Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Design and Time: A Fragment from an Unfinished Essay

Design and Time: Hussein Chalayan, Karim Rashid, Deyan Sudjic

The sensibilities of would-be world-changers often conflict with those of what vulgar Marxists would call “the broad masses”: all those folks who like objects that fit the hand, doors that are easy to open, and cooking just like Mom used to do it.

But in practice the world has multiculturalized in recent decades, and some of the broad masses have become migratory multitudes who are considerably more design-savvy than their confreres who stayed home in rural South Dakota or rural segments of Senegal. (There is hipness to be found in unexpected sections of South Dakota, and urban Senegal has been a pioneer in art and literature and all the rest, so it is lack of exposure to cultural hybridity, not physical location, that is the problem. In the era of the Internet, anyone even with dial-up or spotty satellite access has the potential for productive cultural collisions, even if most digital users make sure they do not happen.)

This fragment from 2009 is probably the most resonant unfulfilled promise I have ever produced, not least in that ambiguous “most digital users make sure the productive cultural collisions do not happen.” Does that mean that individual users pursue their own preferred topics to the exclusion of all else, ignoring happy accidents and unwanted challenges as much as possible? or do information providers tailor available information to suit the proclivities of the consumer? or do governments and corporations actually suppress disapproved aspects of the digital revolution? No “or” about it; the shaping of consciousness goes on from infancy through schooling and on to popular-culture socialization just as much as it ever did, and the subversion of it likewise. But the terms of engagement have changed as new media have altered expectations and modes of perception.

Rashid’s modestly titled book
I Want to Change the World, Chalayan’s philosophical approach to fashion design, Sudjic’s The Language of Things, all suggested a way of approaching the further reaches of design, but I never followed up on the suggestions. Since then, the astounding response to Alexander McQueen’s dark fashion retrospective suggests even more that the nexus between psychoanalytic territory and political territory in a field of endeavor usually thought of as trivial is a topic that ought to be pursued in greater depth. It would fit nicely with Sudjic's ruminations of 2009, and with Chalayan and Rashid somewhat differently, and the conclusions would be even more pertinent to present discontents.

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