LIVING SYSTEMS, VITRA DESIGN MUSEUM, WEIL AM RHEIN, 2007
In 1854 the American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau made an experiment of the state of individual economy and existential living by going to live by a lake in the Walden Forest and build a house by his own hands. In the book ´Walden´ he subsequently wrote he described a minimal way of living and theories of personal economy. He describes that he doesn´t need curtains because he builds his hut under the shade of a tree and therefore is shaded from the sun and can also see the birds sing. His was a personal political, economic and living system.
The discussion of industrial design begins 100 years ago by the architect Adolf Loos, who in ´ornament and crime´ attacked the indiscriminate use of ornament in all things as being socially incorrect. His friend Karl Kraus `insisted the point was not to claim essence of architecture (design) or art, but carve out space for the practice to develop and capture a sense of political situatedness`. That meant that the designer should not impose his ego on the project but allow the user to do so, and that ornament should not be perceived as a high aesthetic because it was an added cost.
Then the Bauhaus strode forward with the connection between society, industry, production process, object, form and function. Bent tubed metal was beautiful and functional and was a step to producing good cheap products for the masses.
Since then we have experienced the communication revolution, tv, magazines, internet, cinema, advertising. We saw in movements such as Memphis in the 1980s that surface and material could not always be logically the same as far as production values where concerned, and the electronic era made redundant the traditional understanding of form and function.
We must understand that from this point that communication is implicit in form and integral in the the object.
After the fall of communism and the increase of capital globalism we arrive to a state of unbridled consumerism. The necessity is no longer good cheap products for the masses, this is already attainable, cheap products flood the market, sometimes created by the imbalance of rich and poor countries and cheap manufacturing from the far east. It is as if objects have lost there necessity and design its meaning when all we can do is be a tool of marketing to try and sell more things we don´t need to a material addicted society.
The other great question we have today in a world which for the first time in history seems finite. 50 years ago nobody knew about the natural and social limits of our planet, today it stares us in our face. How do we address an issue of sustainability while still understanding that we have to keep a political and social economy running?
If these are the cases what is the position of design? A subjugated tool of marketing? A slave of an industry that we can no longer agree with?
The project Living Systems intends to make an experiment of an alternative way. The idea is to create a modern ´Walden`, an economy based on the idea of the individual (or small group) as industry. But from the point of view of designers in the modern world.
Can we find a way to make a sustainable self running system, a place where design and the objects it produces can have meaning and value? A way of living that is dignified to the individual and caring to the world? Do you care too? The discussion begins from here.
'How can I sit down to design when I have not stood up to live?' This question—a modified quotation from Henry David Thoreau's book Walden or Life in the Woods—served Jerszy Seymour as a leitmotif for the project 'Living Systems'. In the mid-nineteenth century, the American author Thoreau built a cottage in the woods, where he lived a secluded and largely self-sufficient existence and wrote a book about the experience. Inspired by this example, the Canadian designer Jerszy Seymour rented an empty room in Berlin, where he was born and now lives, to begin his research on self sufficient and autonomous living in the modern world. In an experiment that lasted over a period of several weeks, Seymour outfitted and furnished the room with basic, self-fabricated objects.
A biodegradable plastic fully made from potatoes—a renewable resource—served as the primary material for Seymour's experiment. The objects were moulded in open casts made out of sand and clay. In conjunction with the exhibition MyHome, the laboratory and its results are being transferred from Berlin to Weil am Rhein.
With this experiment, Seymour forgoes the intricate and costly moulding processes required for today's commercial plastic products and revives methods of pre-industrial craftsmanship. In light of the increasing complexity and obscurity of industrial manufacturing techniques, this do-it-yourself experiment with low-tech tools also raises and contemplates the issue of design autonomy.
Jerszy Seymour studied at the Royal College of Arts in London. He has created experimental objects and architectural structures working with the raw nature of materials, and has also carefully designed mass produced objects such as a monolithic plastic chair.
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