subjective interpretation + meta narratives

by guy keulemans on September 22, 2009

In my last post I wrote about the Object Without A Story by Andrea Bandoni and Joana Meroz – a glass vase critiquing the use of stories as devices through which we understand objects. Their conclusion is that interpretation of objects should not be “monopolized” by on official story but that the object should be open enough to for the viewer to make their own meaning. This was a thesis project for Bandoni and Meroz at the Design Academy Eindhoven – by way of convergence by own thesis at the Design Academy came to a similar conclusion, but in different way.

Objects for Atheists, (object | thesis), is an attempt to give an answer to the question: Can atheism, as a social paradigm and philosophical viewpoint, be used to generate aesthetics in the same way that social systems from the past, such as the religious examples of Catholicism and Protestantism, have been used to define aesthetics?

After a field study of atheist groups online, the short answer is: not really. The online community of atheists, that has been realised by the development of the internet in the last decade or so, is far too eclectic and heterogeneous for discrete aesthetic moves to be made. This is in contrast to say, Protestantism, which possess a precise idealogy (for arguments sake lets say simplicity) which can easily manifest into aesthetic choices. And that is what the Protestants did – the Shaker’s removed all decoration from their elegant and simple wooden furniture, and the European Protestants inspired the major stylistic change of the 20th century, Modernism.

However, the long answer to the question above is Yes – the atheism movement can inspire aesthetic choices, by way of reflective modeling; capturing the essence of the community by conceptual expression. My decision was to represent the diverse and culturally expanding community by the provocation of subjective interpretation. If every viewer can produce their own personal meaning for an object, it can relieve them the acceptance of an external interpretation. The analogy here is to the submission of religious doctrine, seen by atheists as a an externally controlling, top-down, societal force. So just as atheists choose their own life beliefs, so to can they choose the meanings for objects in their lives – the ability to think freely and subjectively being a highly valued quality. In this sense, an atheist aesthetic is far from being Modern, and while closer to post-Modern, in that complexity, detail and historical sources are important tools, the aesthetic should not just be a re-configuration of historical aspects, but a striving for a physically realised and pluralistic ambiguity that truly captures the subjective imagination.

So the conclusions of the project “Object for Atheists” gel with the conclusions of “The Object Without a Story”, but the paths for reaching that conclusion was very different. What does this indicate?

The next object I produced after the bookshelf/chest of drawer for Objects for Atheists, was the SMASH REPAIR series. Originally conceived by Martijn Dijkhuizen and myself as a process for exploring structural limitations, it very quickly became much more. This began when Arne Hendricks from Platform 21 called me to ask if I could re-produce it for the gallery’s Repair theme. Repair is central to the process of SMASH REPAIR, and it is part of the name, but there is an illogic to it also. Why repair something that isn’t naturally broken? The answer, apart from the argument for discovering structural information, is that it frees repair from the stigma of its relationship to old things. Repair as a concept is a wonderful process for form generation – and once we see it applied to the formation of new objects we can envision the transformation of old objects by repair with greater vitality and conviction.

But SMASH REPAIR, does not end quite there. It is purposely and energetically an ambiguous object – and its possible interpretations fragment and break away from it rapidly, as I realised near its completion. I generated 7 story possibilities for the writer Freek Lomme during an email conversation, and I’m sure more are possible. The difference between Bandoni and Meroz’ work is that their stories were generated systematically as an expos of the design-copy writing system – the metaphors of visibility, reflection and transparency in their work is therefore paramount. The collection of stories generated by SMASH REPAIR are altogether different, cobbled together and haphazrdly screwed onto a frame that is continuously morphing. So like the processes of smashing and repair involved in its physical construction, the conceptual form uses a continuing process of de-construction and re-construction…. for a new story to make sense, it must be applied over the broken remnants of the previous.

The 7 stories of SMASH REPAIR can be downloaded as a PDF.

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