunction with each issue of Frame, we challenge emerging designers to answer a topical question with a future-forward design concept. 

Triggered by a UN report predicting that by 2050 the world’s population over 65 years of age will outnumber those under 15, for Frame 115 we asked five makers to come up with an item, tool or service that responds to our planet’s growing number of senior citizens. Jenna Kaës was one of them.

What was your starting point for this challenge?
I wanted to address ageing, and an increasingly ageing population, in a positive way, without speaking about death. Because I think that everyday activities in the future will become calmer and our goals more blurred, I investigated ways in which to keep the mind active.

But you’ve concentrated on a time during which our minds are generally perceived as dormant . . .
Yes. The importance of dreams remains ignored in Western societies, but we spend a third of our lives sleeping, dreaming and building our second lives. I strongly believe that our ‘awake’ and ‘asleep’ lives continuously nourish and stimulate each other.

Tell us about your Visual Dream Machine (VDM).
It makes dreaming a goal in itself, a daily quest. Every material object has its own olfactory identity. I propose expanding the field of these objects’ current use by opening up infinite scent combinations.

How does it work?
The user can put a variety of objects from his or her everyday life inside the VDM at different levels. During the sleep cycle, an infrared light gently heats the objects, generating a variety of scents and stimulating the dream world.

What happens then?
The dream world is a second life that stirs creativity by generating unique scenarios. It’s possible to reactivate lost memories and to experience extraordinary physical performances without the simulacra of augmented reality and a virtual second life.

How should we discern between the two worlds? Are you worried that one might become more attractive than the other?
Each world nourishes the other. With this in mind, you should not be afraid to dive into either the dream world or reality. Besides, reality has a very important role in the VDM: it’s where you collect the objects that will help to guide your dreams.

You wanted to avoid death in this challenge, but it’s a recurring theme in your work. What interests you about death?
Death is both a profound worry and a deep fascination – in some ways, it’s the reason for everything. Imagine how sad, boring and unconstructive eternity would be. However, the symbolic idea of passage has become more important to me than death. 

I want to help people find their own ways to escape the trivial and unsensitive parts of reality. I feel this is one of the primary goals of design, as well as one of the most taboo. I don’t understand why we need to be so shy about confronting the idea of passage. Design isn’t just about how we sit and eat; it’s also about how we feed our souls. So why shouldn’t design address mental health and feelings, too?

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