Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’

Interpretation of Enzo Mari’s Sedia Chair by Russell Baker, Bombast Furniture

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

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Russell Baker, Allahppliqué, 2013
Pine, paint, tape, cushion, hockey sticks, pom-poms, leather, fabric. 1 of 1.

I ended up buying this chair at the auction I wrote about previously. I had no intention of buying anything nor any budget to buy but that is why they serve you champagne at auctions. Though I guess if I’d thought about it the chances of  leaving without this chair were always going to be small. The proceeds go toward building a new Presentation House Gallery in Vancouver.

I know Russell as a fellow designer. Like me, he comes from a visual arts background. He himself makes chairs (and other furniture) and is also a writer and art critic. His company, Bombast Furniture, is named for the cotton stuffing inside upholstery. The street meaning of “bombast” does not apply to his furniture, though, which is not loud and which is carefully designed and constructured to last at least 100 years.

There is humour in Allahppliqué but of course that doesn’t make it frivolous. I could talk about this piece at length but instead I will let Russell do it. Below is the text he wrote to accompany the chair. It stands as a statement about design in general, and I love it for its re-statement of the original critical or revolutionary impetus in Italian design.

 

Allahppliqué: Toward a Radical Bricologic
Russell Baker

It was while I was sitting in front of the Hermes boutique in Terminal 4, Heathrow, when transiting from Tangier (aka the Interzone) to Vancouver, that I first intuited that Enzo Mari, the man who famously called Rem Koolhaas a “pornographic window dresser” to his face—it was while sitting in front of the Hermes boutique that I realized Enzo might never have heard of Dina, the greatest living belly dancer in the Arab world. How this (merely probable) fact might relate to my project, I was at that time unsure. (How does one account for solitudes of this nature?) When I subsequently passed the Hermes boutique at YVR upon my return home, I had a better idea of how, precisely, the Enzo Mari/Dina axis (as I now refer to it privately) related to my project.

To back up a few steps—and for the purposes of clarity—I should add that before my departure for the Interzone I had been invited to participate in a fundraiser auction for Presentation House Gallery. The Gallery had offered me an Enzo Mari “Sedia” chair and invited me to do whatever I wanted to the chair. Upon completion, my manipulated version of “Sedia” would be offered at auction to supporters of the gallery in a relatively standard dinner-format fundraiser.

The “Sedia” is of course the most famous manifestation of Mari’s legendary DIY project (“Autoprogettazione”) from 1974. “Sedia” is a form rich in associations, and has been variously interpreted; it has been read as a gesture of disgust, as an offer of freedom, as a shot over the bow of the good ship consumerism from “the critical conscience of Italian design.” It is also, now, repackaged and delivered in a ready to assemble (RTA) format, something different than it once was.

My challenge, as I understood it, was to reinvigorate or reactivate the revolutionary potential lurking beneath various layers of historical accretion that had attached to the “Sedia” since its original appearance. As Mari has himself observed, the chair found its way very quickly into the arena of pure kitsch — was assimilated almost immediately into the marketplace as an (admittedly exemplary) manifestation of the decorative category “rusticity”. How then to reactivate a revolutionary object that had, by its creators own admission, enjoyed such a fleeting moment of relative power uncontaminated by market forces? To put it more simply, how was I to save “Sedia” from becoming just another signifier of belonging for an ever-growing group of puritanical internationalist consumers whose apparent appreciation of “simplicity” so perfectly paralleled an earlier generation’s drive toward “rusticity” (cf. Terence Conran, terra cotta, balsamic vinegar, Jennifer Saunders, Absolutely Fabulous). No small challenge indeed!

To understand the “Dina Thing” (by which I mean my unconscious concatenation of Hermes, Enzo Mari, and Dina) you would have to have had the experience of being shadowed by CIA operatives in Cairo, just before the so-called Arab Spring; to be innocently enjoying a belly dance extravaganza, at four in the morning, in a night club that seemed the perfect meeting place for secret agents, crooks, fellow travelling fruits and gamblers — a veritable Eldorado for the fun-loving but decidedly dishevelled Gulf State “Haute Volée.” (Boy can they drink!)

Such was the experiential ground of the symbolic fusion that linked Hermes, Enzo Mari and Dina in my mind. For it was upon identifying the CIA operative in that bar, and realizing that his reason for being there was me, that I came to a rather concrete understanding of the new geopolitical realities. (It didn’t make me feel safer.) That I had somehow been mistaken for a “person of interest” in the most serious of international conflicts in our time for simply expressing a passing interest in the Islamic world (how else can I characterize my interest in Dina?) was food for thought. Could the dominant world order (symbolized here synecdochically by the “global” brand Hermes), be so fragile that my peripatetic, merely touristic wanderings through the Islamic borderlands actually attracted official attention? If this were so, might there be in this fact a clue as to how to reactivate “Sedia”?

What I was looking for was a recipe for (market) unassimilability that yet might somehow simultaneously invite a higher union. Was such a thing even possible?

Chair, Russell Baker

—Tangier, Morocco. October, 2013

The Lightbulb Conspiracy, aka Pyramids of Waste, a documentary on planned obsolescence

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

lightbulb conspiracy - planned obsolescence of consumer products

The practice of planned obsolescence of consumer products includes Apple computers, as you’ll see if you watch the whole film. As a designer who attempts to make things that last, both in their material content and workmanship, the planned failure of other design objects is a slap in the face.

I’m conducting an experiment in which I buy nothing that is designed to fail. I recognize this may be possible only for the very rich. Is the Tesla electric car designed to fail?

From Top Documentary Films:

Planned Obsolescence is the deliberate shortening of product life spans to guarantee consumer demand.
As a magazine for advertisers succinctly puts it: The article that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business – and a tragedy for the modern growth society which relies on an ever-accelerating cycle of production, consumption and throwing away.

The Light Bulb Conspiracy combines investigative research and rare archive footage to trace the untold story of Planned Obsolescence, from its beginnings in the 1920s with a secret cartel, set up expressly to limit the life span of light bulbs, to present-day stories involving cutting edge electronics (such as the iPod) and the growing spirit of resistance amongst ordinary consumers.

This film travels to France, Germany, Spain and the US to find witnesses of a business practice which has become the basis of the modern economy, and brings back disquieting pictures from Africa where discarded electronics are piling up in huge cemeteries for electronic waste.

Buy Nothing Day

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Buy Nothing Day was launched by Vancouver’s Adbusters Magazine.

“The journey towards a sane sustainable future begins with a single step. It could all start with a personal challenge, such as this: make a vow to yourself to participate in Buy Nothing Day this year. This November 23rd, go cold turkey on consumption for 24 hours … see what happens … you just might have an unexpected, emancipatory epiphany! … Join millions of us in over 60 countries on November 23/24 and see what it feels like. Then, after Buy Nothing Day, take the next step … for generations, Christmas has been hijacked by commercial forces … this year, let’s take it back.”

My extended family did a Christmas like this a few times. My nephews were 6 and 7 years old the first time. You had to make all presents with things you found, and nothing could be bought. No bought wrapping paper either–everything had to be recycled. These are the best Christmases we ever had. Inventive, hilarious and fun.

I’m not sure that personal choice alone is going to effectively challenge consumer capitalism, but it’s worth a try. North America’s profligate spending and wastefulness is truly repellent.

Also, from a design standpoint, departing from consumerism produces the happy result of automatically creating better design. Every time. At the risk of stating the obvious, our anti-consumerist design/gift guidelines could be:

• Less is more. This is almost always true.
• Buy less and when you do buy, buy items of significantly high quality, items you’ll never tire of and that will improve with age. The expenditure is worth it, and in the end you’ll find this has actually cost you the same or less than the sum of many cheap expenditures.
• Nothing substitutes for the handmade
• Artisanal, high-quality, local production from carefully chosen materials can be far better-looking than factory-produced brand name goods or furniture (but some artisans have to stop adding busy, funky, weird detailing to everything. (3 different woods/materials in one table; curlicues.) Awkward aesthetics are wasteful too–we tire of them, so they work against longevity).
• If you must buy new, try to buy mostly things made/grown in your own town/region/country.
• Use found objects. Items with some history bring some humanity with them. So many spaces are utterly dead because they lack the marks of  their natural origins, or of the human hand, history and use. Bring a fallen tree branch into the house. Google “biophilia” to found out how seeing natural objects is beneficial to health and serenity.
• Don’t buy anything made of chipboard! Better to find solid wood items at thrift shops. At IKEA, some items are far better quality than others. Avoid anything made of cheap laminates.
• Older couches and chairs often have solid hardwood under-structures. Collect these! Instead of buying a new couch, get an old one re-sprung and re-upholstered. This also supports local labour, and you end up with a far better product with longevity; perhaps even an heirloom. Or just throw a nice blanket over the thing.
• Collage a card for a friend/relative rather than buying a present. In the long run these mean far more to people than objects do. I know I don’t want anything bought new. It’s never right.
• Old second-hand books are a fantastic present. We should support local bookstores in general.
• Enjoy your improved surroundings. They will make you happy.

In praise of hemp – as textile, as paper, as food source

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Seeing the above graphic on Facebook recently (source wasn’t credited) reignited my longstanding frustration over our global failure to switch (back) to hemp as a major source for textiles, paper and food. (This article is about the hemp plant, not the marijuana plant. See more comments on this at bottom.)

I use hemp fabric in my textile work, but I find it far too difficult to source. Hemp is in some ways similar to linen, though I find that it’s less wrinkly, it’s very strong, it improves with washing, and it has a more modern look. I use it as the backing for geometric quilts that I produce as well as for other purposes. But if I want to order it, I usually have to buy fabric that’s imported from China. And the selection of colours and suppliers is small.

I find hemp’s rarity extremely disturbing considering that hemp production could solve many of the environmental problems we now face. Hemp is an extremely productive plant with a small carbon and environmental footprint. Its seeds are remarkably nutritious, it produces some of the best and strongest fibre around for both textiles and paper, it is extremely insect and disease resistant (unlike cotton), and requires far less irrigation and energy to grow. And yet it has been the victim of idiotic legislation and (apparently) lobbies from competing industries.

As someone commented on Facebook about the above graphic, “With record drought and water bans throughout North America this summer, growing hemp requires a tiny fraction of the water that cotton does. So it’s a great crop in coping with the consequences of climate change.” Not to mention helping with the causes of that climate change.

On a related note, people in the developed world need to stop buying throwaway clothes made from poor fabrics with no longevity. On average, we each buy and discard 60 kg each of textiles each year, and almost all of them are made in an extremely toxic and energy-unsustainable manner. 60 kilograms! I have never understood why the textile industry gets such a free ride on this in the arena of public opinion. Elizabeth Cline’s book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion deals with this topic. If you’re interested there is an very good Metafilter thread on this topic, full of resources.

There is a working farm near Grand Forks, BC where they have been slowly hybridizing hemp for their own local climate, and promoting hemp fabric and clothing. I have written about Joybilee Farm before. The owners also host North America’s only English-speaking hemp festival (which means there must be one in Quebec too). The two photos of hemp here are courtesy of Joybilee Farm. The photo below shows the old hand method of “rippling” hemp plants.

NOTE: for those who don’t know, the hemp used to produce textiles, paper and nutritional seeds does not contain THC or at least any amount that’s chemically significant or can produce mind-altering effects. However, it has long been suspected that the relationship between the hemp plant and the marijuana plant acted as a deterrent to the domestic hemp industry. It is worth reading this discussion by David P. West, a US plant expert and author of Fiber Wars: the Extinction of Kentucky Hemp. The discussion was commissioned by the North American Industrial Hemp Council.

Hemp growing is now technically legal in Canada, but they don’t make it easy. The Government of Canada has put out a FAQ on hemp production. If you look closely, it’s not nearly legal enough:
“Hemp production was prohibited in Canada in 1938 under the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act as part of a combined international battle against the abuse of THC and other controlled substances. Although the prohibition was relaxed briefly during World War II when traditional sources of fibres were unavailable, the prohibition was renewed after the war. Since 1961, Health Canada has allowed limited production in Canada for scientific research purposes.”

If the close relationship between hemp and marijuna is preventing serious agriculture of the former, it’s yet another reason to legalize marijuana. This post isn’t a thinly disguised personal mission to legalize pot for personal reasons (I’m allergic to it and would always rather have a cocktail). But I believe strongly in its legalization—and so do the former mayors and police chiefs of Vancouver. The fact that marijuana is B.C.’s 2nd largest industry but cannot be taxed is producing problems of epic proportions for our province. You can’t have an illegal industry of that size without experiencing high levels of organized crime, related political corruption, the distorted policy of building money-laundering casinos everywhere as a form of covert taxation, fantastically expensive police and court costs, and an empty treasury.

I have a question for people who know about this: were marijuana production to be legalized in Canada, could some of its byproducts also be used in the textile and paper industries, or are they ill-suited to that use? The marijuana crop in BC is huge yet only a portion of the plant is used in drug production. What about the rest? Anyone?

 
Hemp shirt, hemp pants by design label Kuyichi

Hemp fabric by Ecoki. This is a traditional rough milled look; hemp can also be very fine.

Vivienne Westwood: The whole 20th C was a mistake

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Via The Guardian:  “A status symbol is a book… that’s status.” “Punk was just an excuse for people to run around…it was just a fashion that became a marketing opportunity.” “The whole 20th C was a mistake… throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” “Study art and you become a freedom fighter.”

More from Westwood here.

Brown paper packages tied up with string

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

These are a few of my favourite things. Above, a white painted branch with Kraft-paper wrapped gifts is a minimalist advent calendar, by the inventive DIY Brigg from Norway via The Style Files. Below: Simple garland fencing at Axel Vervoordt’s recent Winter Exhibition; photo via Belgian Pearls. Both are from an article at Remodelista on Scandinavian Christmas traditions.

By the way, Ouno is now on Remodelista’s Design Newsstand; have a look under the “Critics and Observers” section (which should probably have been titled something like “Opinionated and Acerbic”). But I’m not the slightest bit bah humbug about this time of year, unless we’re talking about what’s going on at the mall. My holiday wish is for us to stop buying plastic knickknackery and disposable junk from the mega-factories. It just encourages them! It would be so nice if we could buy a lot less, but of much better quality, and make the rest ourselves. The evergreen garland fence below is just brilliant.