Uploaded on Nov 6, 2011 THE PROBLEM WITH THE PLAYPUMP by RALPH BORLAND, an exhibit at the SURFACE TENSION exhibition at the SCIENCE GALLERY, Trinity College, Dublin in 2011
In 2007, while opening the US National Design Awards in New York, then First Lady Laura Bush praised the PlayPump, a children’s roundabout which pumps water, as an example of ‘the difference sustainable designs can make’. Invented in South Africa in the early 1990s, the PlayPump system is a children’s roundabout that drives a borehole pump, which pumps water to an elevated water tank. The tank bears billboards, whose rental is intended to fund the maintenance of the pump. The project received much international support as an ‘appropriate technology’ for developing world use, winning awards and attracting large-scale funding, culminating in 2006 in a collective pledge of US$60 million from government and private institutions in the United States. But soon afterwards a series of critical reports on the PlayPump surfaced, casting into doubt the claims for its success… The Problem with the PlayPump documents the difference between the way the PlayPump has been represented to first world audiences and how it has functioned on the ground in Southern Africa. The installation draws on the artist’s research for his PhD thesis ‘Radical Plumbers and PlayPumps – Objects in development’, framing the way in which objects intended for developing world use, but supported by first world audiences, may be advanced more by their appeal to these audiences than for their value to developing world users.