The hamster powering a shredder to create his own bedding has little sense of what it is doing. But what does it mean to you? Or how would it feel to talk to your partner through a mirror that transplanted your mouth – and words – on to their face?
These are the questions asked by a new exhibition of bizarre objects made by young industrial designers. In the tradition of an art all but consumed by consumerism, they seek gently and playfully to change the way we look at the world around us.
The exhibition, called Philosophical Toys, honours the scientific amusements exhibited in the 18th and 19th centuries, when great minds were grappling with the intricacies of their own brains.
The works are the product of the industrial design course at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design. Jim Rokos is a graduate and the brains behind the mouth-swapping mirror.
"This is not what most people would normally understand to be industrial design," Rokos says. "We think of mass-produced consumer goods. These are as much art as design but they are made by the same processes."
Dr Stephen Hayward, curator of the exhibition at Central Saint Martins' new King's Cross campus, says design that blurs boundaries with art is all around us. He singles out the Olympic cauldron that transfixed millions when it unfurled like a flower during the 2012 opening ceremony.
"We saw industrial design could be choreography, an emotional experience," he says. "It was impractical in some sense but it worked."
Philosophical Toys runs until 26 April. Find information at csm.arts.ac.uk