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I don’t know much about the context of this shop I passed, other than its another new DESIGN store selling design icons. Nor do I know much about the designer/artist Harry Bertoia, but this quote caught my eye as I walked past it.

It serves as a prompt for some of the confusion and misunderstanding that I encounter with regards to the equation between design and ecological concerns. How do we balance man-made expressions with a healthy balance with respect to our ecological footprints?

‘The urge to go on living’ is inevitably interlinked with the ‘act of creation’. Whereas Eco-design, green design etc. all have environmental concerns at their core with conservation and regeneration of nature as their noble cause, the aesthetics unfortunately tend to suffer. Making the ‘good’ more of a moral good than a sensual one, thus defeating an intrinsic component of ‘good design’. The quandary of reaching the ultimate status of ‘good design’ is therefore a fabulous challenge. With environmental and ethical dimensions now belonging to the very equation, the criteria for ‘good design’ is shifting perspective. Senseness is an endeavour to encourage the shaping of a new creative language. Perhaps a healthy reminder is what Rachel Carson said:

“Man is part of nature and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”

So whilst we seek to celebrate human ingeniousness through ‘Good Design’ our human quest, is not only for survival but also for well being indefinitely…

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The other day I realised that it was NY design week this week! Curious to see what was on, I started to browse the web. Of the many images of design and artifacts my attention was caught by a few finger puppets made in crochet on Moss’s on-line design store. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Saddam Hussein and George Bush in crochet! Searching for more of these curious puppets, a set of 5 political candidates appeared representing: Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani, surrounding the current President George W. Bush in a dunce cap! With the tag line ‘Hold your own debates’. How appropriate in the heat of electoral drama.

It is said that puppets have a magical value and not only encourage interaction between parent and child but help pass on values. Besides making limited editions for us to toy with conventions of political correctness, the clever efforts of designer Francesca Basilico and toy company, i golfini della nonna, is a social enterprise. Throughout the past 12 years they have helped improve the conditions of its craftswomen in a women’s cooperative in Bolivia.

It is rare to come by playful design like this, I might just see if can get a set of the gay marriage: 2 grooms, 2 brides and 1 priest…

Today, when flanneuring in Nolita, we passed a storefront that had a wooden bureau on display and my attention was attracted as at a glance I could sense this was a well crafted piece of furniture with amazing details. Drawn into the space, curious to see what this was all about, we entered a rustic environment with dimmed lighting and bark chippings covering the entire floor. Not really knowing what to expect we encountered the next object, a big toy like wardrobe that had doors made of leaves. Each individual leaf had been crafted in enamelled metal resembling real leaves. The designer was Tord Boontje and the piece is called ‘the fig leaf’, (I later read that this wardrobe comprises 616 hand-painted enamelled leaves). We continue walking through the space where more objects are on display, like artwork, all exquisitely handcrafted with beautiful materials. Yet, each piece of furniture had a function either to store clothes, jewellery, give light etc. Many of the pieces had an organic look to them allowed by recent technologies such as 3-D modelling.
Speaking with the people presenting the collection we were told that the designs were the product of matching leading designers with master craftsmen, using pre-industrialised techniques and materials to create ‘contemporary’ designs. The aesthetics are pretty much sign of our times, yet reminisce past fine furniture we know from museums, due to quality of execution, detail and materials. This is obviously not design made for the masses, but pieces made on demand for the few who can afford such luxury. Perhaps some of these pieces will become precious heirlooms for a select few as well as becoming the evident museum piece.
Besides reinstoring the age-old tradition of wealthy patrons paying fabulous artisans to make exclusive furniture, the thinking behind the company ‘Meta’ who commissioned the work, is to revive and maintain traditional skills and craftsmanship. This is a noble cause in many ways when so many expert skills are being lost to mainstream manufacturing processes and industrialization. This is like the haute couture of furniture crafts where artisans are being championed, aided by celebrity designers.
Leaving the space I touched the writing desk made in ash wood that seduced me at first and it felt so smooth, like skin… It was all quite extra-ordinary and I wonder how close and/or how remote this is to senseness?

ehrmmm… apparently Triumph, the lingerie brand, has created a ‘green corset’ with a solar panel to recharge your mobile phone or mp3 player. And it has also got water pouches to store drinking water to avoid buying water in plastic bottles. The image says it all!

Technology, Culture and Change, is the title of a seminar on the MA Design Futures (Goldsmiths) and it sprang to mind when I was invited yesterday to see the graduate students’ thesis presentations at ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program) at Tisch School of the Arts. I was amazed by the quality of performance the students delivered their presentations. Many engaging stories were told using personal experiences to explain interesting processes of thinking to doing. At first I was reminded of the fun and the luxury of being a student where you are encouraged to explore and discover how important a process is to an outcome. Besides interaction, quite a few were interested in the transference of meaning to objects. One student, Kyveli Vezani has created a collection of reinvented amulets and charms that reflect the impact of technology on our values and beliefs. E.g. a locket on a chain that had an antique look yet had a small electronic device inserted in it where you could see her friends on face-book flickering. Another student, Leah Gilliam, had created a tactile board game called ‘lesberation’ using the historic starting point of the gay-rights movement in NY to melding activism with games. Playing the game would encourage cooperation and conflict resolvement.
However impressive, from my perspective, one important criteria seemed to be missing overall – the connection to a broader context. Not one student mentioned the relation between their project and its impact on the environment. I mention this as it is truly tricky to negotiate between the ego and the eco (‘our self’ and our ‘home’) especially where the boundaries between art and design are blurred. And it seems to me that the question of technology becomes important when you know that some of these interactive technologies may in a few years end up in the commercial realm.

“The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control.” – Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology

I know my viewpoint belongs to a paradigm where any artefact conceived needs to be carefully considered not only for what it can do and convey, but how it affects us and our ecologies now and in the future.

Last night I was at Futerra – sustainability communications agency’s launch party of their NYC office where Lucy Shea, director, started with a brief presentation on ‘Green communications’. One of THE hottest tips was to use emotive language. Which obviously makes sense, as it’s so much easier to get people’s attention when you touch them, through story telling. And through humor as she proved when showing this one image that was really funny – (I wish I could show it here), of a washing line with 4-5 panties – from the big one to the mini-thong – representing how to slim our material consumption…
Yet on another note, was the issue of ‘green-washing’, which is a real concern these days (see their report). It’s typical that opportunistic companies and organisations ‘green’ their communications intentionally by misleading the public and the consumer to think they are eco-friendly and environmentally responsible, when in reality they have no credentials and their claims are unfounded. This is disheartening as it obviously undermines the real efforts made by those brands that do make real efforts to be green…

The other day I walked past the Paul Smith shop on Manhattan and my eyes caught a glimpse of the shop windows where there were several posters with bold statements… They felt odd and out of place – why were these posters here, in the midst of capitalist New York? It was semiotically confusing – as rebellion seems so far from this particular context. Once I got closer I read that they are street posters from the Paris rebellion in May 68 and that there currently is an exhibition on in London. I posted them as they inspired me to think of how those protests came to change and shape future consciousness. They were expressions of a shift in paradigm. So if we were to rebel today – what would the propaganda posters look like?

I just read Ann Thorpe’s definition of sustainable design being:

“theories and practices that cultivate ecological, economic, and cultural conditions that will support human well-being indefinitely” in The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability (2007).

Such definitions are great, yet not creatively enticing. Like most definitions it is devoid of sensuality, and doesn’t spark my imagination… Unfortunately this seems to be indicative of the debate of design and sustainability. Today, in light of our growing awareness and knowledge of connections between the systems Thorpe mentions, it seems obvious and vital to approach any design with a systemic perspective. Yet something is lacking from the equation. The writer and poet François Ponge says in Méthodes (1961):

“could we not imagine a kind of writing (new) that, situated more or less between two genres (definition and description), would lend from the first its infallibility, its indubiousness, its brevity and the latter its respect for the sensual aspects of things.”

My challenge would therefore be “Could we not imagine a kind of creative language (new) that be smart, savvy and sensual in the new paradigm of ‘sustainable development’ – that would be senseness – wouldn’t it?

©Anette Lundebye©Anette Lundebye

It is said that Zen Buddhists believe that “An oak tree is brought into creation by two forces at the same time. Obviously, there is the acorn from which all begins, the seed which holds the promise and potential, which grows into the tree. Everybody can see that. But only a few can recognise that there is another force operating here as well – the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity.” – From Elisabeth Gilbert’s book: Eat, Pray, Love – 2006.
Looking back from the future I want to pull senseness into being – by cultivating a landscape from which ‘creativity’, (which roots comes from the Latin “creatus” and literally means “to have grown”) can grow. What will the manifestations of senseness look like, feel like, smell like, taste like, sound like?