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"utopian" Tag


The Code of Imagination


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

INTRO, OUR INTEREST

During 3 weeks of design theory, we came across many different font types, some of which were far from understandable. Some of these abstract types surpassed the intelligible and had a whole coding system for themselves, in which every letter of the alphabet had a symbol of its own, which should be able to be coded and decoded in order to write and read text.
In it’s own special realm of this font families, there is a book that navigates the imaginary, it’s the Codex Seraphinianus.

 

text in the codex

text in the codex

It’s creator, Luigi Serafini , was an architect, designer and painter, who published the book in 1981. It took him around 30 months, between 1976 and 1978, in a single room apartment in Rome to create the 360 pages of this curious “encyclopedia
The book describes almost scientifically a different and strange world, reminiscent of our own planet but equally strange and obscurely abstract and unfamiliar. It is composed by two parts, one which seems to be about human science and a second about general nature, society and ruling structures of this foreign world.
The piece stands for itself, it should be seen as an art book that does have an explanation; it is extremely fantastic and creative with wondrous drawings and ideas, which stimulate your fantasies, and invite you to dream along its colorful and psychedelic illustrations.

 

Codex-Seraphinianus-08

At a first glance you will be taken through constant confusion, where referencing what you see from what you know from the natural world leads nowhere. The feeling it creates could be described as the one of a child, scrolling through an encyclopedia, believing that what is written makes sense but is not able to verify if true or not. The pictures are all that is left to rely on and are the actual source of the story telling going on through our heads.
Ever since its publication, this book stayed as a mystery; intellectuals from all disciplines have tried to “understand” and “decode” it. Despite the familiar characteristics of language like rhythm, repetitiveness, paragraphs and even punctuation, there has been no success on making sense of this “text”. It simply can’t be figured out, but why should it? What would the decoding of this alternative encyclopedia bring and why are the efforts centered in doing so? Which interpretation would be the correct/truthful one?

COMPARING THE CODEX TO OTHER BOOKS

The Codex could be compared to the “Voynichmanuscript” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voynich_manuscript), written around 1450-1520, which is also also written in a code impossible to decipher and is illustrated with bright colored images of a scientific nature, just as in the Codex Seraphinianus.

voynich-collage-pic905-895x505-95001

The feeling the codex creates could be compared to Aldous Huxleys  “Brave New World” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World);  a novel about an utopian or dystopian future where everything seems to be so great and neatly organized that it gets scary, and even though it is quite different from our world we see parallels that remind us on how easily our order can slip into the realms of suppression and absolute control, without us even noticing. The aesthetic of the world described in the Codex reminded me of this morbid perfection of the modern world.
In more general terms, the story of the interpretation, coding and decoding of the “Codex Seraphinianus” could maybe be compared as a more recent artistic Bible. “The Holy Book”, which sets a broad set of rules and explains stories through metaphors, could easily be compared since, for centuries, the scriptures have been read, analyzed, compared, re-written, interpreted and decoded by intellectuals and well as whole cultures and societies. But, which interpretation is the right one?

IN RELATION TO PHILOSOPHY

Interpretation is a key element to understanding, a fundamental capacity and force of the human essence. The reason for this need falls uncertain and as mysterious as the subject of this text, but somehow it’s force is so essential and true as any other basic necessity such as eating or reproducing, interpretation is key to learning, evolving, developing and creating, it is indeed inevitable and inescapable, nevertheless, when could we say an interpretation is true?
Plato, tried to explain the burdens/risks/nature of this issue, through what is probably the best known philosophical allegory. It’s the allegory of “The Cave”.

The Allegory of The Cave
People have always lived in a cave and haven’t seen the outside world. There is no natural light, and all the inhabitants can see are the shadows on the wall projected by the light of a fire. They are fascinated by the reflections, moreover they believe those shadows are real and if you concentrate, look and study them, you will understand and succeed in life. They don’t realize that they are looking at mere phantoms.
One day by chance, someone discovers a way out of the cave. At first he is simply overwhelmed and dazzled by the sunshine in which everything is for the fist time properly illuminated, and once his eyes adjust to the light, he encounters the true forms of the shadows he had been seeing on the cave. Previously he had been looking merely at phantoms, but now, he is nearer to the true nature of being.

allegory_cave

When the cave dweller crawls back into the cave, he is confused by the dark setting of his previously familiar space. Confused, he tries to explain his co-habitants about what he just saw and discovered, about the truth he had witnessed. At first, the other cave dwellers don’t understand his ideas, they believe he is being sarcastic and at some point, even plot to kill him.
This allegory is a symbolic explanation of philosophy and humanity; Cave dwellers are humans before philosophy, the sun the light of reason, and the messenger a philosopher (and what happens to the messenger, is what truth tellers can expect when they take their knowledge back to people).
This allegory is a warning as well as an explanation about the risks of pursuing the truth, of thinking and exploring, but, where does the force of wanting to understand, to think, to decode and understand come from? Science is maybe busy trying to find the truth of things, while art is maybe one of the fields looking to solve the bigger question, WHY?

MEANINGLESS ART, IS IT TRULY MEANINGLESS?

It is believed that the Codex Seraphinianus doesn’t have a purpose, but do purposeless things mean nothing? Is the same to make an incomprehensible statement than making no statement at all?
In art and out contemporary times this is a burning question looking for an answer. E.g. What is tho be expected from a stone carver artist today?
Stone Carver: I want people to see that I pushed the material as far as I can possibly go. I maybe want people to see themselves in it. Maybe that they wonder about my reasons for carving it. I want them to argue about why did I make it the way I did and maybe have different ideas of what the reason and its purpose is.

CONCLUSION

Philosophy as seen by Plato and many others, is a practice that will teach us to live and die well, some sort of therapy for the soul. Pieces like the Codex Seraphinianus, despite it’s attractive and superficial nonsense take a stand towards curiosity, imagination and discussion. It encourages doubt and reflection, study and analysis, key element to critical thinking and human/personal/intellectual development but most important, it encourages imagination.
The book gives us back that brave imagination of a child, that creates the story itself by looking at images and assuming what is written. The book is an invitation, to exercise our imagination again, another time, its another chance for the adult to go back to the golden age of childhood, before going to school.
Weather its real significance has, will or had ever existed shouldn’t be the main focus, instead, we should appreciate the process of adapting our eyes to the light and be courageous enough to be doubtful and think, go out of the cave even if what we see is confusing, truthful or not.

 

codex seraphinianus1

 

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Becoming an Utopian Dream


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

 

stoel 1

 Picture 1: The Wassily Chair (Model B3)

 

Marcel Breuer

Wassily Chair (Model B3)

1927 – 1928

 

Medium:

Chrome-plated tubular steel and canvas

Dimensions

28 1/4 x 30 3/4 x 28″ (71.8 x 78.1 x 71.1 cm)

 

I still remember when I was a child the furniture of my uncle was always in the way. I couldn’t play with my toys because of the strange shimmering steel frame that was blocking my way. As I grew bigger and bigger I found out that the frame was part of a chair, but not a very comfortable one. I climbed the chair, but my legs got stuck between the spaces of the frame. The only thing that went on in my mind was, why the hell would you buy a chair that’s not comfortable at all? Later I found out that the annoying thing that was blocking my playground was a part of the chair that I now recognize as the “Wassily Chair” made by Marcel Breuer in 1927. A chair that symbolizes modernist design.

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Picture 2: Reclameposter from the bicycle brand Adler, the brand from the bicycle on which the chair is inspired. 

 
The story goes that Breuer often rode a red bicycle and that this inspired him and led him make the most important innovation in furniture design: the use of tubular steel (Picture 3). Strong and lightweight. Perfect for mass-production. A model that is based on the traditional overstuffed club chair: but all that remains is mere the outline. In this way, an elegant composition of gleaming steel arises. The seat, back and arms seem to float in the air. An interesting tension between heavy and light is created.

stoel 3

Picture 3: The “exposed” chair

By scrolling over the internet, I found a picture that really catches my eye. On this picture (Picture 3), an “exposed” version of the chair is showed. The photo makes me curious, I want to see and touch the steel and throw it and feel how heavy it is. See what happens if you turn the frame around, would it still be a chair? It looks a little bit ridiculous. In my head, it looks like a tool for a playground, or a tool to work-out with, no wonder that I got stuck. But at the same time, it looks fragile and light, and the shiny steel creates an effect of a mirror, it reflects the surroundings. All of this creates the feeling as if the completely chair doesn’t exist. The feeling that I had as a child, by almost disappearing in the chair pops up in my head. The feeling of exposure, getting stuck between a frame that is almost invisible, in other words a human trap.

Breuer himself spoke of the chair as “My most extreme work… the least artistic, the most logical, the least ‘cosy’ and the most mechanical.” And he was probably right.

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Picture 4: Marcel Breuer on his Wassily Chair

The chair is part of the style of Bauhaus. Which is part of the Modernism movement. Modernism is a term widely used, but rarely defined. We live in an era that still identifies itself in terms of Modernism. The buildings we inhabit, the chairs we sit on, the graphic design that surrounds us have mostly been created by the aesthetics and the ideology of Modernist design. The term refers to something that is characteristically modern, of its time. “The New”, “forward-looking”. In the designing world, it can be defined as: “Modernism is not a style, but loose collections of ideas.” It covered a range of styles, spread along different countries. But all those sites have in common that they were espousal for the new and mostly rejected history and tradition. An utopian desire to create a better world, to reinvent the world from scratch. Belief in the power and potential of the machine and industrial technology. Where there is a rejection of decoration and ornament. And a belief in the unity of all the arts. Most of the principles were frequently combined with social and political beliefs, which held that design and art could and should transform the society (Wilk, 2006), and by this raise the standards of living for all people [x].
It’s a global architecture and design movement emerged in the 1920 as a response to accelerated industrialization and social changes. By using new materials and advanced technology. It emphasized function, simplicity, rationality and created new forms of expression with a new aesthetic. Building and design can be recognized by use of clear lines, geometric shaped, cubic forms, windows, flat roofs and functional flexible spaces (Poursani, 2018).

The Bauhaus movement, started as a design school in 1919 by Walter Cropius, Mies and Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. They combined technology, crafts with industrial production to revitalize design for everyday life (Poursani, 2018). They thought that ‘new machine age’ demanded a new way of living and a new architecture with new materials as reinforced concrete, steel, and glass (Poursani, 2018). Their design principles, such as simplicity, rationality, functionality and universality, would change the world (Poursani, 2018). Their mission was to create a functional design with the principles of fine arts. Faith in new technology convenience and the promise of a better life. New materials brought new possibilities, break with the conventional forms, and use traditional and modern materials that show the possibilities of the modern industry. Functionalism is priority. Production for everybody a fact.

stoel 5

Picture 5: The Wassily chair in its “natural” habitat 

When I was able to climb the chair, I got stuck between the frame made out of steel. The space between the black leather and the frame was something where I got lost into, and my body didn’t know how to findrest in this chair.  The leather seat turned into a slide, and the chair became for me more an attraction then an object with the function of sitting. A labyrinth of body, steel and leather, or maybe a hybrid creature seen from far away. Where the object and the human became one, or where they are maybe to different.

Seeing this chair in the Stedelijk, brings questions to the mind. For example, by placing the chair in the museum, its uniqueness is accentuated. But do cheap reproductions destroy this feeling of uniqueness again? Does the space where the chair is placed have influence on how we look at it? The function of the chair is faded, by placing it really high and not as how it should be (picture 6).

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Picture 6: The floating chair

Could you speak of design for “everybody”, when the price of a “real” Wassily chair is “almost” unaffordable. Does the contrast between functionality and comfort, make the chair a utopian idea?

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Picture 7: The Rising Star (prize wise)

By designing an object, such as a chair, the tension between the user and the object is important. There seems to be a confusion between things that are designed and who is going to use it. There is a risk that design can be over-determined and this creates not enough space for the user to act and improvise on the object. Knowledge about people, capabilities and needs and desires is required. It seems that there is a misunderstanding in the way that the intention seems to design the user experience, but this doesn’t make the user the subject of design. By the design of the Bauhaus form became subordinate to the function. Design became not only a matter of forming objects, but increasingly a matter of how ways of use and even ways of living can be designed and in this way, it turned into designing with a social agenda. This clearly state an ambition of social transformation. But by now we know that while the social aspects of the modernist project may have been ambitious, they did not necessarily succeed. Misfits between the intended and actual use, and the user’s understanding is something that exist, but this doesn’t need to mean that they are not necessary to have. Misfits can bring new knowledge on what can be improved. Also by designing you’re in a sort of way predicting how the object will be “used”. But this doesn’t mean that it will work out in this way. Communication between the user and the designed object is based on understanding and interpretation, misunderstanding can also be seen as a point of this. It’s in important to understand that people are active parts of the system and not only a “user” because they are turned into an object. By designing it’s not possible to making people fit into systems, societies and strategies. People are fluent and flexible, such as their taste, needs and desires.And besides that, people are moving creatures, changeable, and different. Creating something that fits all of them is a beautiful utopian idea (Redstrom, 2005).

Back to the chair again, a couple years ago I found out that the chair from my uncle had disappeared from the room. The space of where the chair ones was located is filled with some new interior stuff. Something soft, more colourful and bigger. When I asked my uncle where the chair went he said that he had put it with the trash (picture 8). Not even tried to sell it, because according to him nobody would have been interested. Maybe this was something that should have happened. How my connection with the chair started as an annoying object turned into a fascination for the weird structure. But how the chair in the house of my uncle turned from something functional to something that was not interesting anymore.

stoel 10stoel 11

Picture 8: Life of the Wassily chair

 

Modernist had a Utopian desire to create a better world. This they frequently combined with left-leaning political and social beliefs that design and art had the power to transform society (Lodder, 2006). The word utopia is taken from the Greek and literally means both nowhere and a good place. An impractical scheme for social improvement, an imaginary and indefinitely remote place, an ideal place or state. Something that is described as perfect, but from what you know is not possible, it’s more like a beautiful dream (Collins, s.d). Nowhere and a good place is an interesting point, because in my eyes there are contradictions from each other. A good place can exist, but maybe it’s then subjective. For example, the house of my parents is a good place to me. But nowhere only seems to exist in words. It means to no place, the state of nonexistence. So actually, it’s not there, but a good place can be, can exist. The chair makes clear that the faith in new technology is a usable for creating new objects, and in this way the step to a better life is maybe made. But the chair makes also clear that the “right” object doesn’t exist. By making the chair, an idea, an ideal, a dream, (a good place), is created as an existing object. But because the chair doesn’t completely function as a chair for all the people, because of taste, price, function and discomfort, and new materials and development of technology. It makes clear that the perfect “chair” doesn’t exist (It’s nowhere). Time is a huge disturb transmitter. Technology and innovations are changeable. Besides that, humans and their needs and desires are not predictable, stable and universal, and this makes it impossible to create an object that suits all and is timeless. The chair is the symbol of modern design. Progress is the realization of Utopias, and by creating this chair at that time a little step towards a utopian dream was made. And a progress starts with a strong idea, that then is made in practice. So maybe the outwork and how it is used doesn’t need to be perfect, and we only need a Utopian dream to move forward in making new things.

It’s interesting to see how a chair can be placed in a museum, but at the same time can be sold on Marktplaats just for 100 euros (Picture 8). How easy it is to own an “extraordinary” piece. But also, how fast you don’t want to have it anymore. When I walked in the Stedelijk, the only thing that I thought was, why are those chairs so high, I want to sit in it and try them out. Untill I saw the Wassily chair, because it gave me so much memories of my childhood. Ofcourse the chair made me more curious to try out than any other, but at the same time the “special spot” in the Stedelijk is the “special spot” that the chair deserves. The untouching, unreaching of the chair, by placing it this high, reminds me of the fact that as a child I couldn’t climb the weird steel thing. And this “unreachable” value of the object as a child I now have when I walk into the museum and this is for me a beautiful annoying feeling.

A dream that started as a functional designed chair for everyone, made of new materials. Unity of all the arts, and principles combines with social and political beliefs and raise the standard of living for all people. A step to a utopian dream. Realized and made, fitted for a living room, but where slowly the function and the appreciation faded. Just as the visions that inspired the creative figures were dreams based on the technological potential and the social experiences of that time. Maybe the chair cannot be seen as a symbol of modern design, but as a symbol of the progress to realization of Utopian dreams.

 

References:

Collins Dictionary [Online] / aut. Collins // Definition of Utopia . - 17 02 2018. - https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/utopia.

Modernism in Architecture: Definiton and History [Online] / aut. Poursani Ela. - 10 02 2018. - 2018. - https://study.com/academy/lesson/modernism-in-architecture-definition-history.html.

Searching for Utopia [Sectie van boek] / aut. Lodder Christina // Modernism: designing for a new world / boekaut. Wilk Christopher. - Londen : V&A publications , 2006.

Towards user design? On the shift from object to user as the subject of design [Tijdschrift] / aut. Redstrom Johan. - Sweden : Elsevier, 2005.

What was Modernism? [Sectie van boek] / aut. Wilk Christopher // Modernism: Designing for a better world / boekaut. Wilk Christopher. - Londen : V&A publications , 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

The Flower Children of Architects


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The 60s was a very significant era in terms of cultural and technological advancement. It was the era of counterculture, and a social revolution. It was the “space age”, in which there were countless advancements in technology and space exploration. It was an era of optimism and playful experimentation, in which there was a rise of avant-garde and outlandish sensibilities in art and design.
 

1964-Archigram-Instant-City-1100

Archigrams pop-art aesthetic

England was one of the main countries which experienced the counter culture of the 60s very intensively, so called the “swinging sixties”, and this reflected evidently in art, design and architecture. Archigram is an example of a highly visionary, avant-garde architectural movement from that time and place. They were very experimental and pro-consumerist, and were very significant in that they questioned and opposed to the traditional conventions of modernist architecture and city-planning, finding it to be too homogeneous and lacking of individuality. They defended individualism; that each person should be able to be part of the design process of their own homes, those homes should be personalized. They also defended expendability; that cities could change and grow constantly through time. They were highly influenced by trends of the era in their designs. Their aesthetic was very in line with pop-art, with lots of imagery of consumer products in their designs, which makes sense considering their pro-consumerist stance, and their perception of housing as a consumer product. They were very technologically forward and optimistic, and indubitably utopian.
 

The Plug-in City

The Plug-in City

The Plug-in City is an example of one of many of the outlandish designs proposed by the members of Archigram. Designed by Peter Cook in 1964 – the leading figure of Archigram; it proposed to have modular residential units which would be plugged in to a central infrastructure mega-machine. Adhering to the ideal of expendability, the modular units could be carried around by cranes depending on necessity and preference.
 

The Walking City

The Walking City

The Walking City is another project, proposed by Ron Herron in 1964, which proposed a nomadic city infrastructure in which none of the components of the city are tied to a specific location. Robotic structures would roam around, depending on where the owner wanted to take it.

Incontestably, none of their projects were actually realised. Their projects required technological advancement which would be far from where we are even in our current times. Even if one of their projects were attempted to be built, it would require funding. Indeed, their projects were quite utopian and optimistic, in true 60s fashion.
 

Constant's New Babylon

Constant’s New Babylon

Utopian ideals in design seemed to be a common theme running through the era throughout the western world, another example being Constant Nieuwenhuys; a Dutch designer/artist who also proposed similarly utopian projects, which were also far from being realised. He also defended individualism, and was opposing to the traditional conventions of homogenous modernist city planning, but didn’t necessarily stand by pro-consumerism. He also made a proposition for a nomadic city, in which playfulness and creativity were inhibited.

There seems to be more of a cynical and pragmatic attitude in our current times, so these utopian ideals and optimism may seem superfluous to us 21st century folks (including me, when I first started reading about them, I was quite cynical about their outlandish projects) – but, perhaps such an optimistic and utopian attitude, and playfulness is exactly what we need, in our current world infected by political turmoil, and conservatism.

Project inspired by The Walking City
The Archigram archival project


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