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A R E VO LU T I O N A RY C E R A M I C M AT E R I A L â€ƒ SA PH I R K E R A M I K , A H I G H -T EC H M AT E R I A L D R I V I N G I N N OVAT I V E D ES I G N . W I T H I T S PR EC I S E , T H I N -WA L L E D FO R M S A N D T I G H T- E D G E R A D I I , L AU F E N B R I N G S A N E W L A N G UAG E TO BAT H RO O M S. CO L L ECT I O N VA L , D ES I G N BY KO N STA N T I N G RC I C.
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What is New is Young Words Oli Stratford
This summer I was sat slumped in the lobby of the Britannia Leisure Centre in Hoxton, feeling rather dejected. The machine that normally sells me the isotonic orange sports drink I like was out of order. I’d recently read an article on The Guardian’s website about the need to stop buying plastic bottles in order to prevent imminent ecological collapse on a global scale, but that memory provided scant succour while I jonesed for electrolytes. Meanwhile, the centre’s kendo class began to file out into the lobby, milling around and making polite small talk. Soon, the voice of a little girl began to rise above the general hubbub. I’ll level with you: this little girl was a legit boss. Within five minutes, she’d gotten into an argument with a 20-something kendōka about the application of “younger” as a temporal designator to compare objects. After a little light sparring, the girl deployed her master argument – I got this toy after that toy, so it’s younger. Hah! – and sat down in smug triumph. The kendōka gave up, presumably either charmed or routed. You can’t out-boss a boss. So who was right? Admittedly, if you wanted to compare the production dates of two objects, you’d Introduction
normally speak about which was newer, and this was the basis of the kendōka’s somewhat bashful counterargument. Only living things can be younger than one another; the difference between “newer” and “younger” maps to the difference between that which is born or grown, and that which is produced or manufactured. To date, I haven’t come up with a good counter-example to this. I briefly considered the possibility of cheese and wine, but ultimately reasoned they were excluded on the grounds of being bastard growth-production hybrids anyway. In spite of this, I am resolutely on the little girl’s side. In fact, I consider her a savant. In a world plagued by fetishisation of the new, what impact might a linguistic shift towards speaking about youth in place of newness have on our relationship towards objects? Consider my (sadly unpurchased) isotonic sports drink. In 2016, 480bn plastic drinking bottles were produced, many of which ended up in landfill or the ocean. Might placing objects on a linguistic par with living beings encourage greater stewardship? Would we be as likely to discard a young object approaching middle age as a new one? In all likelihood, yes. But then, sometimes these things take a little while to take hold. Ask me again when the idea isn’t quite so young. 16
111 NAVY with COCA-COLA Made in America from 111 recycled plastic bottles. emeco.net
Contents 15 Introduction What is New is Young 18
22 Masthead The people behind Disegno 25 Timeline June to August 2017 in review 28 Photoessay They Left the Trees Dispatches from the Arctic town that mining forced to move 44
Observation Covering and Covfefe Five forms of designed veiling
Interview Consider the Garment Paola Antonelli prepares for MoMA’s return to fashion
72 Comment Death Knells Big Ben and the public purse 75
Comment Made in Nowhere A deceptive rootlessness at the base of manufacturing
Comment Iconic Leadership Disegno issues a come-and-get- me-call to the world’s museums
Report The Battle for Palmyra The challenges of cultural preservation in war zones
95 Special Project Furnishing Silences Yuri Suzuki revisits and recuts Erik Satie’s Furniture Music
106 Comment I’ll Have One of Those Narcissistic short-circuits in the age of dating apps
177 History The Driver The future of autonomy at the advent of the autonomous car
109 Comment The Ongoing Adventures of K5 – Robot Extraordinaire An ode to crap AI
110 Comment Green at Sea The ethics of aestheticising the refugee crisis
203 Index Short stories from the creation of this issue
113 Conversation Club Catharsis Loverboy’s Charles Jeffrey on fashion as cultural event 129
Travelogue Contested Spaces Istanbul through the lens of Taksim Square
Gallery The Ceramic Mundane The pottery of Matthias Merkel Hess, set loose in Chinatown
Guide to the Architecture of London (162) The psychogeographer’s handbook goes digital
States of Undress (166) Hailey Gates lays waste to the traditional fashion documentary
The Museum of Failure (170) Lessons learned from revelling in the world’s many mistakes
Mosaics of the Former USSR (174) A trio of books reviving a now forgotten history of public art
Anatomy Banners Unfurled Glenn Adamson’s history of democratic protest
208 Endnote Where It’s At Paul Lukas, designer, must find a new commercial medium to go large
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Contributors Glenn Adamson is currently curating Beazley Designs of the Year at the Design Museum, London. p. 194 Darran Anderson writes about the intersections of architecture with culture, politics and technology. p. 162 Andrew Bush has spent the past seven years setting up a free living, work, and exhibition space for artists and designers. p. 177 Felix Chabluk Smith is usually very good at meeting deadlines. He promises to do better next time. p. 166 Susanna Cordner is a senior research fellow of the archives at the London College of Fashion. p. 113 Can Dağarslanı has a keen eye for the organised quirkiness of the built environment. p. 129 Philippe Dupuy designs books, shows, performances and installations, and hopes after each creation to no longer be quite the same. p. 95 Gudrun Georges has recently shot portraits of Lakota Sioux Indians who live on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. p. 55
Francesca Granata writes on fashion as part of visual and material culture, and edits the non-profit journal Fashion Projects. p. 55 Owen Hatherley writes regularly on aesthetics and politics for a number of architecture, design and newsrelated journals. p. 174 Jennifer Hattam is based in Istanbul and writes on cultural, environmental and urban issues. p. 129 George Isleden is the nom de plume of an editor-in-chief with everything to lose. p. 72 Carey Juliette prefers to shoot on film in easier lighting conditions. p. 113 Paul Lukas is currently looking for gallery representation. p. 208 Luca Pizzaroni is a photographer based in Chinatown, New York. p. 145 Christoffer Rudquist is a Swedish photographer based in London. p. 44 Lemma Shehadi was part of the curatorial and commissioning team for the Iraq Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale 2017. p. 79
Kay Sunden is an aspiring novelist with no publications to their name, as of yet. p. 110 Yuri Suzuki has worked on Erik Satie as part of his fellowship at the Stanley Picker Gallery in Kingston. p. 95 Klaus Thymann recently completed Flows, a film exploring the aquifer on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. p. 28
Chlorophilia 2 Ross Lovegrove
Pierpaolo Ferrari, 2016
The Quarterly Journal of Design #16 Editor-in-chief Oli Stratford firstname.lastname@example.org Deputy editor Kristina Rapacki email@example.com Subeditor Steven East Project manager Elizabeth Jones firstname.lastname@example.org Editorial interns Charlotte Cubitt Ellis Tree Kate Woosey
Founder and publication director Johanna Agerman Ross Creative directors Florian Böhm Annahita Kamali akfb.com
Commercial manager Emily Knowles email@example.com
Designer Jonas Hirschmann firstname.lastname@example.org
Junior sales executive Farnaz Ari email@example.com
Colour management Terry Smith Complete Creative Services completeltd.com
Circulation and stockist enquiries Adam Long firstname.lastname@example.org Distribution Logical Connections Distribution logicalconnections.co.uk
Cover The cover shows Andrew Bush’s photograph of teenagers bopping through light traffic at 51mph on the Ventura Freeway near Valley Circle Boulevard, Los Angeles, at 3.18pm on 16 March 1997.
Paper and print This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Extra White 110gsm and Symbol Freelife Gloss 115gsm. The cover is printed on Oikos 300gsm. All of the paper used in this issue is from Fedrigoni UK.
Words by Glenn Adamson, Johanna Agerman Ross, Darran Anderson, Felix Chabluk Smith, Susanna Cordner, Francesca Granata, Owen Hatherley, Jennifer Hattam, George Isleden, Paul Lukas, Kristina Rapacki, Lemma Shehadi, Oli Stratford, Kay Sunden and Klaus Thymann.
Thanks Thank you to Yuri Suzuki and company for a beautiful collaboration; Francis Upritchard and Martino Gamper for their generosity and sage advice; Priya Khanchandani for her support; Sophie Jewes for her professionalism and efficiency; Liselot Francken at Studio Wieki Somers for her patience; Darran Anderson for changing his travel plans; and Chris Tang for continually distracting us with his infectious positivity.
Images by Andrew Bush, Can Dağarslanı, Philippe Dupuy, Gudrun Georges, ICONEM, Carey Juliette, Paul Lukas, Luca Pizzaroni, Leonhard Rothmoser, Christoffer Rudquist, Yuri Suzuki and Klaus Thymann.
Publisher and commercial director Chris Jones email@example.com
We are very grateful to all our contributors, and for the help of everybody who has supported us and helped make Disegno #16 possible. Not least Clive the spider, who is a lovely addition to the office providing he stays safely on his board.
Content copyright The content of this magazine belongs to Tack Press Limited and to the authors and artists. If you are tempted to reproduce any of it, please ask first. Contact us Disegno, Tack Press Limited 7 Ability Plaza, Arbutus Street London E8 4DT +44 20 7249 1155 disegnodaily.com Tack Press Limited Disegno is part of Tack Press, along with men’s fashion magazine Jocks & Nerds and creative agency Tack Studio. tack-press.com tack-studio.com
Microsculpture: The Insect Portraits of Levon Biss
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84 84 Series by Omer Arbel Standard fixtures and bespoke installations
arts and culture workers said they
Colette to close in December 2017
were unable to afford art supplies
Cringworthily labelled the “trendiest
and tools.” New York Works may be
shop in the world” by Forbes, Colette
On 14 June, at least 80 people were
supported by big numbers, but the
in Paris recently announced its
killed and 158 families left homeless
scale of the problem it’s setting
impending closure. The concept store
when a fire tore through Grenfell
out to tackle seems even bigger.
is known for its carefully curated range of fashion and other designer
Tower, a housing estate in London’s
goods, while brand collaborations
North Kensington. The British government was not quick to act.
Google hit with record EU fine
further built its legacy. Indeed,
Seven days later, it announced that
“Google has abused market dominance
the shop gained something like the
it planned to acquire 68 flats for
by giving its own comparison shopping
status of a cultural institution
the victims in a new luxury complex
service an illegal advantage.” It
following endorsements by Karl
two miles away from the tower. It was
seems a long time ago that Google
Lagerfeld and patronage by Kanye West
calculated to seem generous, but the
was celebrated for its “Don’t be Evil”
amongst others. Colette’s closure
process of rehousing the survivors of
motto, and in June the European Union
therefore comes as a surprise,
Grenfell is a delicate one. For many,
fined the corporation €2.42bn after
although its creative director Sarah
the new location simply doesn’t work,
a seven-year investigation into claims
Andelman acknowledged that revenues
its distance from the tower causing
the technology giant had abused its
had fallen following a reduction
difficulties in terms of school and
search monopoly by prioritising its
in tourist numbers after the 2015
work proximity. Most have declined the
own comparison shopping service over
terrorist attacks in Paris. Colette
offer, preferring to stay in temporary
competitors’. With the growing power
is likely to maintain an online
hotel accommodation until they feel
of US tech giants, and the size of
presence, but its sense of celebrity
comfortable enough to move – a luxury
the sums involved, the EU’s handling
and pageantry will no doubt fade with
complex cannot possibly help with the
of the case begins to take on the
time. Where will Yeezy shop now?
trauma caused by the fire. After the
character of international economic
stress and anguish that these families
sanctions – who can reign in the
have suffered, the least they deserve
is housing tailored to their needs. It is the British government, whose neglect is what ultimately caused
the disaster, who must provide this.
Our robot overlords? Does the world need to recalibrate its relationship with AI? While Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk engaged in a childish tit-for-tat over whether AI is “capable of destroying mankind”,
Thirteen people killed in explosion
news emerged that Facebook had opted
at Bangladeshi garment factory
to terminate an experiment when its
On 3 July, a major garment factory
chatbot subjects developed a new
in Bangladesh was destroyed when its
nonsensical language. The reaction
boiler exploded, killing at least 13
was predictably fear-mongering (see
people. If this story feels somewhat
the Daily Express’s 'Facebook forced
familiar, it’s because it is. In 2013,
to abandon AI experiment after robots
1,100 people died when Bangladesh’s
NYC pledges to create 10,000 jobs
begin speaking their OWN language'),
Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed,
in the creative industries
but the story itself is rather mundane
drawing attention to the country’s
On the surface, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s
– the experiment was only abandoned
lack of safety regulations. A week
New York Works programme is a good
because it had ceased providing useful
before the recent boiler explosion,
thing. Promising to create 100,000 new
results. It’s a shame that whenever
the labour union organisations
jobs in the next 10 years, the scheme
AI is discussed, the conversation
IndustriALL Global Union and UNI
has already been backed by $1.1bn of
descends into paranoia and discussion
Global Union had announced a new
city funding and specifically hopes
of the singularity. To quote Andrew
agreement signed by 20 international
to create 10,000 jobs within the
Ng, a founder of the Google Brain
textile companies to ensure better
city’s cultural sector. But is it too
deep-learning project: “There seems to
safety. With so many brands reliant on
little too late? Affordable housing
be a negative correlation between how
these factories, it is shocking that
in the city for artists is famously
much someone knows AI and how afraid
easily avoidable tragedies continue to
scant, while a 2017 Department of
they are of it.”
happen. New measures must be taken.
Cultural Affairs report found that “A full 40 per cent of responding
Joseph Grima appointed creative director
cardiomyopathy, a disease which causes
institutional expansion in China,
of Design Academy Eindhoven
sudden heart failure. This news was
Dundee and east London. His death
Curator and researcher Joseph Grima’s
followed by announcements of the use
at age 62 is desperately sad.
appointment as the creative director
of Crispr to inactivate viruses in
of Design Academy Eindhoven was
pigs’ DNA – potentially clearing
rumoured for about a month, then
the way for human-compatible organ
finally confirmed in mid-July.
transplants – and the development of
Grima has garnered much-deserved
a form of Crispr that could edit RNA
plaudits for the progressiveness
to treat diseases like hereditary ALS.
of his approach – he co-founded the
The technology’s progress is profound
Genoa-based design and architecture
– humans are becoming the subjects
research studio Space Caviar in 2013,
of radical genetic design.
and has curated biennales in Kortrijk, Istanbul and Chicago – and his move to Eindhoven is a fine appointment,
Scarcity of diversity
albeit in a slightly confusing
Ever the herald of terrible news, in
position. The creative directorship
August the UK’s Department of Digital,
is a part-time role and one might
Culture, Media and Sport published a
wonder how much clout its incumbent
study finding that as of 2016, only
actually wields. Nonetheless, the
37 per cent of jobs within the UK’s
symbolic synchronicity of Grima and
creative industries were filled by
Eindhoven seems a happy fit. Eindhoven
women. It’s a damning statistic and
is a school which prides itself in
one which shows that the UK’s creative
“actually question[ing] what design
industries still have major problems
is,” to borrow Grima’s phrase, and in
surrounding gender diversity. If this
this respect its new creative director
makes for depressing reading, at
ought to set the tone.
roughly the same time Google strutted
Fascist trolls descend on Charlottesville IRL
into view, ready and willing to show
Nominally, the white supremacist rally
that it is not only the UK which has
in Charlottesville, Virginia, which
issues with diversity. James Damore,
unfolded over the weekend of 11-13
an engineer at the company, published
August, was organised to protest the
an internal memo arguing against
planned removal of a public statue
diversity programmes, stating that
commemorating the confederate general
the gender gap could be explained by
Robert E. Lee. But the motivations
biology, and summarising that “We need
behind the K.K.K.-inspired “Unite the
to stop assuming that gender gaps
Right” demonstrations, which quickly
imply sexism”. Damore was swiftly
spiralled into violent clashes with
fired and – in true tech bro fashion
anti-fascist protesters and left one
– reacted with incredulity, stating
woman dead and over 30 people injured,
that he “was just trying to help”.
ran much deeper than Lee’s effigy. “We’re showing this parasitic class of anti-white vermin that this is
Martin Roth (1955-2017)
our country […] we’re not atomised
News of the death of Martin Roth,
individuals, we’re part of a larger
former director of the V&A, initially
whole,” a writer from the neo-Nazi
broke through German news channels,
website Daily Stormer told a Vice
with the language barrier adding to
reporter. As we mourn the injured
the sense of shock. Roth had kept a
and Heather Heyer, the paralegal
Two issues ago, Disegno published
relatively low profile since leaving
who was killed when white suprematist
‘Postnatural Design’, a study of the
the V&A in September 2016 after only
James Alex Fields Jr ploughed his car
gene-editing software Crispr-Cas9
five years in post, so the news came
into a group of counter-protesters,
and its ramifications for conceiving
as a bolt out of the blue. Roth’s
let us nonetheless take comfort in
of animal life as a design material.
tenure at the museum had not been
the numbers: at its height, “Unite
Scarcely five months on, and Crispr
without issues, but he undoubtedly
the Right” saw a turnout of around 500
technology has advanced dramatically.
oversaw a highly successful period
white nationalists; when progressive
In early August, scientists at the
in the V&A's history. Roth’s tenure
ranks marched on Washington in January
Oregon Health and Science University
mixed critical darlings such as Rapid
this year, they numbered 500,000.
announced they were able to edit the
Response Collecting with lucrative
genomes of human embryos to prevent
blockbuster exhibitions like David
a mutation that triggers hypertrophic
Bowie Is, as well as presiding over
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They Left the Trees Words and photographs Klaus Thymann
Kiruna is a mining town located just inside of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. It serves the largest underground iron ore mine in the world, with a depth of some 1,365m and a vast network of subterranean roads and tunnels. The mining company LKAB, which was founded in 1890 and fully nationalised in the 1950s, has run the mine on an industrial scale for over a century. If anyone had had the foresight that in a hundred years’ time the mine would still be going, they wouldn’t have built the town so close to it. In 2004, LKAB presented forecasts of how the subsidence caused by the mining would eventually threaten the centre of Kiruna and so in 2010 Kiruna’s municipal council announced plans for a huge and decades-long moving project, which is being overseen by the Swedish practice White Arkitekter. Certain historic houses in Kiruna were to be lifted intact and moved, with others bound for demolition. LKAB would pay residents 125 per cent of market rate for properties marked for demolition, or offer similar housing at a nearby location. The end aim is to move the entire town of Kiruna 3km to the east. The announcement got a fair amount of coverage in the international press. When I found out about it, I thought it was the craziest thing I’d ever heard. In my practice, I tend to work on longterm projects that often use the passage of time to show change, so I thought it would be interesting to create an ongoing documentation, with pictures of Kiruna
pre-move, during the move, and postmove. I have visited four times so far: in April and August 2013, in May 2015 and in June this year. From the start, I took GPS coordinates of all the camera locations, so I’ve been able to go back and replicate exact positions. In many instances, the buildings have been moved, but the trees have been left in place. A selection of the resulting images can be found in the following pages of Disegno. What you immediately realise when you visit Kiruna is the codependency of the town and the mine – they are entirely symbiotic. In fact, the entire economic development of the region depends on the mine. It’s difficult to comprehend just how big the operation is, but if you imagine the 12m-long shipping containers you see trailing behind big trucks on the motorway – there are around 70 of those leaving the mine every day with a full load of refined iron ore pellets. The mine’s economic importance is such that closing it is absolutely out of the question, but it’s obviously not acceptable for the town to fall into a sinkhole either. It’s a problem everyone has been interested in solving. Kiruna is actually quite an old town. There are wooden houses and a wooden church from the turn of the previous century. And there’s history embedded in the buildings; the church was donated by LKAB to the local parish in 1912, for instance. A selection of the historic structures are being moved, but what’s
difficult – and this relates to what is happening in London and other cities around the world – is that some of the brutalist architecture from the 1960s is being demolished. What a project like this brings about is a stark curation of history. Of course, you can have a photographic archive of what’s lost, but it’s not the same as having the building. And even with the buildings that are moved, the transition – the dislocation – means the historic structures that are saved will read differently nontheless. If you walk around a big city, you use landmarks to navigate. In New York, for instance, it used to be the Twin Towers, and in Kiruna you have this huge slag heap – a mountain really – of soil that’s been dug out of the mine. It sits there like a monument to what is currently happening and what has happened in Kiruna. Some would say it’s a scarred landscape. I don’t really mind it though – I think it looks interesting. Based on an original interview by Kristina Rapacki.
Iron ore has been mined in Kiruna on an industrial scale for over a century, an activity which has had a dramatic effect on the structural stability of the land on which the town was built. In 2010, Kiruna announced detailed plans to move location. The photographs on this page show the same location, photographed in April 2013 and June 2017.
Kiruna features some historical wooden buildings that will be moved to the new site, while others will be demolished. The move is taking place over a number of years, with some buildings having already been transported.
Residents have been offered more than market rate by the LKAB mining company for evacuating buildings marked for demolition.
The relationship between Kiruna and the mine is symbiotic: without the mine the town would not exist, although its operation has now resulted in a dramatic change in the townâ€™s future.
Although residents have been offered a higher than market rate for their properties, some families cannot afford to buy homes in new Kiruna.
Klaus Thymannâ€™s most recent visit to Kiruna was in June 2017, when he documented the transportation of a historic wooden building on the back of a truck.
Kirunaâ€™s old railway station, which now stands isolated as the town moves around it, photographed in June 2017.
Dornbracht VAIA Create a new balance
Covering and Covfefe Photographs Christoffer Rudquist Location 22-24 Belsham Street
Who smells a cover up? Ever since the first suggestions of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian state, the White House has been slathering whitewash over proceedings, with national politics rapidly descending into a furious maelstrom of denial and counter-exposé, mostly conducted over Twitter. “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” Cover-ups, of course, should be nothing new. In all areas of life the desire for cover as a means of protection is common. To be exposed is to be vulnerable, while cover provides refuge; it generates an identity behind which one can shelter. As the current president once perspicaciously observed, “If you get good ratings, they’ll cover you even if you have nothing to say.” Critical to any act of covering is to know what is being covered, in which way, and why. The following pages of Disegno document a series of five designs that rely on variations on the technique of covering. 44
1 2 3 4 5
Veneering â€“ making use of the 62 different strands of corn grown in Mexico, Totomoxtle is a series of objects that employ husks taken from the grain to create a decorative surfacing veneer. Totomoxtle by Fernando Laposse
1 2 3 4 5
Structuring â€“ stretched textile sheets held in tension form the bodies of a series of mobiles developed by Studio Wieki Somers for the Swedish brand Kinnasand. Shields mobiles by Studio Wieki Somers for Kinnasand
BetteLux Oval Couture Steel can wear anything
Design: Tesseraux+Partner www.bette.de
1 2 3 4 5
Shading â€“ taken from the architect Jenny Sabinâ€™s Lumen pavilion for MoMA PS1, this textile structure is knitted from photo-luminescent and solar active yarns. Lumen module by Jenny Sabin Studio
1 2 3 4 5
Blanketing â€“ a flattened readaptation of the bolster cushions employed by Dutch colonists in Indonesia, Aram Leeâ€™s blanket is intended to explore a history of colonialisation within object design. Dutch wife by Aram Lee
A collective of exquisitely crafted, British made furniture pieces with form, function and simplistic design ethos at their core. ercol.com
1790 lara chairs and 1795 luca tables
1 2 3 4 5
Shading â€“ a disc of polyethylene terephthalate diffuses the light cast by LEDs embedded within the lampâ€™s brass stalk, turning the covering into the primary element of display. Eos floor lamp by Ellen Bernhardt and Paola Vella for Artemide
Consider the Garment Introduction Francesca Granata Portrait Gudrun Georges
The MoMA exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern? is only the second show focusing on dress in the museum’s 88-year history. It is a sequel, of sorts, to Are Clothes Modern?, an exhibition curated by the eminent architecture historian Bernard Rudofsky in 1944 – that is, approximately two million fashion cycles ago.
Accompanying this interview are a series of scans from the original exhibition catalogue of Are Clothes Modern?
Dashiki, door-knocker earrings, and Dutch wax interpreted for Items:
Is Fashion Modern? by Monika Mogi.
Paola Antonelli, the curator of MoMAâ€™s Items: Is Fashion Modern?
The show has been curated by Paola Antonelli, MoMA’s senior curator in the department of architecture and design, who is keen to underscore the urgency of examining fashion at MoMA through the lens of design. Surprisingly, dress has generally been left out of design museums, particularly in America. The Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, for instance, has traditionally collected textiles but not clothing, which to the fashion-conscious might seem the equivalent of an art museum devoted to paint tubes and brushes. Refreshingly, Items redresses this historical omission. Two years in the making, the exhibition is a culmination of a research project led by Antonelli, along with curatorial assistant Michelle Millar Fisher. Both were trained in architecture and design history, and they engaged fashion historians, theorists, designers, and curators in the exhibition’s planning stages. (Being from Milan, Antonelli has inevitably had brushes with this world before, having worked at a fashion PR firm as an after-school job while at school – the Milanese version of flipping burgers.) This inclusive approach is reflected in the exhibition, which includes 111 clothing items from across the spectrum of 20th-century fashion, ranging from Chanel’s little black dress (the epitome of fashion and modernity) to Spanx (less so). The exhibition includes more rarefied experimental fashion, such as Rei Kawakubo’s celebrated Body Meets Dress collection from 1997, alongside increasingly ubiquitous wearable technology (the Fitbit) and what many would consider fashion faux-pas: behold, the dreaded fanny pack. Discussing the selection process behind this, Antonelli emphasises the importance of well-designed objects that reach a wide range of audiences either directly or, as in the case of Rei Kawakubo, by being so widely influential that they eventually enter a wider design vocabulary. Each item is represented by a “stereotype” embodying the most representative articulation of that particular clothing item in recent history. Often, the “stereotype” is also accompanied by an “archetype”, an earlier example of that particular dress style that provides historical context, and at times a “prototype”, commissioned by the museum to build on and improve the original example. This is perhaps the most innovative aspect of the show: commissioning new work is rare in the realm of fashion exhibitions, and it also leads into the realm of both speculative design and practical design solutions. It was these treatments of fashion in a museological context that Antonelli spoke of when I met her in a room overlooking MoMA’s sculpture garden. Francesca Granata I’ve been thinking about the exhibition’s idea of modernity in relation to fashion design, because modernism as associated with architecture is seen as fairly inimical to fashion and ornament. Paola Antonelli First of all, there are many different ways to think of “modern”. There’s modernism of course, which is the style, and that’s the form that’s mostly identified with a certain type of architecture – glass, steel and all the clichés of modernism that you can think of. Then there is the “Modern” with a capital “M”, and that’s a historical moment and a way of reading the world. It’s the form of modern that
A-POC Le Feu by Issey Miyake and Dai Fujiwara, from the Issey Miyake spring/summer 1999 collection.
Mosaic in Piazza Armerina, Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily, 300–400 CE.
“I don’t look for style, but rather for a process, a type of design, or an understanding of the background of an object.”
was the foundation of the Museum of Modern Art, if you wish. That could be considered slightly inimical to fashion as you were saying, because it has this cult of timelessness that goes against the ephemerality of fashion and the seasonal rhythm of fashion. But the modern that I’m interested in is the one with a small “m”. There are no easy definitions of this, but there is one definition that I once got from a great curator here – Kirk Varnedoe, who was the chief curator of painting and sculpture. Kirk passed away without telling me who had given him this quote, so I always attribute it to him. The quote is that “The modern is everything that does not hide the process of its making.” So what I like to think is that “modern” is something that is progressive, pushes the world a little bit forward, has a forward bent, but also has an honesty and transparency: you can see the idea of the architect or designer until the end and you can kind of feel connected to the conceptual through the physical. Think of the opposite of this approach, like some postmodernist design that is completely opaque because it’s covered in decoration. It’s maybe not decoration per se – because decoration can be modern too – but the purpose of some postmodernist works is clearly to obfuscate their own nature, whereas to be modern is quite the opposite. So when it comes to fashion, even though I’m not a fashion expert, I try to apply the same idea. I don’t look for style, but rather for a process, a type of design, or an understanding of the background of an object. That’s why we’ve come to this selection of objects in the exhibition. What we were looking for, or what we were questioning, was not the modernity of every single item in the show, but rather the fashion system, or the way in which we use garments and clothes. That transparency and systemic honesty was what we were looking for in the system as a whole. Francesca You’ve narrowed the exhibition down to 111 pieces, but you’ve also created categorisations within that of “archetype”, “stereotype” and “prototype”. So where does that organisational drive come from and how did the overall structure come about? Paola We decided on 111 pieces because that was just a decision – at first we had 99 because I like numbers that can be divided by three, but that wasn’t enough so we went up to 111, although we could have gone up to 500 easily. But you want to leave yourself wanting more and also this was not supposed to be an exhaustive exhibition on the most important items in the last century. It was supposed to be a sampling done by a group of largely white Western curators. So it’s our take and our sampling, and hopefully it’s going to be a way for people to pay more attention to what they wear and to then make their own samplings and lists. The idea of doing “stereotype”, “archetype” and “prototype” was very simple. When I was growing up in Milan, like every good Milanese girl, I ended up working in fashion. When I was in high school, aged 15 through 18, every afternoon I would work for the group doing public relations for Armani. I got passionate about fashion and bought all the magazines, a couple of books, and was really following it until I bought The Fashion System by Roland Barthes. I remember it was such a cynical and wonderful book, and at one point it said that nothing could be invented that was really
Chinos, coppola, and Dr. Martens interpreted for Items: Is Fashion
Modern? by Monika Mogi.
The archetypal white T-shirt.
new; it’s all a rehashing of many different objects and ideas invented in the past. That’s one of the tenets for all of us working in modern and contemporary architecture and design. It’s not right to think of an object in the 20th century without looking at the savviness of design that came before it. If you take a wrap dress, for instance, you can go back millennia finding wrap dresses from all over the world. In the past 100 years, the stereotype and model that made the biggest impact in the world was the synthetic jersey one, with the patterns that Diane Von Furstenberg did in the 1970s. But you can go all the way back in history through Korea, Japan, China and find these kind of wrap dresses there too. It’s only fair to acknowledge attribution where attribution is due. Francesca What about the “prototype” element? Paola I like to look at how design evolves and, in particular, I really wanted to work with scientists and designers who are not yet part of a fashion system. So we took about a third of the items in the exhibition and assigned them to designers and scientists who were free to think about them in a new way. We only picked items that really had a reason to be given a new form. To give you an example, there is a wonderful fashion designer called Lucy Jones to whom we assigned the pantyhose, because she’s been looking at fashion for people who have disabilities – often wheelchair users – and it’s very difficult to put on pantyhose if you use a wheelchair, although you might still want to. You might want to feel elegant, warmer, and so on. So she went ahead and looked at that. Then we also have a diamond engagement ring in the collection and we asked Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen to work on that. They tried to think about what diamonds are, what resources are and what the symbolic message of an engagement ring is. So, they managed to get the ashes from elephant tusks that had been burned in Kenya, which they then compressed down to create a diamond which they set in an engagement ring. So sometimes the prototypes are very functional, as in Lucy’s case, and at other times they’re very speculative, as in Revital and Tuur’s. Then there are cases in between. For instance, the designer Liz Ciokajlo has been preparing a so-called Mars boot, like the Moon boot. The Moon boot was supposed to be able to withstand the climate of the Moon, whereas the Mars boot deals with Mars so therefore has a cooling system. Sometimes these pieces are a commentary and sometimes they’re an update, but they’re always a way to provide more depth of field. Francesca The exhibition shows fashion in a different way to how a more traditional fashion museum might and your view seems very inclusive. I was looking at the list of exhibits and you have Spanx and the Fitbit together with Kawakubo and Miyake. What does this inclusivity mean? Paola Fashion is a form of design, and just like other forms of design it moves from pieces that might be bespoke or couture, through to pret-aporter and finally to fast fashion. My attitude towards design is that I’ve always been more interested in items that will go out to a wider audience and into the world. There is nothing so gorgeous as an object that is well designed and also available to all, which is why I love what I call “humble
Sikh men wearing dastar, USA, 2013.
The Body Meets Dress—Dress Meets Body collection by Comme des Garçons interpreted for Items: Is Fashion
Modern? by Catherine Losing.
masterpieces”. And we applied that same idea to our garments. In some cases the exhibits are fashion, but in others they’re wearable garments that go out to a wide audience. All the items have been influential. Some in a direct way, like the white T-shirt or a pair of Levi’s 501s. Others, like Rei Kawakubo’s garments might not be affordable or available to all, but her influence has nonetheless percolated down to dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of designers. Even people who go to mass stores will find Kawakubo DNA in their clothes. It’s a system, not a series of vacuums. Francesca You say you’re looking at fashion as a design object, but fashion is often kept separate from design in museums. Why do you think that is? Paola Historically, there have been all these artificial barriers put between different forms of visual arts and applied arts, which can sometimes be hard to understand. When I talk about design, fashion is part of it, graphic design is part of it, and video games are part of it too. Of course there need to be certain areas of expertise and so every time I start an exhibition about a field I don’t know the first thing I do is declare my ignorance and put together a group of advisors. I did it when we started acquiring video games and I have done it on this exhibition too. I wouldn’t dare do a pure fashion show because that’s not my area of expertise and I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing the kind of shows that the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Fashion Institute of Technology do. But when it comes to design, I have the background, and MoMA certainly has the pedigree for it. Francesca Looking forward, do you envisage MoMA starting to collect fashion pieces as designed objects? Paola We probably will. We already have a few pieces: a Fortuny dress, the white T-shirt, A-Poc by Issey Miyake, the Kinematics dress by Nervous System, Capsters sportswear for Muslim women. So we have a few bits and pieces and we would certainly like to collect more. That is actually how this exhibition was born. We were looking at the collection and realised that in order to tell a complete history of modern design and architecture we needed to add some garments. But we will acquire these garments through the lens of design, so we’re not going to look for the rarest Lacroix or for the oldest Chanel – although, actually, we might look for the Chanel as there are some little black dresses that are the epitome of modernity in fashion. But we’re going to go for it in the same way we’ve gone about assembling the whole collection. Our entire collection of design is small compared to other museums. It’s about 5,000 pieces and it’s very targeted because we’re lucky enough to have that attribute “Modern” in our name. So we’re able to target, model and modulate an entire collection that is also slightly ideological. We’re writing a history that is particular to this museum. We’re not writing the ultimate history, but it is a history of modern design. Francesca Looking backwards, the show is based on the Rudofsky exhibition Are Clothes Modern? which was obviously very different, but still had this unique view on fashion and questioned why we were shaping ourselves based on outdated silhouettes.
Designer Norma Kamali in a Sleeping Bag Coat, Elle, September 1990.
“It’s not right to think of an object in the 20th century without looking at the savviness of design that came before it.”
Paola I’m smiling because Rudofsky was such a curmudgeon. He was an exquisitely critical curator and so important in the history of architecture and design. Besides Are Clothes Modern?, he also did one of the most important exhibitions of the 20th century – Architecture Without Architects in 1964, which was one of the first shakedowns of modernist architecture. His approach was always to look at reality and critique it. What he saw in 1944, when Are Clothes Modern? was exhibited, was a war that was still raging, rationed materials, the need for practicality, and the Dior New Look. And while all of that was happening, women were still trying to fit into really small waistlines and men had layers upon layers of vests and undershirts and overcoats. He was looking at the absurdity of fashion at that time, which was impractical and wasteful. There was no piece of fashion in the exhibition, it was all about the body, and it was beautifully installed to highlight the oddity of the fashion that existed in the outside world. Also, the catalogue was beautiful because it had so much illustration. There are two illustrations I love in particular. One is a cross-section through the body of a clothed man – his midriff – so you can see all of his shirts and underwear. The other is a fake X-ray that shows all the pockets and buttons a man was wearing. Rudofsky was very preachy and very didactic – very much the spirit of the time and also his own spirit. We’re not like that, however. We’re trying to be non-didactic and let people find things in themselves. Francesca Does the exhibition critique the fashion system? You’ve talked about Rana Plaza in the past, for instance. Paola I’m very aware – although perhaps I don’t behave this way given that I take way too many planes – of our impact on the world. I still have garments that I’ve had for 40 years and I try not to buy anything which I don’t really want. I’m not going to deny myself a completely useless and extravagant frock, because that’s going to make me feel good, but I’m very aware that I don’t need more than three T-shirts per summer. So this kind of economy of thought is very much attuned to the idea of modernism. It’s about really using resources and your energy for objects that matter. Sustainability is not only about buying less and recycling or reusing, it’s also buying better. You’re Italian, so you know what the situation is in a place like Milan – you go to De Padova, buy a couch and keep it for three generations. It’s the same for a dress. This is really about awareness, which is not about saying sustainability is done this way and that it has to be a Birkenstock-y, atonement process. We need to be more mindful and there are many ways of being that. You can swap clothes, buy better garments, decide to be vegan or vegetarian in your clothes. I’m trying to show as many options as are available and show people that it is a system and that therefore there is biofeedback. Everything has a cost, but I want to make sure we’re not being Pollyannish – thinking that the moment you behave in a sanctimonious or pious way, everything is going to be OK. At the end of the exhibition we’re going to have a visualisation by Georgia Lupi and Accurat that will gather together all the 111 items and try to show how they’re part of the system by showing them from an economic, political and technical background, and also from a stylistic one.
Suit and tie interpreted for Items:
Is Fashion? Modern by KristinLee Moolman and IB Kamara.
Portrait of General George Washington on a linen kerchief, attributed to John Hewson, Philadelphia, 1776–77.
Francesca The fashion theorist Elizabeth Wilson famously said that fashion in a museum turns the museum into a mausoleum because fashion without the body looks dead. Did you struggle with that? Paola What turns it into a mausoleum is mannequins, so we’ve tried desperately to have no mannequins when possible. In some cases it’s necessary, however. For instance, there’s an installation of little black dresses, because you need more than one, and those are on invisible mannequins so it seems that they’re floating by themselves. We tried to isolate the items. You often see platforms and so many mannequins in fashion shows and that’s what we wanted to avoid. We want to focus on the object, and bring that to people as design and not an empty dress. Francesca Did anything unexpected happen in the research and planning of the exhibition? Did you develop a different relationship with fashion? Paola It’s been a humongous learning curve. For instance, the kind of vertigo I felt when I had to try and pick the mannequins – I had no idea! First of all, trying to find mannequins that are not size zero is almost impossible. It’s almost like when you tell people that they should eat better to avoid obesity – well, better food costs much more. Mannequins that are the size of a real woman have to be almost custom-made. That is part of the system. In May 2016, we had this public programme at the museum called the ‘Items Abecedarium’. I learned so much about the background of fashion and different viewpoints on how you can attack fashion. Our curatorial team is great, but it started out with just me, an architect by training and an expert in contemporary design, and Michelle Millar Fisher, an architectural historian who also does design. Then we brought in fashion historians and experts and learned so much. One of the people in that group, Stephanie Kramer, is now working on the public programme and has had the idea to do a symposium all about the unsung and hidden heroes of fashion. It’s called ‘Fashion is Scale’, and is going to be about all of the people who do the licensing, the people who deal with returns, the copyright people and so on and so forth. As happens with so much design, we take everything at face value. But what’s behind it, above it, underneath it, and what’s going to be after it? That’s my philosophy for any kind of design. I would like people walking in the street, sitting at home – wherever they go – to just pay attention to this table, to your shirt, to these glasses, and form opinions about them. These glasses are clearly bought in a drug store, but they’re a little more sophisticated than normal drugstore glasses. Are they Italian or could they possibly be American? Or, I’m looking at your shirt and wondering where you get it cleaned, because the cleaners are so bad here in the United States. So an object can start a whole flow of thought that can be fuelled by more knowledge and awareness of design. Ultimately it’s not only a way to spend time, but a way to be better human beings and citizens – knowing more about what’s in the world and the things that we build makes us better builders in the future, better designers and better customers. E N D
Dress by Thierry Mugler, 1981.
Model wearing a Mohiniattam sari drape with peplum pleats, a style from Kerala, India, by Taanbaan, part of The Sari Series: An Anthology
of Drape, 2017.
Sir David Adjaye for
“E qual p arts art an d audio.” Awarded a 9 out of 1 0 W I R E D M A GA ZI NE
MA770 Wireless Speaker
w w w. m a s t e r d y n a m i c . c o . u k
Death Knells Words George Isleden Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Picture a sad Theresa May. She is wearing a sombre black suit, stood on the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier after it has ominously pulled into Portsmouth harbour. “Of course we want to ensure people’s safety at work,” says May, Churchillian atop her weapon of war, “but it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.” For those who do not know, Big Ben is a fucking clock. For the next four years, conservation works will be taking place on the Houses of Parliament’s Elizabeth Tower, the structure that houses said clock. Big Ben’s bells will still sound for events such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Sunday; all that will cease are its quarter hourly chimes, which will be paused to protect those working on the renovation. “Starting and stopping Big Ben is a complex and lengthy process,” explained the House of Commons commission. “[…] experts have concluded that it would not be practical or a good use of public money to start and stop the bells each day.” On 21 August, a number of MPs mounted a lonely vigil to mark the final chimes before the renovation began. Labour MP Stephen Pound literally cried. Theresa May is right of course: the whole affair is ghastly in its lack of Britishness. As a nation we excel in impractical and poor use of public money (viz. the £52m Boris Johnson enthusiastically ejaculated over Thomas Heatherwick’s failed Garden Bridge, or the £321.6m he similarly spent on Heatherwick’s now-discontinued Routemaster). What could be more British than an extensive works programme of endlessly hanging and rehanging bells every 15 minutes in order to traditionally mark an arbitrary measure of time throughout a period in which Brexit will drown the nation’s finances in a canal’s worth of Stephen Pound’s tears (he voted remain)? Moreover, without Big Ben’s chimes, what will mask the ongoing silence and procrastination from Westminster over the Grenfell Tower disaster, a mere skip over Hyde Park away? When May visited the site of the tragedy in June, she chose not to meet or speak to the survivors, citing security concerns. Perhaps facing up to residents whose homes, families and neighbours had been engulfed in a fireball as a result of institutional negligence is simply too daunting a task without the HMS Queen Elizabeth as backup.
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Made in Nowhere Words Johanna Agerman Ross Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
For decades now, the “Made in…” tag on consumer objects has been a reassuring guide as to what we spend our money on. Or so we thought. As recent revelations have uncovered, the “Made in…” tag means very little. In May, The Guardian showed that Louis Vuitton’s exclusive shoes, supposedly made by hand in a Venice workshop “revered for its fine shoe craftsmanship”, are in fact manufactured in Cisnadie, Romania, where labour is cheaper. The only part added in Italy is the sole, therefore qualifying the €1,000 shoes for the “Made in Italy” label. In 2016, the Australian sports brand Rip Curl made headlines when it was proven that its “Made in China”-labelled ski jackets were in fact made in North Korea. Even if the two examples are very different – in one case the manufacturing took place in an EU country subject to similar employment laws as its purported place of origin, the other in a totalitarian regime where working conditions are impossible to regulate – it nevertheless proves that “Made in…” is far from satisfying its promise of “origin-labelling”. In fact, the first examples of labelling products with their place of manufacture were intended to dissuade people from buying the product. A “Made in Germany” stamp was introduced by the British Merchandise Marks Act in 1887 to stem the popularity of cheap imports of imitation Sheffield cutlery. In similar fashion, US President Donald Trump has recently cracked down on “foreigners slapping on ‘Made in America’ labels to products,” aiming to protect US industry in the process. But how efficient can a “Made in…” label be in a global economy where most consumer goods are produced in multiple countries, fuelled by businesses trying to find the cheapest labour for the task? A number of “Made in USA” brands are known for employing similar tactics, where parts are produced in other countries and assembly is then carried out in a token fashion, for similarly low wages, by unskilled workers in the US. The laws around the “Made in…” tag function more as a service to business owners than consumers, proving that the system cares little for protecting jobs or invention. Rather, it is yet another malign gesture of a capitalist society that always seems to conveniently forget about people.
Iconic Leadership Words The editors Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
On 26 July, the V&A announced Christopher Turner, the former editor of Icon magazine, as its new keeper of design, architecture and digital. With this appointment, the design world reached a situation in which most members of the Icon editorial team circa 2007-2012 are now employed in senior curatorial positions at prominent western institutions. Let’s set out the facts. Justin McGuirk (editor) is the chief curator at the Design Museum; Beatrice Galilee (architecture editor) a curator of architecture and design at the Met; Kieran Long (deputy editor) the previous keeper of design, architecture and digital at the V&A and now director of ArkDes in Stockholm; and Johanna Agerman Ross (deputy editor), formerly of this parish, a curator of contemporary design at the V&A. Presumably it is only political reticence that has prevented Marcus Fairs, Icon’s founding editor and now editor-in-chief of Dezeen, from being appointed the UK’s Minister for Culture. Museum leadership is rightly castigated for its propensity towards the posh, the pale and the male, but the rise of a cabal of former Essex-based editors suggests that alongside an intersectionality of xenophobia, sexism and classism, the sector has wider struggles with moving beyond the familiar. As heady as the late noughties may have been for Icon – and as fine a job as its former editors have done and will, no doubt, continue to do at their new institutions – there are presumably museological hunting grounds that stretch beyond the magazine’s offices in Loughton. A little iconoclasm might be welcome. Is Disegno simply jealous? Undoubtedly – we remain poised by the phones, ready and willing to accept all job offers of keeper level and above. Nonetheless, until such a time as we are admitted into the citadel of chumminess that watches benevolent over curatorial appointments, please allow a magazine its grouses and gripes.
10. On the occasion of the 10 years since the moving of ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne to its current premises in Renens and marking the 10th anniversary of the foundation of EPFL+ECAL Lab, ECAL is hosting a symposium on Research in Art and Design, featuring artists, designers and scholars in these fields from all over the world in conversation with ECAL faculty members. www.researchday.ch
During the symposium, the book Making Sense on Research in Art and Design at ECAL will be launched. ECAL will also host several exhibitions on product design, materials, food design, photography and interaction design.
10 +10 Research in Art and Design at ECAL
10. 17 Tuesday 10 October 2017 8.00–18.30 Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne 5, Avenue du Temple Renens (Switzerland) Auditorium IKEA www.ecal.ch
Guest speakers Fabio Gramazio co-founder, Gramazio + Kohler Architects Nicolas Henchoz director, EPFL+ECAL Lab Catherine Ince senior curator, Victoria & Albert Museum Sophie Pène vice president, Conseil National du Numérique Vera Sacchetti design critic Skylar Tibbits co-director, MIT Self-Assembly Lab Xavier Veilhan artist Astrid Welter head of programs, Fondazione Prada Roel Wouters co-founder, Studio Moniker
The Battle for Palmyra “It is the natural and common fate of cities to have their memory longer preserved than their ruins.”
Words Lemma Shehadi Images ICONEM
The renders accompanying this article were produced by ICONEM, a French company that uses digital technologies to support Syrian archaeologists and architects document heritage sites. Below, an image showing the damage done to Palmyraâ€™s Temple of Bel.
That quote comes from the traveller Robert Wood in his 1753 book The Ruins of Palmyra, Otherwise Tedmor, in the Desart [sic]. It’s an account of an expedition to the ancient ruined city of Palmyra in the western Syrian desert, in which he questions the “silence of history,” with regards to Palmyra, which is not referred to in any of the classical annals: “The works of Palmyra scarce mentioned, become vouchers for those so much celebrated of Greece and Egypt.” Today, however, the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra lie at the heart of international debates surrounding the systematic looting and destruction of cultural heritage sites by armed groups in Syria, Afghanistan, Mali, Iraq and Yemen. Deliberate attacks on cultural property – such as the destruction of the Buddhist Statues at Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001, or of 12 mausoleums in Timbuktu by the militant Ansare Dine group in 2012 – are now being addressed at the level of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court in the Hague. “The deliberate destruction of heritage is a war crime, it has become a tactic of war to tear societies [apart] over the long term, in a strategy of cultural cleansing,” said Unesco’s director general Irina Bokova when she addressed the UN Security Council in March 2017. This prompts moral debates about the recovery of cultural heritage in times of armed conflict. How can cultural property be protected in the chaos of war? When are stones more valuable than people’s lives? Is culture a tool for peace, or a tactic of war? The ancient city of Tadmur, as Palmyra was originally known, was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world and is known to have existed since at least the second century BCE. The Palmyrene’s “funereal customs were from Egypt, their luxury was Persian, and their letters and arts were from the Greeks,” noted Wood in his report on the city. “Their situation in the middle of these great nations makes it reasonable to suppose they adopted several other of their customs and manners.” A colonnaded street over 1km long forms the axis of the ancient city, which contains several major public monuments. Among its five temples, the Temple of Bel, dedicated in 32 CE, was celebrated in a series of drawings of its carved ceiling executed by the draughtsman Giovanni Battista Bora, one of Wood’s travel companions. The Temple of Baalshamin, built in the 2nd century CE, had survived up until
the 21st century as one of the most complete structures in the city, with an architectural style that mixed ancient Syrian and Roman influences. Less well preserved were the Baths of Diocletian, although the structure’s foundations had survived, as had a Corinthian colonnade marking the entrance. Before the war, music and theatre performances for the annual Palmyra Festival were held at the site’s Roman theatre. Behind the theatre are ruined senate buildings and a large agora, within which 200 plinths used to hold statues of prominent citizens. Beyond the city, in the Valley of Tombs, are vast necropolises with important funerary reliefs.
How can cultural property be protected in the chaos of war? When are stones more valuable than people’s lives? Is culture a tool for peace or a tactic of war? In April 2015, new satellite imagery showed that the jihadist group IS was advancing across the Homs province in central Syria. The militants were headed for the city of Tadmur (also called modern Palmyra), a resettlement of the ancient site that sits around 500m from the city’s ruins. IS’s forces met little resistance from the national Syrian Arab Army in Tadmur and the international community chose not to intervene. Nonetheless, a global media campaign expressing shock and horror ran for months after Tadmur’s capture. The then London mayor Boris Johnson called for military intervention in The Daily Telegraph in April 2015 – despite Britain’s earlier decision not to intervene in Syria in 2013. “I accept that some readers will be left cold by an appeal on behalf of a bunch of ruins. But I can’t see it like that. For me, Palmyra embodies the great ideas we owe to the Greeks and the Romans,” he wrote, “It may not be too late for some kind of exclusion zone around the site, or at least for air strikes.” When IS began to destroy parts of the site, documenting their actions in embellished propaganda videos,
headlines such as ‘Why it’s all right to be more horrified by the razing of Palmyra than mass murder’ appeared in The Guardian, while the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung stated the implications of reconstruction: ‘Palmyra muss seine Geschichte selbst erzählen’ (Palmyra must tell its own story). This media attention was followed by a series of exhibitions and public monuments across Europe, the USA and Middle East. A 3D-printed replica of Palmyra’s Triumphal Arch, developed by Oxford University’s Institute for Digital Archaeology, was erected in London’s Trafalgar Square in April 2016, and subsequently travelled to New York and Dubai.
rising to 70,000 in 2015, according to Al Homsi. In March 2016, however, Unesco’s Rapid Assessment Mission to Palmyra noted that “The city was currently not inhabited; the houses show traces of fire and vandalism, and the streets show traces of combats.” Today less than one per cent of Palmyra’s pre-war population lives there: “Their homes are destroyed,” says Al Homsi. Since 2015, Palmyra has been caught in a brutal battle between IS and the Syrian regime. From May 2015 to March 2016, the city was held by IS, before being retaken by the national Syrian Arab Army (SAA). In December 2016, IS militants moved back into the city, although the SAA – which is supported politically and militarily by Russia, and by Shi’a militias from neighbouring countries – drove them out again in March 2017. Among cultural property affected during this long series of occupations and counter-occupations, the Unesco mission noted the Lion of Al-lāt, (known as the Lion Statue of Athena) and the Triumphal Arch, as well as cellas (chambers) in the temples of Bel and Baalshamin, had been deliberately destroyed. Three columns and six funerary towers were blown up. Sculptures stored inside the Palmyra Museum were beheaded. A document from the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology (APSA), which Al Homsi collaborates with, highlights further damage to the site by the regime between 2012 and 2015. Archaeological layers from among the tombs were removed to prepare artillery positions. Roads and earth dykes were built around the site. Important tombs, such as those of Artaban and Tybul were looted. Airstrikes in 2013, meanwhile, damaged the porticos and cellas of the Temples of Bel and Baalshamin. Palmyra’s global significance is largely due to the many symbolisms that it has held throughout history. Following its heyday as a trading centre, the city met its downfall in the 3rd century when the Palmyrene ruler Queen Zenobia – since elevated to an almost mythical hero in both Middle Eastern and Western annals – conquered most of the eastern Roman empire before being defeated in 272 CE by the Roman Emperor Aurelian. After the city’s demise, the population of Palmyra was reduced to a small village and lived for centuries among the ruins of the Temple of Baalshamin. The ruins and the village of Tadmur were rediscovered in 1681 by European
However accurate and wide-reaching they may be, imaging technologies only provide a partial picture of what is happening in Palmyra. Sites Eternel, an exhibition at Paris’s Grand Palais that was inaugurated by the former French President François Hollande, also included a display exploring Palmyra. The list of initiatives marking outrage at the city’s destruction continues to grow. “The media outcry focused on the ruins and often ignored the plight of the people of Tadmur,” says Khaled Al Homsi, a citizen journalist and native of the city who now lives in Gaziantep, a Turkish city close to the Syrian border. Al Homsi is a member of the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) of Palmyra, a part of a network of citizen-led LCCs (“tansiqiyya” in Arabic) created early on in the revolt across Syria. He set up palmyra-monitor.net, which brings together news about the city and the nearby ruins. “There is a lot of information about Palmyra circulating online, and the website aims to aggregate it and provide an accurate news source,” he explains. The destruction of Palmyra and the assaults on its citizens began well before IS’s encroachment, however, when the Syrian regime took control of the city in 2012. Palmyra had 50,000 inhabitants according to a 2005 census, 82
A perspective showing now demolished sections of the Temple of Bel.
travellers and, for the vast majority of the modern era, the ancient city existed as a Western cultural imaginary. Travellers on the Grand Tour ventured with difficulty into the territories of the Ottoman Empire, with journeys typically ending in Italy. But as a result of Wood’s expedition, Palmyra and its mythical warrior Queen Zenobia appear in paintings, literature, architecture and design of the period, while Bora’s renderings of the Temple of Bel appeared in the ceilings of a number of English country homes, most notably Osterley Park in London. The poet Friedrich Hölderlin, who had never visited Palmyra, described it in his poem ‘Lebensalter’ (1804): “Euphrates’ cities and/ Palmyra’s streets and you/ Forests of columns in the level desert/ What are you now?” Today, ongoing conflict in the region prohibits access to the ruined city for Syrians, cultural heritage specialists and tourists alike. Most of the initiatives that safeguard cultural heritage in Syria are therefore managed from outside of the country. The Unesco
Syrian Observatory for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage was set up in 2014 in Beirut, and works directly with Syria’s Ministry of Culture’s Directorate General for Antiquities and Museums (DGAM), while the World Monuments Fund Britain recently launched stonemasonry traineeships in the Jordanian border town of Mafraq. Meanwhile, the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which advises Unesco on cultural heritage, has launched Project Anqa to document cultural heritage sites across the Middle East, using new technology such as 3D laser scanning, photogrammetry and aerial imaging through drones. In the case of the organisation’s Syria programme, archaeologists in Damascus will be trained from Beirut. “So far the challenges have been simple day-to-day things,” says Elizabeth Lee, vice president for Programs and Development for CyArk, a Californian non-profit which has partnered with ICOMOS on Anqa. “There are frequent power cuts, which makes it difficult for anyone who has documented a site in Syria to send us the data.”
However accurate they may be, the imaging technologies used by Anqa and other initiatives only provide a partial image of what is happening in Palmyra. “The best documentation is done on the ground,” explains Bijan Rouhani, a conservation architect and also the vice president of ICOMOS’s International Committee on Risk Preparedness (ICORP). Conservationists in exile are in touch with specialists and concerned citizens in Syria to document the damage caused by the ongoing conflict and looting. APSA’s report on Palmyra used documents published by the DGAM, analysis of aerial photos, and data supplied by the LCC. Photographs showing the Temple of Baalshamin were taken by the anonymous Palmyra-based photography group Lens Young Tadmouri, and show how airstrikes in 2013 broke a part of the temple’s lintel, before subsequent strikes caused the lintel to crumble and fall down. This on-the-ground documentation is not only limited, but also dangerous to procure. “People are more concerned about saving their lives and getting basic needs,” says Salam Al Kuntar, a Syrian archaeologist and research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, who works with archaeologists on the ground in Syria and organisations including the Smithsonian’s Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq (SHOSI). “Two colleagues of mine were trying to document the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites near Idlib earlier this year, and they were arrested by the local militia,” she says. “I followed this from a distance. Can you imagine how terrifying it was?” The Syrian activist and open-source web developer Bassel Khartabil created a 3D rendering of Palmyra’s sites, using his own images. The project, among Khartabil’s other open-source contributions to Creative Commons, a non-for-profit organisation devoted to legally sharing creative works, came to global attention after he was arrested in 2012 by the Syrian government. The rendering became known as #NewPalmyra after it was adopted by MIT Labs in 2015. It is thought that IS executed Khartabil in 2015. Territorial divisions in Syria further aggravate these kinds of challenges. “We need more support for the archaeologists and specialists working in opposition-held areas,” says Al Kuntar. Amongst the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Syria, Palmyra, the ancient city of Damascus and Krak des Chevaliers
(a 12th-century castle built by Crusaders) are in regions controlled by the Syrian government. But the ancient city of Aleppo – another World Heritage Site – was only recently retaken by the regime having been heavily damaged by persistent shelling from the Syrian Arab Army and its allies, while the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, which falls within Unesco’s Ancient Villages of Northern Syria site, lies in an area that is still being contested by pro-government forces, the opposition and the Kurds. Finally, the ancient city of Bosra in southern Syria is controlled by a local militia. US and EU sanctions apply to the regime-held areas of Syria, but opposition-held areas are often controlled by militias that members of the international community do not publicly support. International agencies such as Unesco and ICOMOS are legally required to work with the government’s DGAM, which limits their scope and territories, meaning that opposition-held areas of Syria are under-served. “If they work with the opposition, the DGAM will simply cut ties with them,” says Al Kuntar. The sites for Project Anqa, for example, were selected by ICOMOS in the regime-controlled areas of Damascus. “I don’t work with the DGAM because I don’t want to work for a body represented by the regime, who are criminals,” explains Al Kuntar, who has worked with SHOSI to organise training for Syrian archaeologists in Gaziantep, a border town in Turkey. “We’re in a much better position to receive aid and money than the DGAM, because the US and EU sanctions on Syria don’t apply to us,” says Al Kuntar. Equally, however, opposition-held areas have no access to UN funding. “Visas for archaeologists in Syria are impossible to obtain, particularly since the EU-Turkey agreement concerning migrants smuggled through Turkey.” Those working in the cultural heritage sector are frequently faced with the dilemma of prioritising stones over people. “The media outcry over Palmyra was bad, but the actual work that archaeologists are doing in Syria and Iraq is not taking away from humanitarian resources,” says Al Kuntar. “Foreign aid for cultural heritage projects is small compared to the humanitarian budget.” Indeed, according to The Financial Times, the UK is one of Syria’s biggest donors and has committed £2.46bn in aid since 2012. In 2016, the British Council launched a £30m Cultural Protection Fund for projects in the Middle East, and François Hollande announced 84
Mapping destruction to a stone arch in Palmyra.
a joint French-Emirati fund of $100m from public and private donors. Meanwhile, the aforementioned World Monuments Fund’s (WMF) project in Mafraq also addresses this dichotomy. The project aims to provide conservation stonemasonry training
The Syrian activist Bassel Khartabil created a 3D rendering of Palmyra’s sites using his own images. […] IS executed him in 2015. to displaced Syrians, as well as Jordanians living in Mafraq. “The emphasis is on building capacity and supporting communities,” says John Darlington, WMF’s executive director. “There is a huge itinerant population from Syria in Jordan and we’re providing them with a skill which we know they can benefit from. When you have cultural heritage destruction on this scale, international aid money pours in but what prevents the project from happening is a lack of qualified people on the ground. There is already a stonemasonry tradition in Jordan, but not one in conservation.” These workshops, which began in August 2017, address one of the central issues that will affect postwar recovery in Syria: the absence of the local community. “In the old city of Aleppo, most of the population has left, and they have no incentive to go back, as the city has been entirely destroyed,” says Rouhani, “In Iraq, there are no Christian families left in Mosul. It was once an important Christian city in that country, with a lot of heritage sites. In scenarios like this, who can be the local stakeholder?” The similarities with Syria are striking. In March 2017, the UN announced that more than five million Syrians had fled the country and 6.3 million had been internally displaced since the war began in 2011. Today, the destruction of cultural heritage has seeped into the language, actions and policies of international agencies acting beyond the sector. On 24 March 2017 the UN Security Council Resolution 2347, which “deplores and condemns the unlawful destruction of cultural heritage […] in the context
of armed conflicts, notably by terrorist groups”, was unanimously adopted – the first security council resolution to address the destruction of cultural heritage. Arguing that this destruction was a “war crime” and a “tactic of war”, Unesco director-general Irina Bokova told the Council that “defending cultural heritage is more than a cultural issue, it is a security imperative, inseparable from that of defending human lives.” In part, Resolution 2347 attempts to deal with changes to contemporary warfare which are underserved by the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in Armed Conflict. “The nature of conflict has changed. We are no longer dealing with wars between sovereign states, but conflicts between states and non-state armed groups. Often these groups are divided along sectarian lines, which puts culture and cultural identity at the forefront,” explains Giovanni Boccardi, head of Unesco’s Emergency Recovery and Protection unit. International Humanitarian Law, or the laws of war, were devised to deal with armed conflict between two sovereign states, but contemporary warfare, as Boccardi set out, is increasingly fought by a range of different non-state armed militias. Since the trial of the war criminal Duško Tadić by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the late 1990s, such groups have theoretically been bound by International Humanitarian Law, although they continue to cause legal complications. These issues now extend to protection of cultural heritage, having come to the fore in 2001 when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhist Bamiyan statues in Afghanistan. “The Hague Convention did not apply in that case, as it only applies to countries which have ratified the Convention and their regular combatants. Conflicts involving state and non-state armed groups are not covered by the Convention,” says Christian Manhart, who served as the Unesco project manager in Afghanistan after the statues had been destroyed. Resolution 2347 will now aim to address “the involvement of non-state actors, […] in particular the threat posed to international peace and security by the Islamic state”. The passage of Resolution 2347 was preceded by a series of events highlighting culture as a tactic of war. In 2014, Bokova described IS’s destruction of cultural heritage as “cultural cleansing”, a loaded term that implies that the destruction of cultural heritage – which is a war crime – can be used as
a tactic of genocide. “To prove genocide, it must be established that crimes such as killing took place with the intent to exterminate a group,” says William Schabas, professor of international law at the Universities of Middlesex and Leiden. “Evidence that killing was associated with attempts to destroy the culture of a group, including its cultural property and assets, is relevant in this respect.” Certainly, Bokova initially used the term to describe IS’s attacks on the Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority group who were displaced from their ancestral lands in northern Iraq and subjected to brutal crimes such as rape campaigns and mass murder. While calls to launch formal investigations into the possibility of a genocide of the Yazidis by IS have been made, most notably by the barrister Amal Clooney, the term “cultural cleansing” continues to be used rhetorically to describe the wider cultural destruction by IS. In February 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2199, which condemned trade with Al Qaeda-associated groups. Three paragraphs in the resolution were devoted to the illicit trafficking of
Unesco’s Bokova described IS’s destruction as “cultural cleansing”, implying it can be used as a tactic of war. cultural artefacts, which were used to fund terrorist groups, and in September 2015, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, the Islamic militan, responsible for destroying nine mausoleums and one mosque in Timbuktu, Mali. This was the first trial at the ICC to focus on the destruction of cultural heritage and presented itself as an opportunity for the ICC to address the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage by armed forces. The trial was opened after Al Mahdi’s arrest in September 2015. He was found guilty of a war crime and sentenced to nine years imprisonment in August 2016. Within this context, it may appear that the world is better equipped than it was nearly 20 years ago, when the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas and the looting of the Iraq Museum in 2003 highlighted
the need for better measures to protect cultural property in warfare. Yet as the case of Syria shows, while non-state armed groups may still be difficult to define within a legal sphere, in practice they have proven far easier to condemn than member states. The destruction of cultural heritage by the Syrian regime had been well documented, along with the looting of cultural artefacts to fund pro-Assad forces. Nonetheless, it is the armed militants from opposition forces and IS who receive the majority of international condemnation and media attention: “The world became IS obsessed,” says Al Kuntar. It is an argument with which Sam Hardy, Honorary Research Associate at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, agrees. “There needs to be extensive policing too of (profiting from) illicit trafficking of cultural objects by other state and non-state forces,” says Hardy when I ask him about Resolution 2199 on Twitter. “Journalists have documented indirect testimony from arms-for-antiquities smugglers since 2012, as well as direct testimony from the Free Syrian Army since 2013.” Equally, many have doubts about how effective these new developments have proven to be. “Are militias aware of Al Mahdi’s trial?” asks Al Kuntar, “it’s not a deterrent unless they are.” While culture has been demonstrated as a tactic of war, it can also be described as a potential tool for peace. “We believe that the soft power of culture can contribute to achieving the objectives of peace, stability and resilience,” says Boccardi. But Unesco’s cooperation with the Syrian government, which is required by law, has raised questions about the body’s neutrality. When IS withdrew from Palmyra in 2016, Unesco issued two statements. Firstly, Bokova “welcomed the liberation of the Palmyra archeological site”. Secondly, Unesco announced Bokova’s telephone discussion with Vladimir Putin in which she “reiterated her full support for the restoration of Palmyra.” Both statements implied that with the fall of IS, freedom and peace had been restored. The following month, multiple petitions were published online by archaeologists and heritage professionals, condemning Bokova’s announcements. Ali Othman, a Syrian archaeologist exiled in Paris, accused Unesco of “adding fuel to the fire” in an open letter posted on Facebook. Archaeologists opposed the prospect of an imminent restoration and reconstruction of Palmyra while the conflict was still raging. A petition on the activist group Avaaz’s
website by Al Kuntar described the possibility of reconstruction as “inopportune and unrealistic,” pointing to the absence of archaeologists in Syria, the loss of communities, and the humanitarian crisis. They also strongly opposed collaborating with Russia in restoration efforts, which the petition described as “an active player in this gruesome conflict and a perpetrator of human and cultural violations”. “The [Unesco Syrian] Observatory held a meeting with us as a result of the petition,” says Al Kuntar. When the DGAM hosted a meeting of international archaeological experts in Damascus in December 2016, Unesco did not attend – a decision seen as encouraging. “But they are still not actively engaging with opposition-held areas. They would not facilitate visas for archaeologists living in these areas,” adds Al Kuntar. In response to this, I ask Boccardi about Unesco’s perceived bias. “Experts from all sides of the conflict have attended our events, because they recognise Unesco’s neutrality and credibility,” he says. “In their personal lives they have different political orientations, so bringing them together is complicated. We find a common value shared by all, which is the preservation and protection of cultural heritage.” Al Kuntar disagrees, however: “There’s no ‘neutral’ in this context. Its not about having different political opinions or taking sides. It’s about refusing to engage with a government that is committing war crimes and human rights abuses.” In the 20th century, political leaders used cultural heritage in the formation of the modern nation state of Syria. Archaeology became a way of uniting people in a secular state, by pointing back to a pre-Islamic national identity as a reference. In his 2004 book Reviving Phoenicia: the Search for Identity in Lebanon, the academic Asher Kaufman highlighted different strands of national sentiment in Syria and Lebanon in the wake of the Ottoman Empire. As well as a nationalism drawn from Islamism and a common Arab identity, a “secular non-Arab Syrianism […] relied heavily on works of French scholars who wrote about the existence of a Syrian nation based on a unity of geography and race,” noted Kaufman. With the rapid growth of a global tourist industry in the 20th century, sites such as Palmyra presented economic opportunities for the local communities around the sites. They were also beneficial for the soft-power image of the autocratic Syrian government. Palmyra was
inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1980, just one month before the former Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad ordered the mass killing of thousands of inmates in the nearby Tadmur prison. To Syrians, the name “Tadmur” points to a dark recent history. From the late-1970s onwards, dissidents against the regime, primarily from the Muslim Brotherhood and branches of the secular Communist Party in Syria, were routinely detained in Tadmur, where they were tortured and often killed. “It’s a collective trauma from which much of our present cultural history is based,” says Majd Abdelhamid, a Syrianborn, Palestinian artist working with satellite images
In 20th century Syria archaeology became a way of uniting people in a secular state, by pointing back to a preIslamic identity. of Tadmur prison before and after its destruction by IS in 2015. “Many of the prisoners were intellectuals, writers, poets, or doctors.” IS were aware of the dual symbolism of the city. After destroying the prison, they released a video allowing the public to look inside it for the first time. The film revealed tiny cells with small windows and poor hygiene conditions. Potent symbolisms have therefore made Palmyra a subject of propaganda for both the Syrian regime and IS. Nowhere is this more evident than in the two performances that took place in the city’s Agora amphitheatre in 2015 and 2016. The first of these was the public beheading of Khaled Al Asaad, the head of antiquities in Palmyra. The 83-year-old had refused to lead the jihadist group to artefacts that he had helped to hide. His execution prompted obituaries across newspapers worldwide and in Italy, the flags of all museums were flown at half mast. The second was a concert given by St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alexey Gergiev, music director of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert saw Syrian government officials, Russian 90
soldiers and journalists in attendance. While the adjacent city lay in ruins, Gergiev praised President Putin and described the concert as “a protest against the barbarism and violence of the IS”. IS’s execution may have attracted the world’s horror, but Gergiev’s performance was also the subject of heavy critique. The UK’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that the concert was “a tasteless attempt to distract attention from the continued suffering of millions of Syrians. It shows that there are no depths to which the regime will not sink.” Abdelhamid agrees. “These performances highlight two forms of violence. IS’s execution of Al Asaad was a Hollywood-style video aimed to provoke shock and horror. In the Russian performance the violence is concealed. The Russians and Syrians presented themselves as liberators and the guardians of culture and civilisation.” As such, the city and its ruins have been caught up in an ongoing battle of narratives. Journalists and commentators described the 2016 recapture of Palmyra as a “PR coup” for Assad. The success of this position can be seen in an argument made by Boris Johnson, writing in The Telegraph in 2016: “No matter how repulsive the Assad regime may be – and it is – their opponents in [IS] are far, far worse.” Such a statement ignores the humanitarian figures, however. A report by the Syrian Human Rights Committee, an independent research group based in London stresses that of the 633 documented assaults on civilians in 2016, 483 were committed by the Syrian regime and Russian forces – only 27 were committed by IS. Cultural heritage has been affected by similar communication strategies elsewhere in Syria and Iraq. In June 2017, the Chechen Kadyrov Foundation announced a fund of $5m to restore the destroyed Ummayad Mosque in Aleppo. When the 12th-century mosque of Al Nuri and its leaning minaret were destroyed in the battle for Mosul that same month, the Iraqi army signalled it as the final defeat of IS in Iraq, ending a nine-month siege by Iraqi and coalition forces. Yet both IS and the US army accused each other of destroying the mosque, with IS maintaining, despite video footage indicating otherwise, that the site was hit by US airstrikes. The World Heritage Committee defines Palmyra as being of “outstanding universal value” but the site has held a number of different meanings throughout history. In modern Europe, it symbolised the glory of the ancient world, and values that define European
identity such as tolerance, culture and civilisation. For Syrians and others in neighbouring countries, Tadmur prison continues to haunt the collective memory of the place. To IS militants, it is a symbol of pagan blasphemy, and to the Syrian regime, it is a strategic target in the battle of narratives. These many symbolisms raise questions about how the site can and should be remembered. “Until the conflict is over, we shouldn’t talk about reconstruction,” says Al Kuntar. “Any conversation should include the people of Palmyra and Syrians.” Meanwhile, the universal significance of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites makes their destruction an international crime and their protection an imperative for humankind. Yet as a form of soft power, culture is also vulnerable to rhetoric and politicking. International agencies positioned culture as a tool for peace and resilience and thus argued for its protection, but in the context of Syria, this message is heavily undermined by their collaboration with a government and coalition whose war crimes and numerous human rights abuses have been well documented. “At the post-conflict stage, when you have a humanitarian rush and a drive to rebuild and modernise, sometimes the past gets swept away,” says Darlington. “We don’t want the world to look the same, and heritage helps to define what is unique and special about a place.” Few will dispute the importance of preserving cultural heritage, or can ignore the great cultural loss that has occurred in Syria, both for Syrians and the wider world. Culture is an expression of identity and a testament to the diversity of humankind. As such, it is defined as a human right. Yet as conversations conducted for this article show, heritage professionals involved in Syria are often unable to reconcile the impact of their work with the large-scale humanitarian emergency caused by the ongoing war. “I have given up,” says Othman. “When I see the human catastrophe in Raqqa [IS’s self-declared capital of the caliphate], I no longer want to work there. As an archaeologist, I am preserving the past to provide incentives for the future. The past was written by people for people. If the people are no longer there, why write it?” E N D
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Furnishing Silences Introduction Kristina Rapacki Concept Yuri Suzuki Illustrations Philippe Dupuy Scores Yuri Suzuki advised by Matthew Rogers
“Furniture music is something that should be created – that is, music which would be part of the ambience, which would take account of it. I imagine it being melodic in nature: it would soften the noise of knives and forks without dominating them, without imposing itself. It would furnish those silences which sometimes hang heavy between diners. It would save them from everyday banalities. At the same time, it would neutralise those street sounds which impinge on us indiscreetly.” Special Project
essays, and homages, and considered furniture music, in particular, to be Satie’s “most far-reaching discovery”. The postwar decades were the era of Muzak’s peak popularity too – commercially produced background music piped into retail and work spaces, programmed to subtly manipulate (or “stimulate”, as its implementors put it) consumers’ and workers’ behaviour. In the concert hall as in the shopping centre, the effects of ambient music were being scrutinised, mobilised, and experimented with. To mark the centenary of Satie’s concept, Disegno approached the London-based sound designer Yuri Suzuki to re-imagine furniture music for a contemporary domestic setting. Suzuki, currently a Stanley Picker Fellow at Kingston University, London, is a designer of intuitive digital musicmaking objects: toy cars that play music as they drive around colourful scribbled scores; a circuit board that turns any object into a synthesiser; and an app that converts brooms into guitars, and pots and pans into drums. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2008, Suzuki has built his practice on the suggestion that sound might be treated as a subject for industrial design, as well as an appreciation of sound as a functional element within a space. It was a deep-rooted interest in atmospheric sound and its effects, however, that led Suzuki to Satie’s furniture music. “I’m interested in atmosphere, and how we can improve our daily lives through sound,” explains Suzuki, who cites the British composer Brian Eno's ambient music as an influence. “The overall effect should be quite modest,” he continues, stressing the fine distinction between stimulation and manipulation. “Repetitive sounds are good at calming humans down, for example, but repetitions shouldn’t be too mechanical, because the human brain immediately recognises identical patterns and they make us uncomfortable. There needs to be an element of randomness to the repetition.” The following pages present four concepts for furniture music, titled in Satie-esque fashion. Each object is illustrated by Philippe Dupuy and accompanied by a score, developed by Suzuki as advised by the composer Matthew Rogers, which evokes the soundscape produced. Some objects, such as the mechanical rain stick and white noise pacifier, already exist or are being being developed by Suzuki. Others, such as the acoustic side table and singing washing machine, are currently in their conceptual stages, and will likely form a part of Suzuki’s upcoming exhibition at the Stanley Picker Gallery in 2018. What is critical to each object, however, is that it responds to Satie’s idea of furniture music on both a literal and metaphorical level.
This is what the French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925) is said to have declared to the painter Fernand Léger in a Parisian café sometime in the mid-1910s. The anecdote, as told by Léger in a special Satie-themed issue of La Revue Musicale from 1952, describes what is considered a foundational moment for the conceptualisation of background music, Muzak, or musique d’ameublement (“furniture music”), as Satie called it. Furniture music was designed to be heard, but not actively listened to. “Furnishing music completes one’s property,” Satie wrote a few years later, continuing with typical Dada panache: “It's new; it does not upset customs; it is not tiring […] it is not boring.” It is a century since Satie wrote his first Furniture Music. The 1917 set, which seems to have never been performed or published in Satie’s lifetime, consisted of two somewhat eccentrically titled pieces: ‘Tapestry in forged iron; for the arrival of the guests (grand reception), to be played in a vestibule; movement: very rich’ and ‘Phonic tiling; can be played during a lunch or civil marriage; movement: ordinary’. The scores are short: both pieces are composed of a single motif for flute, clarinet, and strings that may be repeated ad infinitum. The effect of listening actively to Satie’s furniture music can be somewhat maddening. Approach it in a state of distraction, however, and it will likely fulfil its function as a relatively soothing sonic padding. “Reception in a state of distraction,” wrote Walter Benjamin in his much-cited 1936 essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, “is increasing noticeably in all fields of art and is symptomatic of profound changes in apperception.” In its move away from the rapt concentration of the concert hall, Satie’s furniture music served as a nearcontemporary validation of Benjamin’s analysis of perception of various art forms in modernity. That music or sound design (to use an anachronistic term) could form part of the fabric of everyday life, and that designing such sounds could be a worthwhile endeavour for composers, was an original idea – at least in the Western tradition. This “de-sacralisation" of so-called high art was, Benjamin argued, in large part due to the dawn of mechanical reproducibility on a mass scale in the early 20th century. Furniture music was, in many ways, ahead of its time. Although performances of later sets (of which there were two, written in 1920 and 1923 respectively) took place in Satie’s lifetime, it was in the postwar period that composers and musicologists began to take a keen interest in Satie’s ideas about repetition and ambience. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Western artists and composers began to scramble to negate the high art traditions of pre- and interwar Europe. The American composer John Cage did much to popularise Satie’s music in the postwar years through performances,
p. 98 Acoustic side table “This is a table made from an acoustic chamber. The living room is all about encouraging interactions and conversations between family and friends. In this country, we don’t have such a problem with this kind of communication, but in Japan, conversations can be difficult. Sound can have a profound psychological effect on people. Conversations are much more comfortable if you’re in a slightly noisier environment like a café or a public space. So with this object, the sound made by any item placed on the table – a cup, a plate, a phone – will be amplified. With ambient noise coming out of the table, the quality of the conversation might be improved.”
p. 100 Mechanical rain stick “The sound of waves is really soothing. So for the bedroom, I’ve developed a machine that recreates the sound of waves on beaches from around the world in real time. It consists of a motorised tube that is filled with little pebbles. When rotated, it recreates the sound of a wave, and it’s connected to wave pattern data from around the world, so you can listen to the waves in, say, Brighton or San Francisco in realtime. It’s like a musical instrument played by the sea.”
p. 102 Singing washing machine “This is a project that has come out of conversations with the composer Matthew Herbert. He’s been thinking about the washing machine cycle taking up to two hours, and some of the sounds it makes during that time are quite brutal. We were really thinking about how you could put order into the process by composing a two-hour score to complement the sounds of the machine.”
p. 104 White noise pacifier “Certain kinds of white noise can have a beneficial effect on people, although it can’t be too repetitive or industrial, and it needs random elements to it. I’ve already developed a product called the white noise machine, but here I’m developing it slightly further by incorporating the sound of the wind rustling leaves on a tree. I imagine this being hooked up to a baby’s cot. When a baby cries and parent’s say ‘shhhhh’, the shhhhhh-sound is actually white noise that mimics the sound in the womb.”
Acoustic Side Tables To be performed at an awkward family gathering; movement: animated
Mechanical Rain Stick For the uneasy sleeper; movement; calm
Singing Washing Machine To be played while performing domestic chores; movement; dynamic
White Noise Pacifier For a child missing the womb; movement; soothing
I’ll Have One of Those Words Kristina Rapacki Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Badoo, the world’s largest dating app by membership, has a new search function. It works like so: in addition to filtering members’ profiles according to physical proximity, an inscrutable facial recognition algorithm now also lets you filter people according to which celebrity they – very vaguely – look like. Currently in beta form, the “Lookalikes” function supposedly lays at your feet a host of Cara Delevignes, Idris Elbas, Kate Mosses and Robert Pattisons, as well as Jeremy Corbyns, Nicola Sturgeons, and, should you wish, Boris Johnsons. There are teething problems: many users have set celebrity photos as their profile pics and as to those who haven’t and how similar they actually look to the celebrities in question – well, the software pins down hair colour and skin tone with moderate precision. But it’s the principle rather than the efficiency of the function that’s interesting. It is, perhaps, the most extreme manifestation of a technology that already fosters a consumerist approach to romantic relationships. Dating apps present us with an unending cavalcade of options which can be scrutinised dispassionately before contact is initiated. Their visual focus “solicits a mode of choice that is derived from the economic sphere,” writes sociologist Eva Illouz in her 2012 book Why Love Hurts, and which is at odds with “more intuitive or epiphanic modes of knowledge”. In other words, these apps aren’t particularly conducive to romance, at least not the notion of romance we have inherited from, you know, the Romantics. The clash between such “technologies of choice” and our socio-cultural expectations of love is, Illouz contends, one of the reasons why love hurts in the 21st century. But there’s a twist! Go to the “Lookalikes” function on Badoo, and it takes you to a tab showing not celebrity lookalikes, but you lookalikes of both sexes. This is a clever move on Badoo’s part. Studies have shown that we’re most likely to be attracted to people with similar features to our own. As with all of the supposedly rational choices we imagine ourselves making on the marketplace, there are murkier impulses at work than we care to consider. Perhaps “Your lookalikes” will end up the more popular tab – although I’m only judging from the pull it exerted on me when I tested the app. Never mind Idris and Cara. I wanted someone a bit more me.
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Amanda and Glenn Fuhrman With additional support from the Rachel Whiteread Exhibition Supporters Circle, Tate Americas Foundation, Tate International Council, Tate Patrons and Tate Members Rachel Whiteread Untitled (Pink Torso), 1995 (Detail) © Rachel Whiteread. Photo © Tate (Seraphina Neville and Mark Heathcote)
The Ongoing Adventures of K5 – Robot Extraordinaire Words Oli Stratford Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Manufactured by the robotics startup Knightscope, the K5 Autonomous Data Machine is a robotic security guard with thermal imaging, automatic license plate recognition and a video camera to provide “an additional set of intelligent eyes and ears”. On 17 July, at the Washington Harbour office and retail complex in Washington DC, a K5 fell down some steps while on its rounds and accidentally drowned itself in a fountain. The news was greeted by an outpouring of internet chufties, with K5’s colleagues even memorialising his empty charging pad with flowers and photographs of vigil candles: “In loving memory of our security robot… but more importantly our friend.” Delightfully, the world loves K5 precisely because he’s unrelentingly crap. Two days after Elon Musk warned that, “AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation”, K5 reassuringly blundered into view, threw himself down some steps and drowned in a few inches of shopping mall water. Don’t worry. I’ve got this. Pleasingly, K5 has past form in crapness. In April 2017, a K5 was punched by a drunk man in a car park and fell over. In 2015, a K5 inadvertently ran over a 16-monthold child. K5 wants to keep us safe, but calamity is never far away; in his capacity to always let us down, he will never let us down. In part, the K5 love-in seems prompted by the fact that he represents how we secretly wish all robots were. He looks as a robot should – a pseudo Apple-engineered, poached-egg-pouch on wheels – and constant mishaps enable anthropomorphism to the degree that the world can now legitimately believe that K5 is an earnest trier who is sadly terrible at his job (for the record, I tried to write this article with neuter pronouns – it felt wrong). K5 is a charming bungler who presents no real conceptual challenge and grants no real insight. He lacks the sociopolitical edge of drones, the ethical dimension of cybernetics, or the ontological questions of AI. He’s just crap – there’s nothing more to him – which makes him rather a lot like us. Instead of struggling with the complexity of robotics, K5 recasts the debate as an easily digestible sitcom tragicomedy that would presumably have cast Paul Blart’s Kevin James were it not for K5’s bravura debut. Laying belly up and failed in a shallow mall fountain, K5 is not so much a robot, as the internet-appointed avatar of humanity.
Green at Sea Words Kay Sunden Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Craig Green – darling of the London fashion scene, maker of rickety wearables and warrior apparel – has released an advertising campaign for autumn/winter 2017. The photographs each feature three to five men, dressed in hooded bodybag-like outfits, half-submerged in turbulent waters, and clinging to vacuum-packed parcels and buoys. The bodies are symmetrically composed within stylised wooden frames such that the ensembles look like jerry-rigged rafts. Stylish jerry-rigged rafts. “This was not inspired by or a direct message or comment about a particular thing,” Craig Green told Vice-owned magazine i-D upon launching the advertising campaign. “I have always tried to find a romantic way to look at things that are not obviously romantic. […] Hopefully people see a beauty in the images, and the force of people in unison.” So far, that’s exactly what people seem to see in the shots, which are taken by Dan Tobin Smith and styled by Robbie Spencer. It is only Alec Leach of fashion website highsnobiety.com who has noted, somewhat cautiously, that “it’s hard to not see parallels to the tragedies occurring in the Mediterranean, as desperate refugees fleeing war in Africa cross treacherous waters in haphazard, overcrowded vessels.” No comment as of yet, however, on the ethics of mobilising such associations for the purpose of touting products. Nothing near the protests that erupted in the art world when Chinese artist Ai Weiwei repeatedly posed on Lesbos as drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi (‘Ai Weiwei Hits a New Low by Crassly Recreating Photo of Drowned Syrian Toddler’, ran the artnet.com headline). “I think it’s important for people to have their own interpretations of what they are seeing,” Green says in the i-D interview. So here’s my interpretation: the campaign is a stylised evocation of the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time, aestheticised not for the purpose of artistic exploration, but for profit. (However misguided Ai’s photographic series was, he was not, at least, soliciting business.) Green’s campaign is either tone-deaf to its own associations, or – worse still – well aware of the upset it will cause, and is capitalising on it.
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Club Catharsis Interview Susanna Cordnerâ€‚Photographs Carey Juliette
The fashion designer Charles Jeffrey, photographed in his studio in Somerset House, London.
When the fashion designer
Jeffrey launched the Loverboy night in 2014 while still studying, partly in order to fund his MA in Fashion Design. A less mercenary interpretation of the venture, however, was that the night aimed to provide a cathartic outlet and safe space for his contemporaries to celebrate the joys of dressing up. The party is now on hiatus, but went on to inspire Loverboy the brand, for which Jeffrey’s fellow partygoers remain a core field of primary research, as well as key collaborators in the media, events and wider ethos that has grown up around the brand. The cultural and social significance of Loverboy is underpinned by the execution of Jeffrey’s work. The designer pairs his idiosyncratic DIY ethos with a growing interest in cut and quality. The garments blend bricolage and illustration; silhouettes sourced from historical costume, redeployed in contemporary garments; bold tartans and houndstooth suiting; T-shirts emblazoned with repurposed news headlines (“CHILDREN HIGH ON DRINK AND DRUGS”), as well as cut-up jumpers bonded with electrical tape and hand-painted trousers. The whole effect, from the garments upwards, is one of joie de vivre and speaks of an inclusivity towards outside influences and new ideas. It is an approach that the industry has quickly recognised. While still a student, Jeffrey worked as an intern at Dior, as well as winning Graduate of the Year and Young Designer of the Year at the Scottish Fashion Awards in 2015 and 2016 respectively. His brand is supported by Fashion East and has shown as a part of their Topman-backed Man initiative. For 2017/2018, Jeffrey has also received funding from the British Fashion Council’s Newgen scheme and he is currently working towards an exhibition with the NOW Gallery in Greenwich, London. With community comes culture. Meeting in his studio, Jeffrey and I discussed working as part of a diverse team as well as exploring Loverboy’s multiple meanings as a brand, a moment, a movement, an invitation, and a term of endearment.
Charles Jeffrey emerged from Central Saint Martins in 2015, he was credited with reviving a tradition of club culture within both London’s fashion scene and its nightlife. Evolving from the free expression evinced at his Loverboy club nights in Dalston’s Vogue Fabrics, Jeffrey’s designs and his collection presentations play as elated calls to arms. More than just commercial ventures, his shows and short films – replete with cacophonous energy and stark individuality – stand out as quasi-political acts: invitations to stay bravely joyful in the face of growing social adversity.
Susanna Cordner I thought we could begin by you telling me about where you’ve brought me. Charles Jeffrey This is my first stand-alone studio. It’s in Somerset House and it’s part of a scheme called Somerset House Studios. They offer subsidised rent for spaces within this building and they’re trying to promote the idea of having these big, grandiose buildings as spaces for creatives. The idea is that by subsidising these studios, the whole of London can actually be concentrated in Grade 1 listed buildings. What we do here ranges from illustration, through to set design and fashion design. We do production and send the clothes out from here as well, so whenever that happens the studio is a bit of a mess – we chained the beast for today. But I think it’s important to have all the people who work with me in the same space together. Some of the most beautiful things we do here are the rehearsals for the shows. Recently, when preparing for the spring/summer 2018 show, we had all the dancers here in our rehearsal space being choreographed by Masumi [Saito] from the Theo Adams company. We had two rails of clothes, some of which were just bits of fabric we were using for making dancers’ costumes. I had two amazing interns at the time, who I briefed to make the dancers’ clothes using only three concepts – knotting, pleating and stapling. We wanted to react to the dancers, to see how they felt, and how they wanted their bodies to be covered. Over on the other side of the room you had [the set designer] Gary Card building all of his pieces for the show, with cardboard and paint going everywhere. There was such an amazing energy and it was all based on a little initial scribble that I’d done. I was in the middle just letting it all go on around me. Susanna When people write about you, they often list the many strings you have to your bow as separate entities. But it seems that you’re looking for ways of stringing them all together. Charles When I was doing my MA, it was really funny because I would come to tutorials with masses of stuff. I had a pile of illustrations, a pile of fabrics, and a book that I was really into. I’d made a zine, I’d made a toile, and sometimes I would get berated: “You’re doing everything but designing, you’re just kind of going through everything.” But I always thought it would all come together in the end, and now I have the means of actually making the clothes. I’ve never been good at pattern cutting. I had an understanding of fittings and details, but not the actual mathematics
and putting in of volumes – the technical side of making clothes. I now have the most amazing pattern cutter called Naomi [Ingleby], who I know I’ll be working with forever. She’s knows how my brain works and is able to translate all of it. Having her on board has allowed me to actually do all of that stuff. It’s like having a Gulf Stream to put ideas through. Susanna With fashion, people often only really think about the finished product, whereas you talk about collaboration and there being a natural creative network around what you do. Does that focus on the end result – to the detriment of talking about the network, the personalities, and the level of care and time that’s gone into a piece – frustrate you? Charles I think people sometimes tarnish what we do with one brush, and see it as something that doesn’t necessarily have a lot of depth. But the time that’s taken for making all of these pieces is unbelievable. We have a factory; Naomi doing the construction; and we also have my friend Jack [Appleyard], who has a keen eye for putting things together. I myself spend a lot of time making sure the clothes have the right proportions, the right fit, the right fabric. Because of limited budgets, we work with fabrics we find in discount stores. So there are all these different nuances that happen during the process, and the performance of the show is curated too – there’s so much emotion that goes into being able to create that moment. I guess a lot of the time people are just seeing the product that’s been isolated by buyers in certain stores. When we did our first show, we had jumpers made with tape, which was our first time making that design as a series of production pieces. When we did them for the MA they were just there for that one moment to show the creative endeavour. But when it comes to actually showing that as a product, we needed to think about longevity and wearability. With those particular jumpers there wasa level of care we put into the aesthetic of them and there was a degradation that was expected from that product. So we had to have a legal disclaimer saying that it was the intention of the artist that the jumper would degrade over time. I think people can look at that and think, “Oh, it’s just not made very well.” Susanna I’m interested in how “Loverboy” gets used as a brand name, a club name, and as the name of your collective. I think you could almost call it a movement, and I definitely think that you could call it a cultural
moment. Is that a deliberate method – are you hoping one day people will refer to your moment as Loverboy? Could it be something akin to punk? Charles That would be a really beautiful thing to happen and if we were to have the longevity or echo of something like punk, I would be flattered beyond belief. But the terminology of “Loverboy” being used to describe a lot of things probably just comes from the evolution of language. It’s like how in texts, for instance, you’re always trying to shorten things, which in itself has a lot of power – especially when you’re talking to the press and describing yourself. I always like using the term “Loverboy” for people who are my mates. They’re loverboys. I love that and think it’s really fabulous. When I started doing a party it was an excuse for me to do work that wasn’t under the constraints of my MA and all the pressures of that. So when I had that opportunity, it was a chance to do loads of stuff I’d always wanted to: let’s do a little photoshoot, let’s make some bits of set, let’s put people in there. It was a really good way for me to cut loose and do something that felt normal and natural. Susanna It started as more of an experiment rather than a platform? Charles Totally. When I first moved to London there was an amazing night called Ponystep, where I loved seeing how people manifested themselves in the nightlife and how they DIY-ed their outfits – it was just an absolute ball. Then that night died down and the scene was a lot more about streetwear and people going to Effes and Alibi [bars in Dalston]. They were still having a really good time, but there wasn’t that element of dress-up. So when there was a chance to do a club night, I really wanted to go back to that original feeling of dressing up and being super creative. Originally, it was about finding a place for me and my UAL friends, but then suddenly there were all of these characters who I’d never seen before coming from the south London art school scene. They were fantastic creative voices and they all had the most amazing makeup and outfits – it was something I had never seen before. You had had a whole scene with Ponystep that was very slick, black, Gareth Pugh and PVC – which was a look in itself. But then I discovered this whole other look and I was like “Wow. There’s someone wearing historic costume with crazy makeup and devil horns.” It was fantastic and something that I wanted to show off. It was about creating a context that wasn’t constricted by having to be graded.
Susanna Your work is so site-specific: through the way you present your shows; because of its place in a social narrative; and through its association with this club scene you’ve been talking about. How does it feel if you see someone who has bought something off the hanger and it’s therefore taken slightly out of the context in which it was conceived? Charles It’s really nice to see how people put things together, because when you take things out of context you see them in a flatter light perhaps. Putting on a bit of a retail head, it’s also interesting for the design process. Perhaps I can see that one person is wearing a jumper in a particular way, but their hands are not going all the way through the sleeves, so then let’s think about shortening that design. So there’s an element of analysis there. Through Instagram I also get to see people from all over the world wearing our clothes. We have a huge following in Korea and there’s a store in Japan called The Gent’s Shop that’s obsessed with Loverboy. They are just the most beautiful souls, these young Japanese punky boys, and because our brand has a lot of aesthetic elements that it shares with that scene, they’re obsessed with it. There’s also a woman from Korea who wears a lot of our stuff really chicly as well. There’s a noodle soup suit we’ve got, which is basically a grey houndstooth suit decorated with lots of different cords that you can knot however you like. She had tied it up in such a beautiful way; she wore it with a T-shirt and just carried herself with such grace. It’s really nice how that person can translate the things that we’ve put forward, especially when you go see how a woman wears our clothes. It’s a beautiful validation and a nice form of information for us to take on in our design perspective. Susanna We’re talking about the idea of fashion as a cultural event: garments not just as products, but as an indicator of a scene or a life. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on fashion as escape. Charles Whenever I used to dress up – even when just getting ready to go to St Martins – I would always try to portray some sort of a character when putting the clothes together. I think that element of dress carries through when you’re going to a club and meeting people who are so committed to putting forward a fantasy of themselves – along with all of the music, the people around you and the escapism. It transports you to this whole other level of fantasy and you can be whoever you want to be. In fact, all of the shows I was inspired by growing up, old [Vivienne] Westwood and
Gareth Pugh shows, I saw for the very first time when in high school and they gave me heart palpitations. I was thinking, “Oh my god, this can be fashion?” Really, you don’t even view those shows as a catwalk – you’re just intoxicated. It’s like you’re reading a book and manifesting a scene from that in your own head. There’s an element of your own creativity that you give to it. Susanna How did that play out in your own shows when you’re supported by Fashion East and NewGen? Charles It’s a really good opportunity – you’re given a space to take over and an audience to look at your work. It’s an opportunity to be the best you can be. It’s not just about sending clothes up and down a runway – although there’s a poetry to that in itself – but also about bringing everything else in: let’s build a set, let’s have dancers that move to the themes of the show. People always want to come together to do something beautiful and to try to achieve a moment of creativity. I remember speaking to [the Blitz DJ] Princess Julia about how people are always happy to chip in with the club scene when they know it’s just for a joyous moment, and I think the same can be said about the shows that we do. Whenever I do a little callout on Instagram for people to come help, the people who come forward aren’t those you would expect. Our dancers, for instance, have always been a mixture of professionals and people who just want to be part of it. That energy is key to the show, and it’s fine because it brings a texture to the dancing. Naivety and honesty are so important to our work – it’s the idea of inclusivity. Susanna I’ve noticed you only ever say “we” about your work. I think the first time you said “I” today was when you referred to your passion for Gareth Pugh and Vivienne Westwood. You talk as a collective. Charles I kind of see myself as a catalyst. As the work and the brand develop there are elements we can be a little bit more in control of, but I do like to think of myself as open-minded and allowing people to work in their own way. I guess it’s a push and pull. There are some people who would never have the confidence to put themselves out there, but then you’re like, “Oh my god you’re so talented, you need the opportunity to do it.” So we give them that space through Loverboy. Susanna Your work is always pinned to this particular scene that is associated with the DIY, much like the London clubs Taboo or Blitz were in the 1980s. The majority of the makers and personalities who
were operating in Taboo or Blitz were making those pieces themselves, whereas with Loverboy, you translate the outfits into collections. There is a commercial drive. How do you reconcile those forces? Charles We got to this stage where I had to design pieces that would be able to be produced, and which could lend themselves to going to Paris. We started with that DIY nature of making things, and slowly but surely injected wearable pieces that would work for sales. As I mentioned, I’m not the best at making and sewing, but the things that I do make manifest my own hand and my own tactility. Anything I make with my own hands ultimately has its own personality; anything that has my illustrations on it or any sort of artwork has that sort of DIY, homespun feel to it because no one else can do that. I guess you could see it as print design, as artworks inserted into the clothing. Even though it’s formed well and stitched in nicely, there’s still a concept that holds both of those worlds together. Susanna The interesting thing with fashion being both creative and commercial is that it allows people to buy into particular moments and particular scenes as a consumer. The fashion show is the archetype of the way in which that world has been kept separate from most people – traditionally it’s been an exclusive space, although social media is changing that now. I think your practice is a democratic act within that, because I noticed that you released a short film just in advance of launching your last collection. Was that a deliberate move to give your public access to the collection before the exclusive scene got hold of it? Charles For me it was more about a little tickle and getting people riled up. It lent itself to the sort of thing we did with the club night, which we always advertised beforehand with a series of posters. We would do loads of other bits of media that lent themselves to the buildup of the club night and getting people riled up about coming. That is always going to be part of the work we do. The collection trailer that we put on Dazed and the films we’ve published on Instagram Stories were done with my friend Karim [Boumjimar]. He was doing a makeup test and scribbling all over himself, so I suggested “Why don’t you just go outside and walk around Somerset House with your phone and start doing these weird films?” Ultimately, I see myself doing shows that loads of people could watch. I love the idea of Yohji Yamamoto and how he used to show
Jeffrey has previously emblazoned headlines taken from local newspapers onto T-shirts.
his work to people in stadiums – although obviously I’m a long way off that level. Susanna Your work, particularly the last collection, felt like a form of rebellion against a very dour mood at the moment and at a time when many clubs are closing. Is the club scene something you see as providing a safe space for self-expression, and something we need to deliberately preserve at this moment in time? Charles Having a safe space and going somewhere where you can be someone else is so important. When you’re going through the trials and the tribulations of the week and seeing all the things you’re subjected to – like today we had the Donald Trump statement on Charlottesville – you do start to think about what’s going on with the world. Sometimes you sit down and think, “Christ, there are actually race wars going on at the moment.” So let’s create our own concepts and constructs we can believe in and escape into. Ultimately what people want to escape to is peace and love, but they also want to react against what’s in front of them, which is anger and hate. They want to do something fantastical and fun and out there. Having spaces in which people can exist in that way is so cathartic. Our shows put forward something that ultimately a lot of people don’t put forward – which is to take the piss and have a bit of a laugh. We did some T-shirts that were based on silly newspaper article headlines that somebody had sent me a blog about when I was having a bit of a stressful day. I just thought, “Oh my god, let’s put them on T-shirts.” I think some people saw that as a disregard for the political climate we’re in, but ultimately it’s comic relief. If someone sees that as disregard, I think they need to look at it in a bigger sense. I’m not here to challenge you, I’m here to make you laugh and have a good time. There will be politics attached to my work going ahead and these things will eventually come through when it feels right. But at that moment I just wanted people to feel good. Susanna I think one could view your work as a political act. Let’s acknowledge the difficulties we’re currently facing and embrace joy. Joy is defiance. Charles Not to disregard the thought processes and the seriousness that people need to feel and act upon, but my work is more to do with giving people a bit of support. A slap on the bum. Ultimately you’re going to need a smile on your face to tackle these issues. We’re still alive, we’re still breathing air, there’s someone out
there who loves you, and that’s what you need to remind yourself. Susanna You get held up as emblematic of your time, a look to the future in fashion, and also someone who is preoccupied with historical references. How do you balance these different temporalities? Charles I remember having conversations with a friend and we were talking about how it’s interesting to see time as vertical rather than horizontal – past, present and future can all exist in one spot right here. Certainly, I’m visually stimulated by garments from the past, how they’re curated, and how they sit on the body. People used to dress in such extravagant ways. Why don’t we dress like that anymore? There’s an element of practicality, but other styles can still be practical. I remember watching Vivienne Westwood’s Painted Ladies from 1996, where she spoke about how men in the past, even if they were of large stature, still had clothes cut to sit on their bodies and give them some grace, whereas now they look like barrels in suits. There are so many designers who cut clothes really beautifully, but when you see someone directly reference historical garments people often snub it as costume. Actually, there are many volumes and cuts you can apply to tailoring and fluting and dressing that are so modern, and which can sit nicely in the moment. There are obviously an awful lot of rules and regulations that come from these past garments. Men were meant to dress one way, and women were meant to dress another: dress showcased authority or productivity or whatever. With all these political statements attached to dress you can look at them and create a story. As we go along I’m interested in taking a few historical elements, analysing the politics behind them, and seeing how they can then become part of the story we’re putting down. But you can also look at historical references in purely visual terms and see how they sit alongside something else taken from the present – and see humour in that juxtaposition. Susanna How do you select the periods and fashion moments that you reference in your work? You’ve had your dandies, you’ve had Georgians, you’ve had Tudors – which got quite “strumpet”. What attracts you first: the social story and the cultural event they represent, or the volume and shapes and how they can be juxtaposed with contemporary silhouettes? Charles I’m a magpie for those kinds of things. I’ll find something in a bookshop and want to move forward with that and react to it. At the moment I’ve bought
a book on Irving Penn, so obviously that’s going to be a mode of thought for the next collection. When we were doing the spring/summer 2017 collection, I was very interested in Versailles and couture. It was this idea of elevating something from the club dance floor – what does that word “elevation” mean? I was thinking of couture and grandeur and then I started watching things about Versailles and the Sun King and it came from there. It became a world I was interested in. Susanna I’m interested in clothing as social signifier. Part of my role as a curator, however, is to remove things from their context, so they can be preserved and looked at in the future. There’s something jarring about taking something away from where it meant the most. What do you think your clothes will mean when they’re removed from this particular moment? Charles I think they’ll definitely showcase elements of craft and care in terms of how they’re designed and put together. It’s interesting to think about how it would be if we took away Loverboy and it was just Charles Jeffrey – what would those clothes represent if it was just one single voice? You could almost see them as costume or as historic pieces themselves. I guess what they represent to people is a myriad of things – it’s almost like a sponge and gains from what others give to it. It really depends on who has worn the clothes and the bits and pieces that exist after they’ve been worn. Susanna Would you most like to see your pieces in a design museum or a social history museum? Charles I think it would be nice to be in a social history museum, because Loverboy has so much to say and has had so much to say so far. To encapsulate that, and for it to be “full stopped” in that context, would give it the due it’s supposed to have and that I think it deserves. As much as I would also like to see it in a design museum, I think it’s in social commentary that Loverboy has had a lot more to say so far. E N D
Contested Spaces Words Jennifer Hattam Photographs Can Dağarslanı
Just along the coastline from the historic centre of Istanbul, swaths of shorefront properties are currently under construction, veiled from public view by tall hoardings bearing signs reading “Şehir senin, deniz senin” (The city is yours, the sea is yours). In this rapidly developing megalopolis, where building projects both public and private seem to be eating up every last square metre of public space, these proclamations could signify bitter irony just as much as a promise of better things to come.
“This city changes so fast, it creates constant amnesia,” says Cem Kozar of the Istanbul-based architecture and urbanism firm PATTU. “When I go back to Antwerp, where I grew up, I know my school will still be there, the buildings where I lived will still be there – my memories are still there. But in Istanbul, these anchors for our memories are being constantly erased; it makes people feel like they don’t belong to the city any more.” Given that Istanbul’s population has exploded from one million in 1950 to fifteen million-plus today, questions about who the city belongs to – and how it might be redesigned to accommodate its rapidly growing number of inhabitants – are nothing new in Istanbul. Turkish films from as early as the 1960s feature characters bemoaning the loss of “old Istanbul”, and a melancholy longing for the past suffuses the Istanbulbased works of Turkey’s most famous novelist, Orhan Pamuk. But the city’s long-running battles over public space and urban liveability have now been thrown into sharp relief by a decade-and-a-half-long building boom that has shifted demographics and living habits, and in so doing helped to inspire a new generation of architects, planners and designers. “This economic boom has been seen as the end of Istanbul as it was, but people have also started to think more about the city,” says Sevince Bayrak of SO? Architecture and Ideas, an Istanbul-based design and architecture practice that won the international category in MoMA PS1’s 2017 Young Architects Program. “It’s created opportunities for architects like us to open offices, and has changed how the city is discussed in a positive way.” There is perhaps no single space in Istanbul that has been more discussed in recent years than Taksim Square, a broad, graceless concrete expanse about 10-minutes’ walk north of SO?’s office. Situated at the fringes of the city in Ottoman times, the square was constructed in the early 1940s as a new heart for “modern” Istanbul under the young Turkish Republic. Since then, it has played host to regular protests and marches – some permitted and some thwarted; post-football-match celebrations and fights; a tragic May Day massacre in 1977; and endless selfies, retaining its symbolic importance even as the boundaries of the city swirl ever further away. Taksim made global headlines in the summer of 2013, when it was taken over by anti-government protesters who briefly occupied both the square and the adjacent Gezi Park in what felt at turns like a political sit-in, a music festival and a utopian commune. Although the protesters had disparate political motivations, their occupation of Taksim and Gezi represented an unprecedented outpouring of grassroots urban place-making. Protesters set up dispensaries for free food and medical care, planted a communal garden, created
an outdoor library, hosted free yoga sessions and concerts, and launched Wi-Fi networks that could be shared by all – until they were tear-gassed and water-cannoned out of the space by police. Three years later, Taksim Square was occupied again in a very different way. After the failed military coup in July 2016, government supporters claimed the city’s preeminent public space for their own, thronging nightly in the flag-bedecked square for boisterous patriotic rallies. Unlike the Gezi protests, when metro lines were shut down and social media blocked to try and keep people from joining the demonstrations, these “democracy vigils” were facilitated by the government with free public transportation, free cell-phone calls throughout the city, official hashtags, and portable toilets and food carts set up to attend to participants’ needs. In the year that has followed the failed coup, ground has broken on a large – and controversial – new mosque on Taksim Square. For decades this square has been an emblem of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s secular ideals, as well as a landmark for the Beyoğlu nightlife district. However, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now vowed anew to reconstruct an Ottoman-era barracks building in Gezi Park – the same plan that drove protesters out onto the streets against his government in 2013 – and to demolish the Atatürk Cultural Centre, a modernist icon on the square that has stood empty for years. With politics so polarised in today’s Turkey, many government opponents see disaster in these plans. But except for brief interludes, such as the 2013 protests, Taksim has always been a place of top-down control, a symbol of how Turkish leaders have continually sought to remake Istanbul – and by extension, the country – in their own image, exercising their vision of who has a right to “public” space, and how they should behave there. “In the early Republic, under Atatürk, the government in Turkey wanted to produce physical spaces that looked just like the ones in Europe,” says Bülent Batuman, the chair of the urban design and landscape architecture department at Bilkent University in the capital Ankara. “They had this idea of ‘modernity’ being men and women walking around together in public as a display of democracy – albeit in a very limited framework. But social dynamics don’t always correspond to the official desire to produce these ‘nice’ spaces that will generate what leaders see as ideal citizens. Real life never fits with these programmes.” During most of the Ottoman era in Istanbul, there was little in the way of formalised public space, with the city’s streets and bazaars, and the courtyards around mosques, serving as the main places where urban dwellers interacted. Gardens were the private domain of the elite, attached to
The images accompanying this article depict life in Taksim Square and Gezi Park. While most were taken in the summer of 2017, some date from the 2013 protests in Gezi Park.
palaces and mansions, often occupying prime real estate alongside the Bosporus Strait. Periods of redevelopment starting in the mid-1800s, however, saw the emergence of public squares around some of the city’s grand new palaces, before the early Republic attempted to sweep away the city’s imperial and religious past by recentring public activities around “secular” spaces, including some European-inspired parks, with no links to palaces or mosques. Narrow streets that had been widened to accommodate horse-drawn carts were turned into broad boulevards for cars. Regardless of political leaning, subsequent governments tended to follow similar models, ordering grand projects intended to “clean up” or “modernise” the city, paying little heed to preservation or incorporation of its historic layers. The populist Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was famously said to have ridden around Istanbul in the 1950s, pointing out of the car window to indicate the buildings he wanted torn down. The current waves of redevelopment in the city are similar to what occurred in the 1950s but on a larger scale and in defiance of contemporary values, says Kozar. “We now have a different understanding of history and the protection of heritage, not just physical buildings but also the cultural characteristics of a city,” he says. “But in Istanbul, they are still doing the same thing that would have been done in the past, at greater speed. Today’s technology can demolish whole neighbourhoods quickly.” Walking, driving or riding around Istanbul often feels like traversing a giant construction site, with roads being torn up and repaved, mammoth cranes towering overhead, cement trucks blocking traffic, gaping holes in the ground, dull thuds echoing through the streets and sidewalks walled off around skeletal buildings in the midst of being erected or torn down. While there are still – for now – vast forests on the outskirts of the city, green space is remarkably scarce in the central areas: by one estimate, just 1sqm per person (rising to about 6sqm citywide), compared to more than 25sqm per person in London and New York. It’s not uncommon to see entire families picnicking – portable grills and all – on landscaped central reservations. As in the past, many of the changes affecting Istanbul have not been initiated by city officials, but by branches of the government in Ankara – today often in partnership with commercial interests, given that government-initiated building projects, lending policies, and allocation of public land have helped the construction sector become a dominant element of Turkey’s economy. Istanbul is currently home to 20 per cent of the Turkish population and accounts for such a sizeable proportion of national production and GDP – far outstripping Ankara on all three counts – that its urban
sphere stands as a nationally contested zone, fraught with disagreement over the country’s priorities and ideology. “For every ruling government, Istanbul has always been the focus. It is Turkey’s centre of gravity – of its culture, its economy and most of its tax revenue – so it is very important to the state,” says the Istanbul-based architect Ömer Kanıpak. “Its public spaces are used as a tool by governing bodies as a showcase for their power, for example as places where pro-government demonstrations can be held.” Previously, Taksim Square and the adjacent pedestrian thoroughfare of İstiklal Caddesi were a hub for protests and demonstrations of all kinds. Processions of banner-hoisting, chanting unionists and members of other interest groups were a regular part of the weekend throngs milling down İstiklal. Until recently, the street hosted a massive, exuberant annual gay pride march, one of the largest in the region. It was often hard to manoeuvre down İstiklal without someone trying to thrust a petition or a pamphlet into your hands. But following the Gezi protests, the failed coup attempt, and a wave of terrorist attacks that have shaken Turkey over the past few years, restrictions on the use of public space in the area have tightened. Armed police and military troops regularly patrol the area and amass in overwhelming numbers at the slightest hint of a protest brewing. One architect told me that she had been questioned by police as to whether she had “permission” to take her students on a walking tour of the area. Gezi Park – once again neglected – has fallen back into its previous state of disrepair: a deterioration some urbanists suspect is an intentional strategy to prime the public for its demolition. New seating areas installed in Taksim are unwelcoming slabs of concrete, unprotected both from the summer heat and the winter rains. And a large chunk of the square has been fenced off by the local municipality for a perpetual “festival” – filled with antique-sellers one month and craftspeople the next. The few permits that are allowed for demonstrations (mostly, though not all, pro-government ones) are generally granted not for Taksim, but for the large, open areas on either side of the Marmara Sea, in Yenikapı and Maltepe. “Each corner of İstiklal used to provide a platform for voicing your concerns, now it’s either two million people [in Yenikapı or Maltepe] or nothing,” says Sinan Erensü, a member of Beyond Istanbul, a group of architects and sociologists working to achieve “spatial justice” in Istanbul. “The opportunity to see and be seen by others is a progressive value of urban life. Now the government is taking that side of urban life that’s open to creative solidarity and moving it to the edges of the city, where they can control it.” With large public gathering places tightly controlled and urban parks scarce, it would be easy to argue, and many do, that public
space is fast disappearing in Istanbul. Others contend they are simply looking for it in the wrong place. “The thing that makes public spaces rich is how people behave in them,” says Kanıpak. “In central Istanbul, you see people using sidewalks very creatively: street vendors, people spending time in front of their houses, all creating very vibrant streetscapes.” The architect Alexis Şanal of ŞanalArc has spent years studying one of the most creative, and ubiquitous, uses of streets as public spaces in Istanbul. Even as shopping malls multiply, more than 350 temporary street markets, or pazars, still appear on set days of the week in neighbourhoods across the city, covering anywhere from 4,000 to 40,000sqm. In an hour or two, a cadre of pazarcıs (market traders) creates, then deconstructs, the shopping area using a sophisticated, highly customisable network of tarpaulins, poles and ropes. “Pazars create a really rich use of public space by temporarily occupying residual land such as side streets and empty car parks,” says Şanal. “There’s a real trust-capital culture that goes along with people going to the same vendors every week, and in some of the older pazars, you can really see that this is a place where women can come out and socialise. Despite the advance of rapid capital, pazars are not going away. They’re valued enough by the community that they have continued.” The enduring tradition of the pazars is just one example of how the same dynamism that creates a sense of urban amnesia and disconnection in Istanbul can also be a positive value for the city – or at least a way to cope with rapid change. Bayrak and her firm have documented the ways people have responded to the lack of urban amenities by making their own out of an unlikely source. “In the past few years, negotiating construction and security barriers has become a part of daily life in the Taksim area, but we started to notice how people were using these barriers as places to lean and sit and eat their lunches,” she says. “That’s how people survive – being insistent on keeping some power over daily life.” Whenever parts of the Bosporus shoreline are separated from the water by construction, fishermen stand on cement pylons in the sea to cast their lines. Shopkeepers set up small kerbside gardens of potted plants to prevent people from parking in front of their stores. Someone with a tea cart and a couple of chairs sets up on a sidewalk and, voilà, you have a mini-café. Young people hop over the fences around flower gardens to lounge on their grassy areas at weekends, or bring cheap store-bought bottles of beer to sit on a dilapidated set of steps offering views as spectacular as those found in any expensive bar. “People in Turkey claim urban space by putting something out on the street,” says Birge Yıldırım, an architect with Okta Atolye. “Because the government doesn’t ask before it changes public space, people don’t ask first either.”
Kozar cites the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn estuary as another example of the phenomenon. “It was not intended to have commerce on it, but restaurants, bars and meyhanes (taverns) started to pop up on the lower level of the bridge and became part of the culture of Istanbul,” he explains. “In the 1990s, the city decided overnight to tear it down and rebuild it with designated spaces for shopping, but it was all fake and sterile — chain clothing stores and fast-food restaurants. They all quickly closed. Now you have what you see today, this row of touristy, mostly identical bars. It just goes to show that you can never plan or predict what will happen in this city.” Like the commercialisation of the Galata Bridge, some of the ideas generated at street level are eventually absorbed into the official fabric of the city. Perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon is the dolmuş transportation system. What began with some enterprising automobile drivers offering shared taxi service to sprawling, generally low-income parts of the city not reached by public transit, has evolved into a nationwide network of minibus cooperatives plying set routes, though still at affordable prices. The dolmuş is part of what the urban researcher Orhan Esen dubbed the “self-service city”, the urban phenomenon of informal development that predominated in Istanbul in the latter half of the 20th century. The opening up of Turkey to global capital, which started in the 1980s and has accelerated rapidly in the 21st century, has largely replaced informal housing with identikit apartment blocks, as well as bringing in new, controversial kinds of privatised space: shopping malls, gated communities and commercial entertainment complexes. Some of these new developments trade on their positive associations with urban public space while, critics argue, accelerating its decline by replacing organic, walkable, connected neighbourhoods with isolated, car-dependent megaprojects. One luxury housing development in the far outskirts of Istanbul was built around an artificial waterway and named “Bosphorus City”. Others advertise developments – in English, even to Turkish customers – as Central Life or My Town. One shopping mall is named Meydan, or square. Another has dubbed its food court Mahalle, the Turkish word for neighbourhood. “We dreamed of a neighbourhood like the ones we remember,” the city’s Nişantaşı mall website reads. “Whatever we had in those neighbourhoods, we wanted in Mahalle, too.” Meanwhile, the mall’s owner manages swathes of land around Istanbul, likely contributing to the general transformation of old neighbourhoods while still making money by evoking nostalgia for new residents. In the former industrial neighbourhood of Bomonti, a shuttered beer factory has been turned into a modern
A boy plays in the fountain in Gezi Park, while, in 2013, a man joins a demonstration hosted in the same space.
entertainment complex, Bomontiada. It’s anchored by one of Istanbul’s best-loved clubs, Babylon, which had helped to revitalise Beyoğlu nightlife in the 2000s but then moved out of the neighbourhood in 2015 after being acquired by a large holding company, contributing – some say – to the area’s recent decline. “People want to feel like they are in a place like Beyoğlu, but in a more protected and segregated way. Demand and supply are shaping each other,” says Yaşar Adanalı, the co-founder of Beyond Istanbul. “Things are messy now. There’s a big perceived feeling of insecurity. There’s all this construction [in Beyoğlu] and then you have nice, public-looking spaces like Bomontiada. If you have money to spend, it’s a space you can enjoy.” Concerns about safety, especially following the recent terror attacks; a fast-growing consumerist culture; grinding traffic and insufficient parking; a lack of urban parks and plazas; and poor pedestrian infrastructure in Istanbul are all helping drive a move toward shopping malls and other semi-private spaces, according to architects and urban researchers in the city. Many also express concerns that the homogenisation and segregation of city life is breaking down social capital and contributing to political polarisation. “Creating these gated spaces concentrates people based on their different identities, which is dangerous,” says Batuman. “Even though public space is a space of clashes, it also creates room for negotiating our differences.” Some designers and architects are trying to re-envision development in ways that bring people together rather than splitting them apart. While large tower blocks would likely create a streetscape of off-putting uniformity, devoting these towers’ ground floors to small, individually owned storefronts “could trigger street life, making it more pedestrian-friendly, more self-reliant, more lively,” says Selva Gürdoğan of the architectural practice Superpool, which now proposes these kinds of design elements to clients building towers in the city. The firm has also lobbied for large developments – such as a 120,000sqm housing project designed with fellow architecture practice BIG in Umraniye district – to be set amidst shared public space rather than walling it off in the centre of a group of blocks. A project sharing some of these ideals, albeit on a small scale, is taking shape 200km east of Istanbul, in the town of Düzce, where a group of residents who lost their homes in a devastating 1999 earthquake fought for 20 years to win the right to control the rebuilding process themselves. Their unique participatory design approach showed strong public demand for shared spaces, gardening plots, a community kitchen and marketplace, as well as courtyard access to the homes. “This community has become an inspiration for
urban movements in Istanbul struggling against regeneration projects,” says Adanalı, who is also a voluntary member of the Düzce Hope Studio which is working with residents to build the homes. “It shows that another kind of design process is possible.” The architects of Herkes İçin Mimarlık (“Architecture for All”) are taking a similar tack, again often outside of Istanbul. As rural areas of Turkey empty out due to migration to urban centres, school buildings in small towns are often abandoned. Members of Herkes İçin Mimarlık talk to these communities about their needs before then holding collaborative workshops to design new uses for these spaces, carrying out renovations using local labour and local construction styles and materials. Replicating this kind of creative, bottom-up approach in Istanbul won’t be easy: overlapping administrations, unwieldy bureaucracies, the city’s sheer size and poor opportunities for public input add to the power of politics and high finance in thwarting challenges to the status quo. Sprawling more than 100km from one end to another and covering a total land area of 5,300sqkm, Istanbul’s municipal footprint is one of the largest in the world. Many of its 39 districts could be cities in themselves, with populations of 300,000 to 500,000 each. Development plans are not well-integrated and a tangled web of authorities – at the district, municipal and national level – has the power to weigh in on city projects, particularly if they affect main road arteries, coastlines, public squares, historic districts or larger parks. Avenues for public input are limited and hard to access, meaning that city residents – and even design professionals – are frequently blindsided whenever development plans are announced for their neighbourhoods. “Design is just thought of as part of the paperwork, something needed to get permission to build, but not as part of the end product,” says Kanıpak. “The big projects often come out so differently from renderings that people don’t even ask to see these plans anymore.” Investment in Istanbul is skewed towards large-scale projects that create revenue, prestige and political clout for government officials, according to Kanıpak and other architects. “The focus is on visible accomplishments rather than maintenance of urban infrastructure,” he says, citing the millions of dollars spent to plant and replant short-lived flowers around the city, while existing green spaces are left to fall into disrepair, sidewalks crumble and pedestrians are forced to dart across busy intersections because there are no traffic lights. When urban amenities are maintained, it is often done in a way that benefits capital interests rather than citizens, Kanıpak adds. “The renovation of public spaces is a continuous process because there is no proper design process,” he says. “You see that in Taksim and on İstiklal,
where they rebuild endlessly because decisions are left to contractors, who choose the cheapest materials so that they can benefit by resurfacing these areas every five to ten years.” While systemic obstacles are large, architects like Şanal, Gürdoğan, Kozar, Bayrak and others say making a better city also involves challenging the ideas held by members of the public and the design profession itself about the meaning and use of public space, as well as their own roles, rights and responsibilities in shaping it. In doing so, they hope to find ways to escape some of the seemingly intractable clashes relating to Istanbul’s present and future. Şanal believes there are valuable lessons to be learned from a clear-eyed look at Istanbul’s Ottoman past, which is usually either romanticised or vilified. She points to the külliye system, a self-supporting complex around Ottoman mosques that often included kitchens, schools, lodging, baths, fountains, market areas and landscaped courtyards – all for public use. “Because they included commercial spaces, they had an income base to maintain their quality of public services,” Şanal says. “They helped construct civic life because people were going there for leisure, for spiritual reasons and to meet practical needs.”
People who criticise the Bomontiada development as a quasi-public space don’t understand the way it is trying to adapt a version of the külliye model for a modern context, says Şanal, who designed the complex’s shared areas and sits on its creative board. With the Babylon nightclub and some large restaurants providing financial stability, the complex can allocate room for micro-businesses, a multidisciplinary art space, and free public events with the aim of becoming a platform for a creative design economy that spreads beyond Bomontiada’s walls and into the surrounding neighbourhood. “We have to change people’s perceptions of what high-quality public space is, and move away from naive models based on experiences people have had in Western Europe without understanding what tax base or other revenue source pays for that,” Şanal says. She cautions, however, that the blending of commercial interests and public space ought to incorporate small businesses – who “have an interest in the streets staying alive” – rather than current privatisation models in Turkey that generally give free reign to a single developer. Part of the reason any commercial infringement on public space in Istanbul often draws vehement opposition is because it is generally not well regulated. “There’s a habit here that if you take an inch, you take a mile,” says Şanal. This applies at
network of new developments where urban communities, cohesiveness and liveability need to be fostered in different ways. The slowing economic boom and migration of capital out of older central areas like Beyoğlu may meanwhile provide opportunities for people, businesses and subcultures who were priced out of the neighbourhood to return. “We have to change the way we look at the city, especially as planners,” says Kozar. “We have to walk out of our offices and into the streets where the city is made.” E N D
nearly every scale: large developers exceed the limits of their building permits, while small businesses tend to spread their tables and sales displays out over the city’s narrow sidewalks. Pedestrians must navigate a growing maze of illegally parked cars, café tables, vending racks and street trees in the middle of narrow sidewalks and uneven, poorly maintained surfaces, while most drivers still treat zebra crossings as meaningless decorations rather than infrastructure. “Public space in Istanbul lies in the hands of invisible actors,” says Gürdoğan, who also co-directs the think tank Studio-X Istanbul. “And when we talk about public space, our articulation of the problem is also very vague. If we can articulate our needs better, and get more into the practice of negotiating together, perhaps we can reach a consensus.” To this end, Studio-X and ŞanalArc have developed a crowdsourced set of Imaginable Guidelines, a deck of cards for participatory planning. The aim of the initiative is to give community groups, civil-society organisations, municipal planners, private-sector representatives and other potential stakeholders – whose relationships in Istanbul are frequently combative at best – a shared language for discussing issues such as traffic calming, interstitial spaces and spatial variety. “We want to create a context for public input and constructive debate of values, to get people to rethink the experiences they have in public spaces and become more comfortable with new models,” says Şanal. Similarly, the Participatory Design Research initiative (which is known by its Turkish acronym TAK) works in two Istanbul districts in partnership with local municipalities to involve citizens in areas of urban design, for example through workshops where they engage residents in mapping neighbourhoods, identifying things such as the routes they take to work and where they like to relax, with an eye towards guiding future planning decisions. Such models are far from the norm. “Architects, planners, engineers and other professions that produce spaces are as top-down as government bureaucracies; they’re not willing to give up their privileges and share their practices,” says Adanalı, who teaches participatory design at Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany, a subject he says has yet to make it to Turkish architecture curriculums. “From what we see, municipalities generally do want to satisfy people’s needs, but those needs are left unarticulated, whereas money and investment are always articulate, which puts citizens at a disadvantage,” adds Gürdoğan. “Instead, we approach the city with too many frustrations and sentimentalities.” Efforts such as Imaginable Guidelines may mitigate this by creating ways to look at Istanbul as it is in reality, rather than through nostalgia- or ideology-tinged lenses. The city is no longer just its historic urban core, but also a far-flung
Taksim Square is now subject to major redevelopment works. Ground has been broken on a large and controversial new mosque, while plans are afoot to demolish the AtatĂźrk Cultural Centre.
Taksim Square, photographed in July 2017.
The Ceramic Mundane Photographs Luca Pizzaroniâ€‚Artworks Matthias Merkel Hess for Salon 94
The ceramicist Matthias Merkel Hess creates pottery simulacra of the ephemera of everyday life: jerry cans, soda bottles, milk crates and buckets. In the spirit of the readymade, Disegno invited the photographer and artist Luca Pizzaroni to re-wild Hessâ€™s work within the urban context of Chinatown, New York.
Two-litre soda bottle, 2013. Porcelain with celedon and red glaze.
Roast chicken takeout container, 2013. Ceramic with glaze.
1980s Dustbuster (drippy blue), 2013. Ceramic with glaze.
Wedco Diesel Can, 5 Gallon Yellow. Porcelain.
Milk crate (green/white, curved grid pattern), 2012. Earthenware.
Rectangular milk crate (blue/white), 2012. Earthenware.
Triangle crate (orange), 2012. Earthenware.
Five-gallon bucket, 2015. Stoneware.
Five-gallon bucket (red/black), 2009 Stoneware.
Five-gallon bucket, 2015. Stoneware.
Flip-flops, 2014. Pigmented slip over porcelain and stoneware clay.
Reviews Guide to the Architecture of London Words Darran Anderson States of Undress Words Felix Chabluk Smith The Museum of Failure Words Kristina Rapacki Mosaics of the Former USSR Words Owen Hatherley
Guide to the Architecture of London Words Darran Anderson
We think of cities as singular entities. Yet even in their planned incarnations, they are rarely, if ever, created by a single person. Instead they are pluralities that share a common name and vicinity. There is one London but many Londons therein. Our conception of the capital tends to be spatial but time also plays a vital role. In textual terms, London is a palimpsest on which many successive generations have left imprints. We see these layers in different ways – street names for one – but the most immediate is architecture. Edward Jones and Christopher Woodward’s Guide to the Architecture of London has stood as an authoritative account of our current version of the city since the publication of its first edition in 1983. With the recent release of its app equivalent, the guide promises to be even more able to keep pace with the everchanging cityscape; something which often overtakes literature. The app wisely builds on the strengths of the book. As practicing architects, Jones and Woodward are not overtly ideological. They avoid restrictive and polarising binaries and have a refreshingly catholic taste – provided the architecture works. They might judge the bulk of 1960s redevelopments as disastrous, but they recognise good intentions. They also acknowledge successes and lament when they fail to create a lasting legacy. Ernö Goldfinger’s Regents Park Road flats are singled out as fine example of Brutalism, while even the much-demonised (and fetishised) Trellick Tower commands grudging respect. The Queen Elizabeth Hall is marked as a catastrophe, but the National Theatre is deemed a roaring success. They also avoid snobbishness, waxing lyrical on the commercial temple of Selfridges and absolving Charing Cross Station. Unnecessary loss and imposition
seem their enemies rather than particular “isms”. This discerning openness makes them trustworthy and invaluable guides. This is not to say that the pair are apolitical. They recognise the limitations of utopian architectural modernism, but also the missed opportunities of that era. Very often, they argue, the intentions were sound but good ideas were “worked to death in other hands”. At times, Jones and Woodward seem to move around the political spectrum with a convincing fluidity. The failure of Paternoster Square is, according to them, emblematic of the current malaise in which “a very large chunk of the city has been privatised, pedestrianised and policed.” Crucially, they point out that failings often come through wilful negligence; highlighting the “almost complete physical neglect” of Brunswick Park Junior School and “conspicuous neglect” of the impressive Boundary Street Estate. The pair avoid the tendency of many left-wing critics to automatically lambast towers of glass, and right-wing critics towers of concrete. One example is their support for Alfred Waterhouse’s striking Victorian buildings in the face of “the ‘in keeping with’ lobby, which has justified much timid and mediocre building”. They claim public and social housing was and remains a fine idea, but that great examples such as Alexandra Road Estate were ineptly followed up. It takes a broad and deep knowledge of history to understand this. The transformation from a relatively cumbersome book to a more convenient app means that the guide is much easier to access on the move through the actual city. The map layout encourages local exploration, while the filters enable users to explore different eras of architecture from Roman times to the present-day. Arguably, however, the truly revelatory
aspects of the guide are still to be found in the accompanying text. This involves a degree of time travel. The authors show that “Waterhouse’s vibrant, blazing-red terracotta gothic palace for Prudential [was] the result of the architects’ desire for materials which would resist London’s polluted atmosphere and could be seen through it”. At other times, it gestures towards the political: “It is ironic that the conservative [paper] should have provided itself with such modernistic delight,” they write of the Daily Telegraph building. Often, they point out the curious in the familiar: the proto-art nouveau of the Bishopsgate Institute, the hint of Rennie Mackintosh in Mary Ward Settlement, the “quasi-Egyptian” side to Owen Williams’s M1 bridges. Dulled by routine, I had lost the ability to see how unusual the Royal Albert Hall and Broadcasting House are, or just how striking a terminating vista the former Theosophical Society building is. The duo provide such lucid moments all through the text and all around the map. This is not to say they are a soft touch. Their damnations are all the more scathing because they are subtle. While rejecting the typical jeremiads against the skyline, they do acknowledge that London rarely gets the skyscrapers which it deserves. Mostly this comes in the form of glaring omissions from the guide, but occasionally in passing acerbic remarks. The Shard towers over all, “representing […] nothing but itself”. Trafalgar Square is “far from satisfactory”. Often there’s a somewhat deadpan quality to phrases: “a relatively rare sane example of housing for sale”, an “uneasy mixture”, a “strange and obsessive building”. When a direct attack does come, it is often warranted. The Ionic, Veneto and Gothic pastiche villas of Regents Park are passed over
All photographs courtesy of The Architecture Foundation.
A digital recreation of Edward Jones and Christopher Woodward’s architectural field guide invites new forms of interaction with the city.
You can filter buildings on the appâ€™s map by century, building type and architect.
Buildings can be searched for visually via the map or sorted via proximity, date of completion or alphabetically.
with the sardonic comment, “It is not surprising that the nouveau-riche and poorly proportioned style of these villas should reflect the preferences of our future monarch”. It seems one person’s classicism is another’s carbuncle. This subjectivity runs through the guide and gives lie to the absurd claim that “beauty is objective”: a claim all too often made by reactionaries with ulterior motives. There is beauty and utility to be found in every area and every era – as the app proves. At times, these buildings chime with their surroundings, while at other times they surprise (as Union Chapel does bursting out of Compton Terrace). This idiosyncratic approach can bring disagreements; contrary to the editors, I don’t find Telecom Tower to be “poorly proportioned”, or agree that the Isokon Flats are “not a very distinguished work”. I don’t find Congress House particularly lovable, or accept the Roundhouse was diminished by carrying the ripple effect out onto the streets. That, however, is the nature of cities. Peckham Library is charming to some, juvenile to others.
Senate House is gloriously grand and at the same time coldly austere. Likewise, David Adjaye’s Dirty House. There are many eyes and many voices in the city, and long may that last. Aesthetics count, but there are other considerations. Frequently, in operating the app, as with the book, there will be reflexive jolts of indignation. Pointing out the “monumental back-of-stadium effect” to the admirable but flawed Brunswick Centre does, perhaps, make you think twice about the usefulness of ambitious buildings. The “confusing circulation” of the Barbican and “its severance from the rest of the City” raises legitimate questions about otherwise intriguing spaces too. Sometimes, the assertions appear initially counter-intuitive, for example the suggestion that the pyramid on One Canada Square should have been 20 storeys higher. Yet there is substance to these suggestions and wisdom to be found in their wider observations that old buildings can be radical and new “daring” architecture conservative (“despite its modernity, this is a nostalgic building”
is a notable line). The dazzling colours of Piano’s Central St Giles are, for Jones and Woodward, an “unpleasant purposeless void […] the colours […] chosen perhaps as ‘dazzle-camouflage’, to draw attention away”. Even the editors’ endorsements can occasionally bite. 30 Finsbury Square is praised as “a remarkable achievement [that inserts] a metaphor of geological strata into the London street, which creates a problem in identifying the front door”. They call Lloyd’s a “heroic and magnificently fallible building”, while seeing through the MI6 HQ’s double bluff, pointing out the comic-book dystopia is actually a “model of quiet good taste”. The breadth of curiosity in Guide to the Architecture of London is welcome in a walking app and encourages the unearthing of the overlooked. The authors include various treasures in London Zoo, the ornaments of Victoria Embankment, the landscape architecture of Northala Fields, the ivy-shrouded Citadel, the pagoda at Kew Gardens, the pumping stations at Stewart Street and in Stoke Newington, and the Black Friar pub,
Neasden Hindu temple and the “rusty laptop” bandstand in Crystal Palace Park. The user of the app is also taken off the beaten-track to find buildings as varied as the Daimler garage and the alleys around Dr Johnson’s Gough Square. The most startling finds are those that appear to be the least London, from the sublime colours of Debenham House to the delightful and slightly-surrealist Michelin House, to the Arts and Crafts pseudo-basilica of All Saints, Ennismore Gardens. The more exotic buildings resound, but they are all tempered with some degree of London grit, including the Egyptian revival art deco of the Carreras Factory and the Constructivism of the College of Engineering and Science. The School of Slavonic and East European Studies would “not be out of place in Zagreb”. Whitehall Court is “relentlessly French” while the corner of 28 Dorset Square recalls Mussolini’s EUR. In some cases, buildings simply cannot escape the ghosts of their inspiration, such as Erich Mendelsohn in Sloane Square, Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the Athenaeum, Aldo van Eyck in South Hill Park, and Le Corbusier in Kensington. If there is one criticism of the helpful filters, it might be the absence of specific architectural styles alongside architects, centuries and building types. One reason cities are interesting is because concentrations of people give rise to concentrations of history. Jones and Woodward’s touch here is informative but perhaps too fleeting. We learn Hyde Park was one of Henry VIII’s hunting grounds, the Flask Inn was the meeting place of the Kit-Kat Club, how the Vale of Health housed Leigh Hunt and D.H. Lawrence, and Hitler was rumoured to have intended Whiteley’s Department Store as a base after invasion. These references are sadly more tantalising than fulfilling. William Burges’s Tower House alone seems worthy of accompanying essays and interior photographs. While it’s unfair to judge Jones and Woodward by aspects they left out, delving a little deeper into the historical contexts of the buildings via those who lived there would expand the experience. Peter Ackroyd’s London (2000) would make an excellent accompanying app if somebody were to make one. And so the question arises, what will the app be used for? Certainly, it’s
essential for architecture lovers, whether local or visiting. Yet it goes beyond built structures into realms of history, folklore and even just meaningful connection with the metropolis. The guide adopts a prose approach, but it could just as well serve as the basis for something more poetic. If, in the face of the creeping privatisation of public space and a concurrent housing crisis, London is to remain a flourishing city and not just a series of citadels, a sense of meaningful belonging needs to be fostered. People need a place to live and connect to. An approach such as psychogeography seems tired, monkish and overstated now (the guide is refreshingly sober compared to some of the more esoteric fare available out there) but there nonetheless remains something admirable in breaking away from the compulsions of routine, work and commerce, and being drawn around the city in the spirit of exploration by
Subjectivity runs through the guide and gives lie to the absurd claim that “beauty is objective” made by reactionaries with ulterior motives. other factors. The app hints at this, pointing to Lombard Street signs, gold insects adorning the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Jacob Epstein sculptures, which may appeal to those users interested in discovering relics or related ephemera such as ghost signs and Thomassons. A crucial part of psychogeography – or “attentive walking” as we might as well call it – is the awareness of what once was. The authors of the guide are well aware of the changes the city has faced from the Great Fire to the Blitz to dysfunctional planning. There are laments for lost buildings like Bunning’s Coal Exchange, the Caledonian Market, Holloway Prison and Euston Arch, as well as the disruption of surviving architecture by changes around it (Hyde Park Corner for one). Wren may have stated once that architecture aims for eternity, but eternity often has very different plans. Again, it is unfair to criticise the editors for absences they’d never intended to cover, but again the yearning remains for more (a sign of how enticing the guide is). Walking the routes, it would have been fascinating
to find out, via an extra filter, about lost buildings such as the Beargarden, the Crystal Palace, Skylon, the half-built Watkin’s Tower, Mondial House, Wyld’s Great Globe and rookeries such as Jacob’s Island. This of course has strong nostalgic appeal, but it might also help reinforce our understanding of how the city got to where it is today and at what benefit and cost. A critical appreciation of Number 1 Poultry, for one, is bolstered by the knowledge of the building it rightly or wrongly replaced. Another filter might be that of, in the authors’ words, the “regrettably unbuilt” – from Holden’s glass-encased Art Deco Tower Bridge, to the Primrose hill mausoleum pyramid, to the Imperial Tower reaching high above the Houses of Parliament. It’s inevitable, as with any selective guide, that there will be some notable exclusions. Minor missing delights spring to mind, such as the Church of Notre Dame de France with its Jean Cocteau murals, the Turkish Bath at Bishopsgate Churchyard, the Sailor Society Mission in Limehouse, Westminster Tube Station, and numerous other features from cemeteries to tunnels to underground vents. There is a delight in finding your own corners. Jones and Woodward have, as discussed in a recent interview in The Guardian with Owen Hatherley, resisted the temptation of expanding the app through crowd-sourcing. In a sense, they’re right to do so. Drowning in a flood of information, we have never been more in need of enlightened guides. Yet you cannot but get the sense, as much as this is an exceptional epilogue to Jones and Woodward’s series of books, that it’s also a beginning. With 3D software and emerging augmented-reality technology, it will soon be possible to walk around cities that have been annotated and deepened with immersive data, as well as the virtual ghosts of lost and unbuilt buildings. What is a map after all? Not an end but an invitation. Guide to the Architecture of London is available for iOS from the App Store.
States of Undress Words Felix Chabluk Smith
Documentary films about the fashion industry tend to be of two types. Portrait documentaries show the leading lights of the fashion world at the heights of their ostentation, creativity, humility or loneliness. In Valentino: The Last Emperor, the renowned Italian designer is over-tanned and fabulously petulant, creating his last collection before retirement, but also dressing his troupe of disobedient pugs in lavish costume jewellery. In Notebooks on Cities and Clothes, a young Yohji Yamamoto sits, smokes, plays pool and philosophises with Wim Wenders, while Azzedine Alaïa never even utters a word in the recent documentary by Joe McKenna. A starkly pared-back film, it is essentially untitled, shot entirely in black and white and was released with little fanfare online at joesfilm.com. It reveals a simple and slightly melancholy life of obsessive work, a giant dog and a few close friends. Then there are those documentaries that detail process and pressure, such as The First Monday in May, The September Issue and finally Dior and I, which follows Raf Simons’ first couture collection for the French house. It gives a fair impression of the design process leading from first ideas right through to the final garments,
although it barely allows a glimpse, let alone a mention, of Dior’s design team. It subscribes instead to the widely held fallacy of the single designer – alone except for a Diptique candle, a sketch pad and a pencil – producing works of genius. However, it does open a door into the gilded salons of Parisian couture, in which we see the workings of an atelier, the process of fittings and the preparation of the show, before ending with a lush and seductive slow-motion wallow in the joy of a job done well. Regardless of format, at their best, fashion documentaries can be at times illuminating, intimate and insightful. At worst, they are thinly-veiled adverts for the particular designer or house chosen for the spotlight. Either way, they’re usually enjoyable windows into a rarified and often-ridiculous industry, offering engaging studies of chaos and creativity. If this is what you’re looking for, then States of Undress is not for you. Hosted by the American journalist, model and actor Hailey Gates, this Viceland series has just come to the end of its second series. Foregoing the usual Western fashion establishment entirely, Gates instead travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine, Thailand,
China, Bolivia and even suburban Ohio – and the episodes can be a difficult watch. In the documentary’s first episode, Gates visits Karachi Fashion Week. She starts at the shows, chatting to designers and the Pakistani glitterati, but ends up interviewing acid attack survivors. Their ordeals are so horrific that there is barely a need to ask questions. Meeting a man who admits to pouring acid on his wife, his own face ironically hidden, the fact that she “was wearing clothing that were the latest fashions” is his only offered justification. In the light of such horrors fashion could pale into indulgent insignificance, yet as Gates succinctly puts it, “when people like him still exist in society, fashion week is a political act.” In the case of the episode about Liberia, fashion is shown as a tool for social progression on a refreshingly elemental and essential level; as a whole society moving onwards and upwards rather than individuals aspiring for higher status within it. When Vannette Tolbert, one of the founders of Liberia Fashion Week explains that they “want to show that Liberia is more than just Ebola and war,” it is hard to disagree. In addition, a growing fashion scene means a growing need for skilled workers. Women who
All photographs courtesy of Viceland.
It is impossible to think of any other fashion documentary that encompasses the American Civil War, slavery, abolitionism, deportation, colonisation, Black Zionism, military coups, presidential assassinations, public executions, child soldiers, crimes against humanity and deadly epidemics, all in the first 10 minutes of a single episode about Liberia Fashion Week. It is safe to say that States of Undress isn’t your usual fashion documentary. And yes, Liberia Fashion Week does exist.
Hailey Gates goes punk in Mexico City, where subcultures have taken hold as rebellion against the post-revolutionary order for all mixed-race Mexicans to be classified as mestizo.
were left with nothing after the civil wars of the 1990s and early 2000s and treated as outcasts after their partners died in the recent Ebola epidemic are now being educated, as well as finding self-respect and employment as seamstresses in a nascent design industry. “As a woman, anything you believe in, you can do well,” says Blessing, a recently trained worker sitting at an ancient Singer sewing machine. “Once a woman is educated, she can impart her education onto her children, and Liberia will get better.” Fashion is seen as a basic and muchneeded opportunity to celebrate and create something; a sign perhaps that Liberian lives are no longer so consumed by anger, fear, disease and survival that there is space for little else. As Gates puts it, “It’s the first chance this country has had to breathe.” Similar social bases for examining fashion are found in other countries. In Venezuela, the fashion for surgically enhanced beauty is not only an oftendangerous national obsession but,
because of the extraordinary national and international pageant industry, it’s regarded as a genuine way out of poverty in a country on the brink of collapse. In Mexico, meanwhile, centuries of a colonial caste system followed by the post-independence declaration that Mexicans should identify as mestizo (of mixed European and indigenous ancestry) has led to a fierce kind of urban tribalism. That subcultures such as punk and emo have not only migrated to Mexico, but also gone on to morph into fanatically loyal armies defined by dress and music is a remarkable result of a population yearning for a relevant identity in the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere. “Because the impunity starts at the top, your sense of justice is only based on the race and class that you’re born into,” reflects Gates towards the end of the episode. “Because of that, people are drawn to creating communities in order to protect each other. The can’t count on the police, they can’t count on the government, so they
need a strong identity and community in order to survive. Their clothing in a way just becomes a symbol of their belonging to the group.” Identity politics are also at play in the episode on Bolivia, where the wearing of so-called Cholita clothes expresses the reclamation of and pride in an identity previously disparaged as lower-class. It is in Thailand, however, that questions of identity facilitated by fashion go deeper. In a country renowned for its attitudes to transsexuality, there are in fact 17 distinctly recognised sexual identities, including toms and dees. Individuals who identify as either of these identities are genetically female and often pair exclusively with each other. Toms are women who adopt masculine mannerisms and dress like men, while dees are their feminine counterparts. Like every gender identity in Thailand toms and dees have their own dress codes, make-up and hairstyles. In the case of toms, they even have specific stores they frequent, selling compression
In Bolivia, Gates meets with the country’s cholitas, women who wear traditional costume as a means of reclaiming an identity that had previously been disparaged as lower-class.
underwear that flattens their chests and hips. “In the past, Thai women had to be subservient to men at all times,” says Miu Miyo Miew, a dee who helps Gates get dressed for a tom and dee double date. “Now,” she continues, “there are more varieties of gender identity. As far as toms are concerned, women can look after themselves these days.” In Lebanon, Gates meets designers, tailors, embroiderers and seamstresses servicing the extravagant whims of the regional haute couture market. In the 1960s and early 70s, Beirut was an oasis of money, intellectual liberalism and social permissiveness, with Lebanon gaining a reputation as the Switzerland of the Middle East. Fashion was always important here and Dior, Valentino, Céline and many other European luxury houses have their place alongside Lebanese couture designers, who turn £2,000-a-metre fabrics into the floorlength fairytale gowns that are seen as essential to Middle Eastern high society and royalty, or anyone who aspires to it. Admirably, and unusually for a series about fashion, Gates never discusses taste. Like in every episode, these over-elaborate gowns are treated
with a polite acceptance for what they are and what they mean to the society for which they are made. Party frocks are viewed like folk costume or else as anthropological artefacts. States of Undress is at its best when it temporarily leaves the realm of fashion altogether, using discussion of clothing as a way to address wider social issues and even humanitarian crises. Amidst mannequins bearing gowns of barelythere mesh, appliquéd guipure, seed pearls, sequins and feathers, one tailor in Lebanon tells of his recent flight from Aleppo. Sitting at a nearby sewing machine crafting a ruffle of white tulle is another man, his face blurred out. His family are still in Syria, in an area under Islamic State control and he doesn’t dare speak on camera for fear of reprisals. During the past six years of the brutal civil war in Syria, over a million people have escaped into Lebanon, a tiny country where one in every five people is now a Syrian refugee. Gates meets Syrian women who have escaped both IS and the brutality of pro-government forces, to start hair and make-up schools in order to pay rent on their refugee tents – Lebanon has no formal refugee policy
or state-sponsored infrastructure. Gates also goes into the ateliers of Lebanese designers, many of which are staffed by recently arrived refugees. The majority are so grateful to be able to practise their craft in any capacity that they will work far longer for far less than the local workers. This has caused tensions with the Lebanese, many of whom have been sacked while employers take advantage of the cheap skilled labour streaming across the border. This has frequently erupted into violence, leading to the alarming establishment of nighttime curfews that have been solely levelled at Syrians in neighbourhoods such as Bourj Hammoud, north-east of Beirut; their Lebanese neighbours can come and go as they please. “That is not exactly accurate,” says George Krikorian, an official representative of the Bourj Hammoud municipality, when Gates presses him on the issue of the curfews. “We put banners asking – asking, not ordering – refugees not to be around and about public places after dark hours for their own safety. And that was for a very short period of time.” But a Syrian tailor in the area, who Gates seeks out for comment, maintains the curfew is
still being upheld by “the neighbourhood guys. The government knows who they are,” he continues, “and they allow them to do it. All Syrians in Bourj Hammoud feel suffocated.” On screen, Gates is both engaging and engaged. She often uses her own hair to get closer to her interviewees – as she told Vogue last year, “a sudden intimacy occurs when someone does your hair”. In States of Undress we see her having it gelled and spiked by a Mexican punk, plaited by a Syrian immigrant or painfully teased and coiffed in a Congolese salon. She also willingly dresses the part in order to understand the people who wear certain clothes as a way of life. She dons the petticoats and shawls of Bolivian Cholitas, the hijab and salwar kameez of Pakistani women, and the breast-crushing underwear of Thai toms with humour and respect. The internet is equipped with a hair-trigger, which Gates manages to neatly disarm as she tries on a custommade ensemble in Liberia. “How’s my white-girl level of offensiveness right now?” she asks, giving a twirl in African print fabric. “You’re zero on the Rachel Dolezal scale,” reassures the designer Archel Bernard. In fact, it is Gates’s “white girl level of offensiveness” that makes her such a compelling interviewer. An outsider in any situation (even, seemingly, in her own country following the 2017 US election) she comes across as funny, friendly and unthreatening, putting her interviewees at ease and seeming able to bond with many of the people she meets. Her discomfort is genuine in ‘Beyond the Burkini in France’, when two Muslim girls are asked to remove their headscarves before their first day of school in Paris, and her utter speechlessness at the stories of Pakistani acid attack survivors never becomes gratuitous or vapid. Being driven down a street in Kinshasa, she spots a roadside beauty school and asks to stop, starting an unplanned, riotous party with the young girls on the street, who are happy to have someone come and take an interest in the way they style their hair and paint their nails. Occasionally, despite this rapport between Gates and her interviewees, it is hard not to wish that she push a little harder, however, and really question her subjects on their core beliefs, hypocrisies and irrationalities. In the first episode of
the second series, ‘Packing Heat in Heels’, she speaks to female firearm advocates in Ohio, attends shooting ranges and tags along with 21-year-old Kamaria Spaller as she chooses her birthday present (“I really wanna pink gun”) Everyone interviewed seems to toe the NRA line, that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Exactly how the bad guy got the gun in the first place is never questioned onscreen. Instead Gates treads lightly and scores points in other, subtler ways – asking innocent questions in the course of conversations or by standing back and letting the cameras roll, leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions. In her suburban kitchen, gun rights activist Amanda Suffecool shows Gates her first gun. “This gun was actually used in World War Two […] it‘s a Walther P38. This gun was made to say ‘Here! Go forth and defend your country! Go forth and defend your family! Go forth and support the country!’” “On what side?” Gates responds with wide-eyed innocence. In Islamabad, the radical Islamic cleric Abdul Aziz Ghazi refuses to even look at Gates, in accordance with his strict interpretation of Sharia law. After reciting his by-the-book views on fashion and a woman’s place in Islam, Ghazi’s wife unexpectedly accosts him during a tour of his religious school, furious that he’s giving an interview. “I’ll interview you!” she shouts at him. The very image of a stereotypical hen-pecked husband, he turns apologetically and looks directly at Gates and the camera. “They call her ‘the President’,” he admits, smiling sheepishly. “I can’t do anything without her permission.” One of the major achievements of States of Undress is to make the viewer realise that what we might have thought of as the fashion world is actually only a minuscule island nation, alone and aloof in the middle of the ocean. This series pulls focus and zooms out, to show that the real world of fashion is truly global. Such a wide gaze cast across continents and cultures never feels irrelevant, overwhelming or unfocused. Rather, it is essential to understand the complexities that have been distilled into fashion and personal identity, what it means to be celebrating it, or how it affects those wearing it. The series makes you look at your own
society, and realise that even the most mundane item of clothing is caught up in a web of social, sexual, political and economic complexities that is worthy of inspection. Throughout States of Undress, fashion and the identities it helps to create are shown to be at the heart of social divisions, as an excuse for violence, as something to fight against, or as a weapon of subjugation. Yet it also shows that fashion can equally be an exuberant flowering of pride, a confirmation or reclamation of identity and a reaffirmation of humanity after years of oppression. As the Pakistani fashion journalist Mohsin Sayeed says, “Fashion is a way to fight back. The more people who do fashion, the more those forces are defeated.” States of Undress is available on Viceland.
The Museum of Failure Words Kristina Rapacki
One of the central exhibits at the newly opened Museum of Failure in Helsingborg, Sweden, is a slightly scuffed first-generation Segway from 2001. In a museum devoted to flopped products, gadgets, and business ventures, it stands as an unlikely centrepiece. Pop cultural reference may have the Segway down as the quintessential twerp-mobile (think of Gob’s cringeworthy manoeuvring on the vehicle in Arrested Development), but many variants of this self-balancing electric scooter are still in production today, and continue to enjoy relative popularity. The city of Barcelona, for instance, recently banned their use in the historic city centre and seafront areas, having found itself inundated with Segway-riding tourists. In short, it’s not exactly a flop. “So why is it here?” I ask Samuel West, the organisational psychologist who directs the Museum of Failure and has amassed most of its collection. “Because I think it illustrates what a failure is,” he says. “The definition of a failure is a deviation from a desired outcome. The expectation for the Segway when it launched in 2001 was that future urban infrastructure would be built around it, and that the Segway would be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.” Sixteen years on, it seems safe to say that cities around the world have not reconfigured themselves to accommodate the Segway. “Had they [Dean Kamen, the Segway’s inventor, and John Doerr, its chief investor] just said ‘Hey, we’ve got a fun thing to ride,’ it wouldn’t be in the Museum of Failure,” explains West. The question of definitions is an interesting one, especially given the scope of the 70 products on display in the single-room exhibition space on
Helsingborg’s Södergatan. There are medical instruments (a mid-20th-century orbitoclast, used to perform lobotomies), toys (My Friend Cayla, invented in 2014, an interactive doll banned by German authorities because it sends everything your child tells it to a US company which can then sell that information to third parties), and beverages (Coca-Cola BlāK, a foul-tasting concoction that targeted the swelling numbers of premium coffee drinkers in the 2000s). When consumer products deviate from their makers’ desired outcome, it usually means they don’t hit sales targets. “But there can be other failures, not just bad sales,” says West. The orbitoclast failed, horrifically, to perform its desired remedial function. Aimed at “curing” a host of neuroses, the psychosurgical procedure of lobotomy – which consisted of severing connections between the prefrontal cortex and part of the brain’s frontal lobes – tended to leave patients in a near-vegetative state, or dead. Other products failed to reach their desired technological potential. The website boo.com, displayed in the museum on a clunky 1990s desk computer, was live from 1999 for a year, and supported proto-versions of most of the functions of a contemporary e-commerce site. However, the restricted bandwidth of most households at the time rendered the site impossibly sluggish to navigate. The website was only a failure in that it was ahead of its time. The Museum of Failure takes its basic model from the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia (“the only museum in the world that’s better than mine,” says West), where relatively unspectacular objects are used to tell complex stories about human behaviour and interaction. “We know that most
innovations fail. In fact, most of the things in your magazine will fail,” says West, “80 to 90 per cent if you want a number. But we only glorify and focus on the successes.” Failure is as rife as it is repressed, and this applies to individuals as well as companies, he notes: “I see it everywhere. ‘Oh, I’m 40 years old and I’ve lost weight’. Or ‘I quit my boring job and now I run a sourdough bakery and I’m happy’. Or ‘I have sex 3.8 times a week and my kids have shiny teeth’. The more that we glorify success, the more we demonise failure.” Nothing piques interest like censure, of course. When I visit the museum on a rainy weekday afternoon, it’s packed; its ‘Failure Confession Booth’ is plastered with bright post-it submissions; and my interview with West attracts a pair of curious visitors who chime in with their own reflections on the display. When the museum opened earlier this year, camera teams from the BBC, CNN and Associated Press descended on Helsingborg, a small town of 135,00; Christiane Amanpour presented CNN’s segment on the launch. Christiane Amanpour. The Museum of Failure’s success lies in how powerfully it can resonate with visitors on a personal level. Failure is funny (unless it’s your own), precisely because it is repressed. The exhibits elicit a whole host of titillating feelings: schadenfreude, perhaps, at discovering that even a multinational can flop with a product like Crystal Pepsi (“It would’ve been nice if I’d made sure the product tasted good,” mused David Novak, who developed the drink in the early 1990s); or a smug sense of superiority at the stupidity of No More Woof, a crowdfunded device from 2013-14 that claimed it could translate your dog’s brainwaves into human language (for the record,
All photographs courtesy of Sofie Lindberg.
A Swedish museum devoted to failure questions society’s addiction to success stories and examines what we might gain if we learned to stop worrying and love a bomb.
Makers of the 1990s beauty mask Rejuvenique claimed it toned facial muscles with tiny electric shocks. A contemporary reviewer said it felt like, â€œa thousand ants biting my faceâ€?.
A drumstick you can only use on the high-hat; a toxic toothpaste; the pastel pen for ladies; fibre-optic Lego sets that cost more to produce than the retail price.
it couldn’t). But it is on an organisational level that West wants to pose complex questions about failures and why they happen. “The majority of innovations will fail and that’s where we can learn about the process and what to avoid. I can understand that Coca-Cola don’t air their dirty laundry and publicly confess to failure. But even internally, there’s not much learning going on,” explains West. “That’s because learning from failure isn’t straightforward. It’s complex, it takes resources, and it means you have to be open to criticising yourself, your team or your skills. It means coping with a lot of ambiguity, not just a rational flow chart of what went wrong. And companies are just like us as individuals. There’s this term called emotional avoidance: when you’ve failed somehow, just thinking about it can hurt.” “Isn’t self-help and management literature full of failure, and how to learn from it?” I ask West. “Yes,” he says. “But
the problem is that the majority of what you find on failure is always told from the pedestal of success.” That failure is only acceptable as part of a teleology towards eventual success is suggested by the plethora of book titles that follow the formula of Megan McArdle’s The Up Side of Down: Bouncing Back in Business and Life (2014), Henry Petroski’s Success Through Failure (2006) or Joey Brown’s The Road to Success is Paved with Failure (2001). Even Harvard Business Review, the holy grail of business journalism, couched its 2011 special issue on failure (“The F Word,” as the editors had it) with aspirational quotes about Thomas Edison never failing, only finding 10,000 ways in which the lightbulb did not work. “I’ve really tried to avoid that,” says West, although the Museum of Failure itself is not immune to such meta-narratives. The phrase, “Learning is the only way to turn failure into success” greets you on the landing page of its website and elsewhere
in its marketing. Perhaps this has to do with the museum’s funding, which comes from Vinnova, the Swedish innovation authority. Industry, I assume, isn’t interested in total and irredeemable failure per se. Yet it ought to be. For as much as the business and self-help merchants proselytise the merits of learning from failure, they do not reflect the ways that companies and organisations deal with it in practice. Assessing, unconditionally, the reasons why things fail can lead to uncomfortable but crucial truths about organisational psychology. Take “go fever”, for instance, an informal term used to describe the collective pressure to commence or rush a project through to completion when a substantial amount of time, money, and energy has already been sunk into it, even though sizeable problems or risks may be at hand. An Apple Newton, a “personal digital assistant” that became synonymous with
crap technology in the mid-1990s, is on display at the museum. “The biggest feature of the Apple Newton was the handwriting recognition technology,” says West. “It cost millions to develop, and took a long time. But they ended up launching the product knowing the handwriting recognition didn’t work. They were pressured by the marketing department, and launched it thinking they could correct things later. Well, they couldn’t. It took them a year, and by that time people had already dismissed the Newton as a flop.” Go fever and similar forms of groupthink are not restricted to the corporate realm. Besides the orbitoclast, one of the most chilling items on display at the Museum of Failure is a synthetic trachea. It was used in a supposedly pioneering procedure developed by the Swiss-Italian thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini from 2011 to 2013, where, rather than giving tracheal cancer patients human windpipe transplants, 3D-printed plastic ones were coated with the patient’s stem cells and used for the regenerative surgeries. “There was a lot of excitement around stem cells at the time, and the idea that the body wouldn’t reject [the synthetic trachea] would’ve been the biggest revolution ever if it had worked,” says West. But Macchiarini, who had bagged major EU research grants for Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, the most prestigious medical research facility in Scandinavia (it oversees the panel that awards the Nobel Prize in medicine), had manipulated and fabricated some of his research findings. “His peers were saying ‘This doesn’t work’ and Karolinska was saying ‘We’ve got EU money and we’re going to operate on as many people as possible.’ Nine people died as a result.” A complex series of systemic failures underpin this exhibit. But, argues West, it was the absence of “psychological safety” at Karolinska that led to the monumentality of the fuck-up. “You have to have a culture within an organisation of listening to the people who aren’t so positive; a culture where people can share doubts and pose stupid questions without being penalised,” he says. “What happened at Karolinska was that anyone who was anti was excluded.” Today, Macchiarini is universally disgraced and rightly regarded as the chief culprit of the scandal at Karolinska.
But apportioning blame to individuals is a thorny matter in almost all of the exhibits at the Museum of Failure, even the plastic trachea. Writing in the Harvard Business Review’s issue on failure, the leadership scholar Amy C. Edmondson noted the following: “When I ask executives to […] estimate how many of the failures in their organizations are truly blameworthy, their answers are usually in single digits – perhaps 2 per cent to 5 per cent. But when I ask how many are treated as blameworthy, they say (after a pause or a laugh) 70 per cent to 90 per cent.” That discrepancy, even if anecdotal, is staggering in its implications. While accountability may be key to the running
Assessing, unconditionally, the reasons why things fail can lead to uncomfortable but crucial truths about organisational psychology. of any complex organisation, a tendency to individualise failure seems woefully counter-productive if employees are consistently blamed for problems that are, in fact, systemic 70 to 90 per cent of the time. Like in so much of the self-help literature, failure (and success) is almost invariably presented as being down to individual actions and choices. Structural inequalities, systemic rigging, or even just sheer bad luck are rarely considered in the analysis. So much for promotion of “psychological safety”. What can be done in the face of the failure phobia that dominates so many organisations as a result? Management pundits tout trouble-shooting exercises, so-called “pre-mortems”, and devil’sadvocate reviews. But West stresses the importance of actually sinking time and resources into analysing failures after they occur. “The aviation industry is an exception,” he says. “When an airplane crashes they don’t just note the weather was bad and then file a report. They spend resources on really understanding what has happened, finding primary explanations, such as bad weather, and then secondary explanations, which is to ask why the pilot decided to fly in bad weather.” This sort of review can help to uncover potentially hazardous organisational cultures within companies, as was the case in the devastating
Bolivian crash that killed most of Brazil’s Chapecoense football team in 2016. “They had bad weather and didn’t have enough fuel,” says West. “It turns out that there was a macho culture in that company which made them fly anyway.” Coming to the end of my tour with West, I ask for his thoughts on planned obsolescence – products designed to fail in order to hurry along a repeat purchase. In-built obsolescence has increasingly become common in consumer tech gadgets since the 1960s and 70s, with ruinous environmental effects. As Darren Blum, a senior industrial engineer at Pentagram Design who builds portable devices and computers for HP and others told the Wall Street Journal in 2002: “We joke that we design landfills.” There is no example of such a product in the Museum of Failure, however. West mulls this over for a moment, and concludes that “the only way [such an item] would fit into the museum is if the product was designed to be non-functional or break in a specific time period, and then failed to do so.” If it failed to fail, in other words. But shift the perspective from the maker’s profit towards a more holistic view, and it becomes harder to see those burgeoning landfills as a desirable outcome. Such a shift might bring more, let’s say, epic fails into focus. Perhaps a topic for the next display. The Museum of Failure is due to expand in autumn 2017 and will move to a bigger space in Helsingborg.
Mosaics of the Former USSR Words by Owen Hatherley
The Russian art historian Boris Groys recently argued that the official culture of the Soviet Union and its satellites is so incomprehensible from a contemporary point of view that it is better compared to that of ancient Egypt than to anything in the 20th century. Its official art – heroic sculpture, propaganda mosaics and reliefs, mass-produced architecture, children’s books – has sat for years in the dustbin of history, rejected in favour of work by dissident poets and authors, underground conceptual artists, and visionary film-makers once marginal or censored. This is gradually beginning to change as the system grows more distant, and a particularly interesting rediscovery from the Communist visual world is the mosaics that were applied to public buildings in the decades between the death of Stalin in 1953 and the fall of Communism in 1989-1991. Anyone who has lived in or visited a city or town in the USSR and in the Warsaw Pact countries will know the sort of thing. Set into the panel of a concrete apartment block, a geometric composition of a female holding up a test-tube, a male wielding a hammer, a stylised Lenin and a flying Sputnik all against a skyline of factory chimneys made out of innumerable pixels of coloured ceramic, stone, glass and metal. These mosaics are increasingly endangered, as much under threat from commercial development and neglect as from the iconoclastic programmes of de-Communisation that many countries have indulged in. Three recent books, focusing on Ukraine, Georgia and Poland, try to provide a guide to this obsolete art movement. In form, mosaics vary from country to country. In Ukraine, they tend to be
representational; in Poland, they are more abstract; while the Georgian examples lie somewhere in the middle. In their introduction to the photographer Yevgen Nikiforov’s Decommunised – Ukrainian Soviet Mosaics, Olga Balashova and Lizaveta German say that these mosaics “were hardly ever seen”, even when the ideology they represented and celebrated was unavoidable; they were just something you passed by. They argue this is because the USSR’s public sphere was inauthentic. That being “a totalitarian state playing at a welfare state, it imitated public spaces” but never really provided the freedoms of a true agora. This is a peculiar argument about historical public spaces, given that most streets
These mosaics are increasingly endangered, as much from commercial development and neglect as the iconoclastic programmes of de-Communisation many countries have indulged in. and squares were in “undemocratically” ruled cities until the 20th century, but certainly, few would have imagined much outside interest in these artworks when the system collapsed in disgrace at the end of the 1980s. Much more decisive for the fate of the mosaics is the combination of the banality of their content with the shift of “urban spaces […] into private hands without a chance of becoming public platforms” as the Soviet Union fell. This neglect has turned into iconoclasm in recent years, with laws mandating the removal from public space of any Soviet symbols or imagery. Because of this, it is only really now that the mosaics can be
seen again, brought into visibility by their very illegality. Nikiforov has had to rush in order to photograph these mosaics, as those with hammers and sickles, red stars, or portraits of Soviet leaders are illegal images in Ukraine, for which prosecution is now possible (a Lviv resident recently received a suspended sentence for posting images of Lenin on Facebook). The photographer seems to have had a little assistance from NGOs and local enthusiasts, but otherwise faced general incomprehension that anyone would care about these “blots on the wall” or “colour shapes”. He could not get access either to Crimea, which is currently occupied by Russia, or the unrecognised “People’s Republics” in the Donbas, which is propped up with Russian weaponry, but managed to get locals in each area to photograph the mosaics for him. He divides the images into people and labour, ideology and history, sport and leisure, science and space, and nationalism (currently popular subjects such as Ukraine’s national poets and folk costumes were already ubiquitous under the USSR). Nikiforov credits the artists where possible – a handful were non-conformist artists doing jobbing work to pay the bills, such as the artists of the Transcarpathian underground, who designed bus-stop decorations as a day job, or the abstract painter Volodymyr Tsiupko, who created Youth, a haunting mosaic that depicts pensive children stood against a backdrop of subtly intersecting abstract shapes and stylised ships, installed on a school in Odessa. For most, though, this was their art. The most interesting Ukrainian mosaics are in smalti, a mixture made up
Photographs courtesy of Yevgen Nikiforov and The Warsaw Rising Museum.
Three books mapping large-scale mosaic work in the former Soviet Union aim to redress the imbalance among art historians who have tended to favour underground avant-garde practice over monumental public art.
Halyna Zubchenko and Hryhorii Pryshedko’s Blacksmiths of Modernity (1974), part of the Institute for Nuclear Research of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
of tiny tinted pieces of glass, creating strange and vivid effects of light and shade, used frequently in Byzantine art, which was foundational for Orthodox countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Russia. Volodymyr Priadka’s smalti work on schools in Kiev builds up the mosaic figures into bulging bodies, often in high relief, striving and surging through the air as if weightless. These figures hold the world in their hands, such as in the Promethean mosaic on School #5 in Donetsk, or Ivan and Maria Lytovchenko’s décor for Shuliavska Metro Station in Kiev. They are demiurges, pulling coal, atomic energy and steel out of the ether with their bare hands and holding them aloft, metaphors for the worker’s power that allegedly existed in the Soviet state, and for its Faustian approach to technological progress. There is a clear narrative that can be built up here. Ukraine, originally the centre of the Orthodox civilisation of the 11th-century Kievan Rus’, is awakened as a nation in the 17th century; explicated in the poetry of Taras Shevchenko; joins in the revolution in 1917; industrialises in the 1930s; and fights heroically in the Second World War. Then its perfectly genderbalanced population spends peacetime playing football, exploring the cosmos,
and participating in an international friendship of post-colonial peoples. From the Scythians to space, as the mosaic frieze that runs through Mariupol Airport has it. It is not true, but it is a truth about Ukrainian history. Like the Egyptian art Groys compared it to, it is not meant to be truthful as much as an attempt to will things into existence. Its belief in human possibility and progress is sometimes touching, especially given that the cost of the Soviet push to outdo
Like the Egyptian art Groys would compare [monumental Soviet art] to, it is not meant to be truthful as much as an attempt to will things into existence. the West in human lives and ecological destruction is invisible. After a while, you can distinguish distinct periods and styles. Nearly all of the content from the three books comes after the condemnation of Stalin in 1956, so there are no examples of the strict classical realism that was the preserve of the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. Works of the 1960s are in the “severe style”; a harsher realism of geometrically
arranged, robotic, poker-faced figures. These works are often unpretentiously placed on the corners of slab-block housing or on gable ends. In the 1970s and 1980s this loosens up considerably into a more expressive style reminiscent of Mexican muralism, totally unafraid of any superheroic cartoonishness. Vaulting, plunging and soaring bodies burst forth as if out of the buildings and into free space, often positioned on prominent public buildings. These are also more technically experimental, with the smalti work on something like the frieze across the Kiev Jewellery Factory ingeniously formed into a complex pattern of intense melting blues and reds. You can see this effect beautifully in Oleksandr Kostyuk’s Space Constellation, a gorgeous pulsating abstract that is spread across a cinema in Zhytomyr. Comparing these with the mosaics in Lost Heroes of Tbilisi shows that there was only minor room for manoeuvre across the USSR, even between two places as geographically and climatically different as Georgia and Ukraine. Georgia has more tolerance for abstraction, but the big smalti bodies and ceramic girls with Sputniks are all here once again. Lenin, however, is conspicuously absent.
During its Rose Revolution of 2003 under Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia aimed to prohibit and erase its legacy of Soviet iconograpy. Lost Heroes of Tbilisi, a combined booklet and postcard book, depicts what was left afterwards. Its author-collectors, Nini Palavandishvili and Sophia Lapiashvili, sketch a short history of the ancient form. Although popular in the florid eclectic architecture of the late-19th century, it was subsequently neglected everywhere except in the USSR. The major Georgian mosaicist is Zurab Tsereteli, better known for his appalling monumental sculptures in post-Soviet Moscow and elsewhere (there’s even an example of Zurab’s particular flavour of bombast in Cannon Street). In the 1970s, he was a wildly talented if often tasteful producer of abstract mosaics in public spaces across the USSR, but especially in his native Georgia. The influence of his vitalist, organic approach leads to extraordinary menageries such as the mosaics on Tbilisi’s Trade Union Cultural Centre, described here in an essay by Lena Prents as a set of “fantastic and real animals”, presented in a scene where “different living creatures impregnate hares on mosaics”. Rather than seeing them as remnants of a lost civilisation, Prents points out their resemblance to “serious” Western precedents – such as Picasso, Miró and de Chirico – perhaps in an attempt to make these works seem respectable modern art rather than ideologically-driven exotica. This pocket-sized book is meant to be used and carried, with maps on the back of each postcard showing you how to find such improbable delights as Konstantine Chankvetaradze’s pointillist mosaic mural on the inside of a suburban fire station, or Tsereteli’s works in Mzuiri Park, with abstract concrete grubs and snails coated in orange and lime smalti. Instead of a map, the last three postcards have the stamped word “NONEXISTENT” on them. As with the Tbilisi guide, but unlike Decommunised, there are useable maps and descriptions of the current state of the works in Paweł Giergoń’s Mozaika Warszawska, and you are expected to go and look at them and make your own mind up – though you are occasionally warned about, for instance, the ageing proletarian clientele of the Bar Alpejski,
Mozaika Warszawska was published in 2014.
eating their dinner under a minimalist mountain range. Mozaika Warszawska is a substantial gazetteer of mosaics in the Polish capital; it is not available in English, although much of it can be found translated in a guide and app by the same author, Archimapa – Warsaw Mosaics. Giergoń casts his net wider than the title implies, also taking in straightforward murals, sculptural reliefs and sgraffito, and there are some socialist realist works from the Stalinist period, such as the heroic revolutionary groups you can find in the colonnades of Warsaw’s Constitution Square. The story he has to tell centres, though, on what happened to mosaics after 1953, when Polish artists took advantage of a “thaw” in the Stalinist system to rehabilitate abstract art, and produced their own highly original applied interpretations. At the House of the Peasant (now the Hotel Gromada), Gabriel and Hanna Rechowicz’s mosaic is an epic composition of rubble and waste, often dirty organic (revealed by close-up photographs), with only the occasional bird referring to anything “real”. This work started a craze for an abstract expressionism cast in pebbles, pottery shards and broken masonry, which can be found in shops and public buildings across the Polish capital. Conversely, a trend towards a constructivist machinemade serenity was also adopted in the city, particularly in public transport. This runs from the early 1960s – as in Wojciech Fangor’s gradated mosaics at the Śródmieście Railway Station (which are grossly neglected) – to the end of the
system with Jasna Strzałkowska-Ryszka’s elegantly rational mid-1980s ceramic panels on the first line of the Warsaw Metro, which opened in 1995. For all their abstraction, these mosaics are still commonly described derisively as Communist, Giergoń notes with some pique – although Mozaika Warszawska is published by the Warsaw Rising Museum, which is a vehemently anti-Communist institution. These mosaics are, in fact, much more readily comparable to the recently rediscovered post-war public art of say, Britain, and the likes of William Mitchell, than they are to the Soviet examples. Yet they are – on a much larger and more confident scale – aware that they do not have to compete for public space. They’re cheap in their materials but luxuriant in their extent. In an urban landscape such as that of 21st-century Warsaw, dominated by western advertisements and where the only local contribution has been to translate the captions into Polish, they stand out all the more impressively. They are an encumbrance to that banal corporate world, using blank space that could be – and often is – covered with an ad for the latest German car. “History brooks no blank pages”, writes Yevgeny Nikiforov, who advocates that aside from providing explanatory panels on obviously propagandistic Communist mosaics, they should be left alone. There, he’s referring to didactic artworks, which forcefully proclaim things about a society. More softly, the equally endangered abstract mosaics of Warsaw say something rather more optimistic about what we might actually imagine public spaces outside the rule of private interests to be like. Yevgen Nikiforov’s Decommunised – Ukrainian Soviet Mosaics was published by Dom in 2017. Nini Palavandishvili’s Lost Heroes of Tbilisi – Soviet Period Mosaics was published by Geoair in 2014. Paweł Giergoń’s Mozaika Warszawska was published by Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego in 2014.
The Driver Words Oli Stratford Photographs Andrew Bush
“These cars […] and the highways on which they drive will have in them devices which will correct the faults of human beings as drivers. They will prevent the driver from committing errors. They will prevent him from turning out into traffic except when he should […] Everything will be designed by engineering, not by legislation, not in piecemeal fashion, but as a complete job.” This quote, plump and shivering with optimism, is as concise a summary of society’s hopes for driverless technology as I have found. Autonomous cars will be safer than human drivers; autonomous cars will navigate road infrastructure more reliably than human drivers; and autonomous cars will remove the hassles and strains of driving that are principally generated by the distracting emotions, thoughts and general humanity of human drivers. All three factors will blend intersectionally to form a delicious cocktail of pure unadulterated driving, one previously sullied by the grotesque, fleshy presence of the all-too-human driver at the core of the otherwise pristine automobile. In so doing, autonomous cars will complete the grand design project that has attached itself to driving since the first automobiles of the late-19th century – the dream of total mobility, unfettered by the restrictions generated by previous forms of transportation. Or so runs the logic that has led both traditional car manufacturers and emergent technology corporations to pour money into an industry which, according to a 2017 report from Intel, will be worth $7tn by 2050. The prospect of driverless technology, both economic and ideological, is the future-halcyon that lies behind Tim Cook’s claim that Apple’s autonomous systems-focused Project Titan is “the mother of all AI projects” in which the company is “making a big investment”; behind Google’s Waymo autonomous car company being speculatively valued at $70bn by Morgan Stanley, despite only having been
founded in December 2016; and behind Ford’s decision in May 2017 to appoint the head of its driverless cars division, Jim Hackett, as its new chief executive and task him with leading a $1.2bn investment in three Michigan facilities earmarked for production of electric and autonomous vehicles. This followed the company having three months earlier invested $1bn in Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based company tasked with equipping all future Ford vehicles with driverless technology. If good journalistic practice is to follow the money, economics suggests that the future will be driverless. I did, however, cheat a little in providing that original quote; I removed all of the dates so as not to tie it to a particular time, although sadly the telltale gendered pronouns wouldn’t come out quite so easily. To come clean, the quote isn’t about contemporary driverless technology at all, but actually comes from the American industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, writing in his 1940 book Magic Motorways. Bel Geddes’s book (and the exhibit which it grew out of – Futurama from the 1939 New York World’s Fair) posited a 1960s USA in which transport infrastructure would be structured around a sophisticated network of automated highways. Automation aside, this ambition largely came to fruition in 1956 when President Eisenhower passed the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, a scheme which devoted $24.8bn towards the construction of a nationwide highway network. The America that the Highways
Act set in motion was to be a country characterised by effortless mobility, and one in which this mobility was to play a societal role in forging or reinforcing an idealised American national character based around individualism and pioneer spirit: “an America in which people are free,” as Bel Geddes described it in his book 26 years earlier. The same point was made by a somewhat less salubrious individual upon the policy’s announcement. “The road we should take is outlined by the American philosophy of government […]” stated Vice-President Richard Nixon, “rooted in individual rights and obligations – expressed in maximum opportunity for every individual”. What will become of this ideal of freedom and mobility should it become automated? It’s a question that is now becoming possible to ask as a matter of fact, rather than simply as a point of speculation. In July 2017, Tesla delivered its first Model 3, the electric car that the brand hopes will see it break into the mainstream (and profitability – Tesla made a net loss of $401.4m in the second quarter of 2017) and of which it has pledged to produce 500,000 units in 2018. The Model 3 features self-driving hardware that is advertised as rendering the driver – pending software validation and regulatory approval – redundant: a lumpen ghost in the machine, effortlessly and non-corporeally directing that machine’s movements in a highway-infused redux of Descartes’s mind-body dualism. “All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go,” reads Tesla’s promotional material, while the company’s CEO Elon Musk is every bit as buoyant in his prediction of the industry’s future. “My guess is that in probably 10 years it will be very unusual for cars to be built that are not fully autonomous,” Musk reflected when speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai in July. “Getting in a car will be just like getting in an elevator. You just tell it where you want to go and it takes you there with extreme levels of safety, and that will be normal.” In an effort to signify this new normal, in October 2016 Musk announced that by the end of 2017 he planned for an autonomous Tesla vehicle to make a cross-country trip from Los Angeles to New York, all “without the need for a single touch”. Musk’s proposed demonstration will neatly reverse the direction of the historical exemplar of mobility in the United States – the opening up of the American frontier from east coast to west. In his 1893 essay The Significance of the Frontier in American History, the historian Frederick
Jackson Turner argued that the “real lines of American development, the forces dominating our character, are to be studied in the history of westward expansion.” The question is whether autonomous mobility – wrapped up in Musk’s symbolic eastward return journey – might play the same role in shaping a new social era. “He would be a rash prophet indeed,” wrote Turner, “who should assert that the expansive character of American life has now entirely ceased. Movement has been its dominant fact, and, unless this training has no effect upon a people, the American energy will continually demand a wider field for its exercise.” Most companies share Musk’s enthusiasm for the driverless project, be they US based or otherwise.1 Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Uber, BMW, General Motors and Volvo have all invested in the technology, along with the web services company Baidu, whose Apollo driverless technology project aims to become the “Android of the autonomous driving industry” and has already partnered with Chinese auto companies like Chery, Changan and Great Wall Motors. Ford, eager to gazump Musk’s 10-year prediction, plans to have autonomous vehicles offering ride-sharing by 2021: “No steering wheel. No gas pedals. No brake pedals. A driver will not be required.” Ford’s mission statement, steeped in corporate triumphalism at the eradication of direct human input, promises to bring about the apogee of automobility that Bel Geddes imagined 77 years ago. “Already the automobile has done great things for people,” Bel Geddes eulogised in Magic Motorways. “It has taken man out beyond the small confines of the world in which he used to live […] Throughout all recorded history, man has made repeated efforts to reach out farther and to communicate with other men more easily and quickly, and these efforts have reached the climax of their success in the 20th century. This freedom of movement makes possible a magnificently full, rich life for the people of our time.” The problem, as Bel Geddes saw it, was not with cars (“that each year’s car will be better than last year’s model is justified by experience”), but rather with the act 1 Such are the effects of globalisation and the dominance of American culture, that a certain slipperiness around the term “American” means it sometimes oozes out from within sharp geographical borders. In the phrasing of Le Monde, “Nous sommes tous Américains” – at least in the Western world.
Woman venturing south at 76mph on Interstate 405 near Braddock Drive, Los Angeles, at approximately 6.00pm during the first week of March 1997.
Woman driving south at 38mph on La Cienaga Boulevard near the Beverly Center, Los Angeles, at 1.49pm on a weekday in March 1997.
Man rolling along (and whistling audibly) on US Route 101 at approximately 55mph on a summer day in 1989.
of driving itself – both in terms of the infrastructure that supported it and the people who engaged in it: “But how about the driver? Has he too improved in these 30 years of motor-car experience as the car has improved? Not by any means.” The elimination of the driver from the equation of automobility – and therein a fundamental adjustment of what the act of driving actually is – is both the crucial change promised by autonomous technology, as well as the root of the cultural paradox that it promises to bring about. In order to achieve the perceived liberation of the citizenry – and escape the strictures of a world in which travel isn’t “just like getting in an elevator” – society must kill off one of the 20th century’s great ideological engines for individualism. In 2008, the cultural historical Cotten Seiler published Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America, a book to which this article is indebted. Seiler’s text is a landmark study of automobility’s role in sustaining America’s conception – and more broadly the Western world’s conception – of itself as a society founded upon ideals of freedom and individual identity. Seiler’s argument is wideranging and intricate, stretching from 1895 to 1961, but initially hinges upon an analysis of the social impact of Taylorism, the late-19th century scientific management theory founded by Frederick Winslow Taylor that sought to increase productivity through precise delineation, measurement and surveillance of workers’ activities. Taylorism proposed that greater efficiency could be found through the subjugation of the individual to the system; workplaces were to be calibrated as precise machines, in which everyone played a quantifiable role (prefacing the actual automation of workplaces and the rise of Fordism). For a nation that had spent much of the 19th century developing individualism as a key tenet of its identity – such that by 1922 the future US President Herbert Hoover could publish a book titled American Individualism, in which he stated “Our individualism is rooted in our very nature” – this presented an existential challenge. Taylor set out his theory in the 1911 book Principles of Scientific Management, which features a fictional dialogue with Schmidt, a Pennsylvania German pig-iron loader at Bethlehem Steel. In this dialogue, Taylor advises Schmidt on the correct relationship between a worker and their manager. “You know as well as I do, that a high-priced man
has to do exactly as he’s told from morning to night,” Taylor tells Schmidt. “Do you understand that? When this man tells you to walk, you walk; when he tells you to sit down, you sit down, and you don’t talk back at him.” The exchange is obnoxious, recasting the employer/employee relationship as that of master and slave, and it is notable as to quite how redolent Taylor’s dialogue is of the period’s treatment of black Americans. Taylor ridicules Schmidt and those he is intended to represent by writing his interjections in dialect (“Vell – did I got $1.85 for loading dot pig iron on dot car to-morrow?”), while justifying their subjugation through appeal to a supposed inferiority: for a “mentally sluggish type as Schmidt”, Taylor deems his condescension “appropriate and not unkind.” The kind of covert racialisation embodied by Taylor’s words – and by proxy the co-option of an ideology in which only certain people are to be granted full social status as individuals or citizens – shows quite how serious a threat to American individualism (or, more accurately, white male individualism) Taylor’s theory had come to represent. “Taylorism’s transformation of the spaces and nature of work salted the earth in which the ideological models of selfhood – the autonomous individual of liberalism and the virtuous citizen of republicanism – were rooted,” notes Seiler in analysis of the theory. “[…] workers were evacuated of their formerly and naturally authoritative, robust, creative, and mobile traits, and reduced to the stereotypical docility, sessility, and subservience of women and slaves.” Taylorism represented such a challenge to individualism that the chocolate manufacturer Edward Cadbury was driven to lament the arrival of a workplace in which “initiative and judgement and freedom of movement are eliminated.” Key to Seiler and Cadbury’s quotes are their deployment of “sessility” and “freedom of movement” as what was respectively enforced and denied by Taylorism, and it is worth noting how Taylor frames his dialogue with Schmidt in the language of mobility. Under Taylor’s regime, Schmidt seems to be doing little other than constantly either walking or sitting, all performed to a rigorously enforced schedule that – located delightfully beyond the realms of parody – is enforced by “the man”. In this vein, however, a recurrent feature of any discussion of citizenship or individuality is the importance of freedom of movement, both as a value in its own right but also
Woman waiting to proceed south at Sunset and Highland Boulevards, Los Angeles, at approximately 11.59am one day in February 1997.
as a physical manifestation of the various freedoms, rights and liberties deemed to attach to such a person. As much as Taylorism created hierarchy between those who were static and those whose status as managers enabled mobility, it’s also true that contemporary societies continue to use movement as a primary form of self-definition and a vehicle for identity politics: hence Donald Trump’s call for “a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries [viz. peoples]” and a July 2017 statement from Theresa May’s office that central to Brexit and Britain’s future within Europe would be an acceptance that it “would be wrong […] to suggest that free movement will continue as it is now.”2 To specifically couch this idea within the context of cars, it is notable that one of the more visceral elements of identity politics in contemporary Saudi Arabia is its ongoing prohibition on women’s right to drive, and concurrent attempts to link this to the physiology of the female reproductive system: “If a woman drives a car,” the Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan argued in 2013, “[…] that could have negative physiological impacts, as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards.” Such statements are repulsive, but unsurprising. Given automobility’s entanglement with issues such as individualism, sessility and personal agency, few areas have been as 2 At the time of writing this article, a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was marked by a car ramming a group of anti-far-right protesters, killing one person and injuring another 19. It was the latest incident in what has become a recurring use of the automobile in contemporary societies: its deployment as a weapon in terrorist attacks. Even before the attack in Charlottesville, however, the rally had seemed dominated by ideas of mobility. A column of neo-facist demonstrators – wielding burning torches and chanting “Blood and soil” and “You will not replace us” – marched on counterprotestors, encircling them to prevent their escape. The incident was an example of the far-right mobilising in opposition to social mobility, and in support of a desire for societal stasis: the ludicrous and grotesque idea that America is a white society and ought to be preserved as such. Inherent within this kind of racist ideology seems to be the idea that one group’s mobility is premised on another group’s corresponding sessility. This is, quite patently, incorrect. 3 For those interested, Rootes also showed the Lord Imp, which was delightfully billed as “FOR MEN ONLY: Designed specifically for men, the new Lord Imp has features such as ship-to-shore radio, a marine compass, ship’s bell, air horns and portable bar.”
comprehensively gendered as cars and their surrounding infrastructure. It is telling that the car company Rootes Motors’s decision to use the 1965 San Francisco International Car Show as a showcase for its Lady Imp concept car (a vehicle that came with “a built-in vanity and large [storage unit that] will carry all of Milady’s beauty and hair dressing preparations and paraphernalia. Throw pillows and head rests add comfort […] Accessories also include a hair dryer, custom matching luggage and many other singularly feminine ‘handies’”) is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gender and cars.3 This connection between movement and identity was taken up by the philosopher Loren E. Lomasky in his 1997 essay ‘Autonomy and Automobility’. “[…] an autonomous being is not simply a locus at which forces collide and which then is moved by them,” wrote Lomasky. “Rather, to be autonomous is, minimally, to be a valuer with ends taken to be good as such, and to have the capacity as an agent to direct oneself to the realization or furtherance of these ends through actions expressly chosen for that purpose.” The decisive part of the argument, however, is what Lomasky states next: “This is what motorists do.” Within the context of an autonomy threatened – and the associated threat of sessility – the car’s effect upon people’s psyches at the start of the 20th century must have been profound, not least in the liberation promised by breakthroughs such as the 1908 arrival of the comparatively mass-market Ford Model T, of which 15 million were built and sold. Certainly, the American philosopher and architecture critic Lewis Mumford was unequivocal in his assessment of automobiles’ impact on society: “he who had one was a king: he could go where he pleased and halt where he pleased; and this machine itself appeared as a compensatory device for enlarging an ego [...] shrunken by our very success in mechanization.” This point is seized upon by Seiler, who sees driving as not only a means by which society sought to regain an autonomy believed lost with the 20th century’s rise of industrialisation and mechanisation, but also a vehicle by which the American people were able to continue to lay claim to the defiant individualism that they viewed as distinctive of their national character. “To middle-class and working-class white men, driving appeared able to deliver an analogue of the sovereign selfhood attenuated by Taylorization and bureaucratic regimentation, and to masculinize
History Man continuing east at 67mph on Interstate 10 near Palms Boulevard in Los Angeles at 4.14pm in February 1991.
wherein the autonomy and individualism symbolised by automobility – some quivering of supposed national character – might be allowed to fluctuate between reality and quasi-foundation myth. It is this balancing act between reality and cultural narrative that the motoring journalist John Jerome captured in his 1972 book The Death of the Automobile. “The basis for the appeal of the private automobile has always been a kind of mystically perceived total freedom,” noted Jerome. “In practice, it is the freedom to go wherever one wants to go (wherever the roads go, which opens up another sociological can of worms), whenever one desires to go (whenever the car is ready, when one has paid the price in preparation and maintenance, in taxation and legal qualification, whenever one has the wherewithal to feed the machine), at whatever rate one desires to go (assuming the traffic will allow, that congestion eases – and at rates up to but not beyond the arbitrary standards established to protect one from the dangers of excessive use of his own freedom).” In large part, this cultural resonance of automobiles – and the conjoining willing suspension of disbelief over quite how regulated driving actually is as an activity – seems hooked to the figure of the driver themself. Essential to automobility is the sense that a car is not only a design object or product, but also an enabler of self-directed activity. Even a passing acquaintance with automobile adverts confirms the status of the car as a product – “Alfa Romeo. Beauty is not enough”; “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet”; “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?” – but automobility nonetheless reaches beyond brute consumerism. “Automobility is not just something for which people in their ingenuity or idiosyncrasy might happen to hanker, as they have for Nehru jackets, disco music, hula hoops, crack cocaine, pet rocks, pink flamingo lawn ornaments, Madonna, and ‘How many ____ does it take to change a lightbulb?’ jokes,” argues Lomasky. “Rather, automobile transport is a good for people in virtue of its intrinsic features. Because automobility is a mode of extending the scope and magnitude of self-direction, it is worthwhile.” In one sense, Lomasky unduly privileges the car over other objects given that all consumer products, to some extent, enable extension of self-direction. A blender enables clear self-directed activity – blending; a computer mouse – clicking; a fidget spinner – fidgeting. What is
consumer identity more generally,” notes Seiler. “For women, immigrants, and people of color, groups whose automobility would be as contested as their fitness for citizenship, the driver’s seat beckoned as the crucible of that fitness and as the vantage of the American-in-full. In the United States at the turn of the century, driving a car promised not only transportation, but transformation.” While motoring changed dramatically over the course of the 20th century, the notion of driving as a transformative act that offered an outlet for individualism – remained remarkably consistent. It was the figure of the driver whom the futurist poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti labelled in 1909 as one of “the living men on earth” and who alone might access “a new beauty: the beauty of speed”; the act of driving that Jack Kerouac exalted in 1951 as “our one noble function of the time”; and the infrastructure of driving which Jean Baudrillard said was capable of teaching you “[all] you need to know about American society” in his 1988 book America. In part, this cultural resonance can be traced back to the Cold War, when automobility emerged as a propaganda vehicle for the assertion of American individualism over Soviet collectivism; despite having been approved as a public works priority in 1944, the Highways Act was not passed until 1956 – the same year that its proponents added the word “Defense” to its title. Quickly, the sense of automobility as a bastion of American life against the threat of Communism spread. The 1957 Armed Forces Information Film Red Nightmare – alternatively titled Freedom and You – closes, for instance, with an aerial shot of a highway upon which phalanxes of cars are moving in both directions. The aesthetic uniformity of traffic on a highway (and any acknowledgement that a highway is a highly regulated space) was apparently lost on the filmmakers, although perhaps the allure of the automobile as the perfect motif of liberty was simply too easy a symbol to exploit: after all, swaths of Americans travelling vast distances in the splendid isolation of their automobiles must have smacked of individualism. “In Red Nightmare, as in so much postwar art and culture,” Seiler notes, “automobility provided the crucial illustration of American freedom.” Whether the automobile ever actually lived up to these ideals remains doubtful, but nonetheless, cars represented the kind of story that America (and the rest of the Western world) wished to tell about itself,
History Untitled: information about driver unknown.
Man drifting near the shoulder at 61mph on Interstate 405 around the Getty Drive exit at 4.01pm on a Tuesday in September 1992.
History Man finding his way south at 64mph on Interstate 5 near Wildcat Canyon, California, on a Sunday in 1993.
romance of a car will be over […] it might have practical benefits, particularly if you’re blind drunk, but it is not going to be an expression of your personality, your status, or your yearnings.” While autonomous cars may help in cutting the figure of 1.3 million people who die every year in car crashes – in January 2016, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute published a study that found the crash rate for self-driving cars was 3.2 crashes per million miles, compared to the US national average of 4.2 accidents per million miles4 – writers like Bayley believe that they will also signal the demise of the automobile as a forge for personal identity. It is a sacrifice that the car companies, based upon their investment in the technology, believe society is willing to make. There are likely multiple reasons for this, although the explanation that seems most persuasive from a cultural perspective is that we are simply no longer a society of drivers, or at least not in the sense in which we have been in the past. While we may not have become a society of blenders or fidgeters either, we have turned into a society of clickers. In his 2017 essay ‘Reasons for Corbyn’, published in the London Review of Books, the political economist William Davies reflected on the role of the internet in our society. “The internet turns up a perpetual series of anniversaries, disparate moments from disparate epochs,” wrote Davies, “and presents them all as equivalent and accessible in the here and now.” Davies also cited the cultural theorist Mark Fisher’s 2014 book Ghosts of My Life, in which Fisher observed that “In 1981, the 1960s seemed much further away than they do today. Since then, cultural time has folded back on itself, and the impression of linear development has given way to a strange simultaneity.” Certainly, the arrival of the internet and the proliferation of digital space has triggered a radical shift in the way in which we conceive of mobility. Digital traversal is not only far more effective at collapsing spatial distance than the car – we speak with people around the world through Skype, have access to images from continents away, and receive a steady stream of instantaneous global breaking
distinctive about cars however, is that their associated activity is deemed culturally worthwhile and plays a notable role in the formation of identity. The 20th century may have been a century of consumerism, but the forms in which that consumerism came to cement itself within culture were not without limits: there are reasons as to why we’ve ended up as a society of drivers as opposed to a society of blenders or fidgeters. Dominant among these may have been the idea that driving simply represented the right kind of consumerism for a society wedded to individualism and suspicious of any form of collectivism. “In one sense [in 20th-century America] citizenship was conflated with owning; in another, the essential practice of the citizen was that of choosing,” states Seiler. Consumerism invites the formation of character through shopping – professing that the individual is blessed with near limitless choice to shape themselves in the marketplace – but its tendency towards herd-like mentality is well documented, as is the role of standardisation and mass production in forging the 20th-century commercial landscape. For a social and economic order that professes the importance of individual choice, consumerism encourages curiously collectivist tendencies. Ditto, advertising’s capacity to shape consumer behaviour is a difficult fit with any ideology professing to maintain the “rugged individualism” exalted by Hoover and his ilk. “[…] the act of choosing, if the consumer was to be heroized, had to carry with it a political valence; it had to be represented as an exercise in sovereignty rather than the effect of manipulation,” notes Seiler. “This figure [...] merged the expressive individual of the marketplace with the autonomous individual of republican political culture, offering reassurance that a subjectivity distinguished by self-determination had survived the transition from the old to the new regime of accumulation. It was a social self, but it looked like a sovereign self. Its characteristics were mobility and choice; and its embodiment was the driver.” If the driver was a form adopted by the individual in the face of consumerism, does this cocooning effect still hold today? In September 2016, the design writer Stephen Bayley offered this quote to 032c magazine on the imminent appearance of automated vehicles. “The autonomous car is probably coming – there are considerable technological and legal difficulties, but when that arrives, the sordid, hot, dirty, dangerous
4 In May 2016, Joshua Brown became the first person to die because of an error on the part of an autonomous vehicle when his Tesla Model S drove into an 18-wheel truck. In a blog post entitled ‘Tragic Loss’, Tesla stated that “This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles.”
Man heading south at 73mph on Interstate 5 near Buttonwillow Drive outside of Bakersfield, California, at 5.36pm on a Tuesday in March 1992.
news as and when we desire it5 – but it is also capable of crossing temporal space too: “That which happened 40 years ago is as accessible as that which happened 40 minutes ago, or that which is happening now […] it has become clear that the internet is less significant as a means of publishing than a means of archiving,” argues Davies. In the world of the internet, everything is flattened and non-linear – it exists as a timeless archive through which you can travel instantaneously via a click of a mouse – but it has also become a digital analogue of our transport infrastructure, infused with the optimism of mobility. We surf the web through search engines, all served up with a vocabulary that promises a rich broth of personal autonomy blitzed with limitless travel. Mozilla Firefox promises “your web, the way you like it”, Apple’s Safari is explicitly encoded with the notion of journey within its title, while between 1994 and 2013, Microsoft’s corporate identity was based around asking customers “Where do you want to go today?” It should be hardly surprising that our cars are becoming more like computers given that we live in a world in which mobility has been thoroughly adopted and adapted by the digital sphere. While autonomous cars may not yet be mainstream reality, we have already been culturally primed for the idea that automatic travel to a restaurant is really only a hair’s breadth away from a Hey, Siri request for restaurant locations. “One can hear,” notes Seiller, “in the promises of unlimited mobility and endless opportunities for the individual to redefine himself that imbue the internet with utopian power, echoes of the champions of the automobile circa 1910 and 1955 […] As work deskills and the workplace becomes even less hospitable to the demonstration of autonomy, technologies of the self – fostering virtual rather than physical mobility – once again provide a ‘fix’ for subjectivity and other solid things that melt into air.” As to how genuine the mobility provided by the internet will prove to be remains to be seen. In October 2016, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked search engines for their role in enforcing entrenched opinion by tailoring their results to
an individual’s personal tastes: “Algorithms, when they are not transparent, can lead to a distortion of our perception, they can shrink our expanse of information. The big internet platforms, through their algorithms, have become an eye of a needle which diverse media must pass through.” Similarly, in June 2015, the Pew Research Center in Washington D.C. published data showing that 61 per cent of millennials source news through Facebook, a platform that frequently serves as an echo chamber for social and political opinion. It all adds up to a situation in which online movement becomes so tailored to our existing beliefs that any exposure to information that might challenge these beliefs becomes increasingly unlikely. “We thought that the internet was going to connect us all together,” said the internet activist Eli Pariser in a 2010 interview with salon.com. “As a young geek in rural Maine, I got excited about the Internet because it seemed that I could be connected to the world. What it’s looking like increasingly is that the Web is connecting us back to ourselves.” But it is the sense of absolute freedom of motion – even a circular motion that leads nowhere – which gives the medium its power. So too with autonomous cars. While the physical process of driving may be lost in this process of automation, the promise of choice and sense of authority enabled by travel is correspondingly exaggerated – the car becomes a quasi-intelligent being, ready and willing to respond to our every whim. “Our goal,” states Waymo’s website, “is to build a safer driver,” and the company clearly conceives of the role of the driver as having shifted from the human being to the car, with agency now residing not so much within the action of driving, but rather within the intention of the person being driven. In his 1973 book Ecology as Politics, the sociologist André Gorz noted that “unlike all previous owners of a means of locomotion, the motorist’s relationship to his or her vehicle was to be that of user and consumer – and not owner and master.” With the rise of the autonomous car, however, this dichotomy seems to dissolve: consumerism and smart technologies have reached a stage at which consumption generates feelings of autonomy and individuality precisely through the level of power – and corresponding freedom from toil – that it facilitates in a user. To paraphrase the Nobel Prize winner Christian Lous Lange, “Technology is a useful servant”. E N D
5 By contrast, in 1999 a UK-based family of five, the Naismiths, decided to quit their jobs, sell their house, and drive to Australia. The trip took 10 months. “We tried to split up the journey as much as possible, and we shared the driving,” noted Graham Naismith. “But sometimes there were long spells in the car”.
Banners Unfurled Words Glenn Adamson On the afternoon of 18 February 1908, the Royal Society of Arts met in London to discuss “Banners in Pageantry”. The main address was delivered by George Eve, a printmaker with particular expertise in armorials, the displays of coats of arms once seen at jousting tournaments and in royal palaces and chivalric orders. He traced the history of the banner form, beginning with ancient Roman ensigns, progressing through medieval standards and pennants used to identify knights on the battlefield, and on to the national flags of modern times. After this learned exposition, the chair of the gathering rose to offer a brief response. “It was a curious thing,” he said, “that in the present [and] generally considered democratic age, something like a renaissance of heraldic design was going on”. It seemed that the reinvention of long-forgotten medieval emblems was leading to a burst of unprecedented creativity. “In fact, there [is] nothing too daring for the pictorial banner painter of the present day”. The chair that day was Walter Crane, an artist and dedicated socialist. He spoke from first-hand experience, his own work having been frequently adapted for banner designs. Principally in demand with labour organisations, specialist manufacturers had found themselves inundated with work – preeminently the firm of George Tutill, which had built the largest jacquard loom in the world at its London premises in 1881 to cope with the demand. These firms made banners using a range of techniques, including weaving, painting and appliqué. These banners were compositionally complex affairs, up to 5m wide. They typically featured illusionistic swags, narrative scenes, and also slogans such as “unity is strength”, “knowledge is power”, and “God helps those that help themselves”. A proper banner was a serious investment, illustrating the political clout of the owner. They were used not only in marches, but also hung in meeting halls or on architectural facades, and in the heightened political atmosphere of the time, were treated as sacred emblems. This type of richly illustrated banner had emerged in the 1820s, when in the memorable phrase of historian Gywn Williams in his introduction to John Gorman’s 1973 book Banner Bright, workers’ associations had come “blinking out of their dark and secret conventicles into the fitful sunlight of a precarious legality”. Although collective bargaining technically remained illegal, organised labour groups nonetheless began to gain both members and strength. For their emblems, they adapted the basic format and some of the imagery of religious pageants – particularly those of
1 Component of the Total Twit Meets the
Future banner by Stephanie Syjuco. 2 Participants hold up banners made at Syjuco's 'Reap What You Sew' workshop. 3
Resist! by Syjuco. 4 Components of Snake Oil
(Zero Proof) by Syjuco. 5 The finished Snake Oil
(Zero Proof) banner. 6 Sewn and appliquéd banners created at the Royal Nonsuch Gallery. 7 Banners created by the Chicago-based Protest Banner Lending Library (PBLL). 8 An appliqué banner designed by Ed Hall. 9 Hall's work is built up from individual elements of cotton cloth. 10 Hall's banners feature bold, simple slogans.
Syjuco’s preferred aesthetic is clip art, which she sees as a populist mode that’s “easily accessible and completely ubiquitous”.
committed the marchers, they will tire eventually so it's best if two teams are assigned to each banner, taking turns throughout the course of the march. As to the content, Hall says that it rather depends on his client. Images are usually provided to him in the form of photographs, along with preferred slogans, which tend to be fairly direct expressions of dissent, such as “Not one more day – Tories out”. He concedes that he’s “never heard a real corker,” although he was fond of the tube workers’ strike motto, “underground, but never ground under”. He then works these various motifs into elaborate, symmetrical compositions. Key images are positioned on the front, usually surrounded with swags bearing text, with the back of the banner repeating the identity of the organisation. One project can take Hall a week or longer to complete, though he is the first to admit that “some of the best banners have been made overnight by someone who’s never made one before”. Presuming his works are not confiscated by the police (as does happen occasionally), they are made to last for decades of repeated use. But these days, Hall’s intricate banners are the exception to the rule. Protests are often put together quickly, in response to a particular outrage, and it may be that a hastily painted phrase or single image is truest to the spirit of the form. As the artist Walead Beshty noted in his contribution to ‘How Important is Art as a Form of Protest’ in issue 186 of Frieze, “Protest is quick, fluid, forceful and, by definition, it eschews the solidity of institutions”. While the lockstep aesthetics of the Suffragettes and the elaborate trade union style that Hall has inherited are both impressive and dignified – and can be effective in certain situations – sometimes what is wanted is raw urgency. That is certainly the tenor of most protests today, given that the internet has rendered everyone, no matter how ill-informed, a pundit. There is an online echo chamber of constant and instinctive commentary. Activism takes place against the backdrop of this inflammatory discourse, and a general atmosphere of an existential battling for the future. For a comparable sense of cultural emergency, you have to go back more than a generation, to the time of the AIDS crisis. It produced powerful images; think of the pink triangle and “Silence = Death” emblem of Act Up, which is essentially traditional banner iconography (emblem plus slogan) that has been processed through the logic of abstraction. Or take the AIDS quilt project, comprising hand-crafted panels dedicated to people who died from the epidemic. In Fray: Art and Textile Politics, art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson notes that, “by any reckoning (from the number of participants, to the actual acreage of the quilt), [it’s] the largest ongoing community arts project in the world”.
the nonconformists and temperance activists – and gradually, a distinctive working-class iconography began to develop. One can still see this tradition in all its glory at events such as the annual gala of the Durham Mining Association, first held in 1871. It remains a proud panoply of regional trade union identities, despite the closure of the mines themselves under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. With the creation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1897, the protest banner found a new group of adherents. The women of the movement typically made their own banners. They were often simpler than those manufactured by Tutill’s, but this perhaps made them all the more effective when photographed as part of the NUWSS’s highly choreographed marches, and reproduced on the front pages of daily newspapers. The Suffragettes were among the first to realise that a protest could be even more effective in second-hand reports than when seen in person, and they spared no effort in ensuring a coordinated visual spectacle, wearing matched clothes and hats, all decorated in the movement’s colours of white, purple and green. This golden age of the political banner ended in the 1920s. In Britain, new legislation forbidding mass protests was put in place, women succeeded in winning the vote (in 1918 for women over 30 and in 1928 for women over 21), and unions found it more effective to work through the official channel of the Labour Party. Today, however, the banner is undergoing another renaissance. Progressives – and those who previously considered themselves unpolitical – both in the USA and Britain are marching in record numbers, enraged by the actions of governments that have fallen ass-backward into power. The tactics of these contemporary protests are fundamentally similar to those of Pankhurst’s time: show up in force and elbow your way into the headlines. Just as banners made a march newsworthy a century ago, they now dovetail with the hashtag dynamics of social media. So what goes into a protest banner? First and foremost, a great deal of hard work. The banner-maker Ed Hall, who has achieved renown not only for the quality of his work, but also his long-running collaboration with the artist Jeremy Deller, is one of the few remaining independent artisans who works within the unionist tradition. Though he uses fabric dyes to render centrepieces in fine detail, he works principally in appliqué, cutting swags, letters and borders from cotton cloth. A good banner, Hall says, should be double sided and looped over a crosspiece to ensure it is displayed without drooping: “The best banner in the world misses its target if it cannot be read”. It should be unfixed at the bottom, lest a strong wind should fill it like a sail, and ought to be carried on either side by two bearers holding upright poles. However
At the Protest Banner Lending Library, visitors could check-out banners and also learn to make their own through a series of hands-on workshops.
It’s early days yet, but it looks as though the sheer awfulness of recent events is ushering in another vital age of protest design. This time round, the copywriting has been corking. The anti-Trump Women’s March of January 2017 bequeathed the world such instant classics as “girls just wanna have fun-damental rights” and “super callous fascist racist extra braggadocious”. Hastily written signs have come to the fore, but banner-makers have been getting busy too, with a particular emphasis on open-source strategies. Stephanie Syjuco, an artist based in San Francisco, is a leading exponent. She has committed much of her time since the election to making banners, and put “Making Fabric Protest Banners: Tips and Tricks” on the internet for others to use. Syjuco’s preferred material is iron-on fusible fabric, which can be reinforced with stitching to increase longevity, while her preferred aesthetic is clip art, which she sees as a populist mode that's “easily accessible and completely ubiquitous”. Quite unlike the symmetrical and hierarchical layouts of a traditional banner, her images are like off-kilter infographics. In one of them, a Cheeto-orange Trump spouts garbage, tweets, money and a pussy-grabbing hand. He has a belching factory for a cerebrum. The serpent of his id slithers directly toward his lips. Subtle it ain’t, yet the pictorial
These creations can be seen as a carnivalesque inversion of familiar medieval heraldry â€“ a repurposing of the knightâ€™s pennant, to which soldiers once rallied. 10
intelligence of the banner is considerable. The imagery is both condensed and allusive, recalling early American revolutionary iconography (the famous “Don’t tread on me” snake of the Gadsden flag) and the work of German satirists such as John Heartfield and Hannah Höch. In parsing the historical precedents for her work, Syjuco has said that she wants to “combine the crafted nature of the Suffragette banners with the messaging visibility of Act Up”. She makes the obvious but important point that a handmade object, simply by virtue of the investment placed in it by its creator, possesses an innate credibility that a mass-produced cardboard placard simply cannot. This is a vital consideration in the current political environment, which often seems to reward expressions of conviction more readily and fully than carefully reasoned argument. Syjuco also notes that the lengthy process of making a banner encourages her to interrogate her own views: “the slowed-down timeframe of having to actually make and sew something forces me to spend more time thinking about what it was that I was arguing for […] the commitment to making a fabric banner can speak volumes about your conviction to a message”. This belief in the transformative power of craft also animates an initiative in Chicago: the Protest Banner Lending Library (PBLL). This collective project, founded by Aram Han Sifuentes, takes Syjuco’s distribution tactics one step further, circulating handmade banners to anyone who wishes to borrow them for a march. For three months, the PBLL was headquartered at the Chicago Cultural Center, where visitors could check out banners and also learn to make their own through a series of hands-on workshops. Many participants who make a banner ultimately leave it for the collection. Once completed by Sifuentes and her lead collaborators Verónica Casado Hernández, Ishita Dharap and Tabitha Anne Kunkes, a banner can be loaned out. The level of interest has been high. In less than a year, the library has accumulated more than 150 banners, which have been used not only in marches, but also in schools and in one instance, as the set of a community theatre production. So far, participants seem to be respecting the honour system of the lending library. A few banners have been “checked out indefinitely,” as Sifuentes puts it, but nearly all are returned, carrying with them “the histories of the hands that made and held them, and the places they have and will travel”. This collective approach stands against the individualistic, anti-civic ideology of current right-wing politics. Like Syjuco, Sifuentes and her team use fusible cloth to make their banners. Their design sensibility is much more straightforward, however, with simple block letters against uniform backgrounds. It takes about two hours to make one
and slogans tend to be direct, such as “black lives matter”, “no wall” or “otro mundo es posible”. Sifuentes says that many of her artistic choices derive from the inexpensive cloth she sources. On her trips to the ubiquitous Jo-Ann fabric shops, Sifuentes likes to choose particularly outré patterns – “the ones where you ask, who would ever buy this?” – and these sometimes suggest a certain motto. PBLL banners are also uncomplicated in their construction. Some have a stitched-in sleeve for a crosspiece, but most simply have straps at the corners, which can be cable-tied to poles or used for carrying. Often, protesters end up wearing them as capes, providing another reason to stick to unfussy, centralised designs. The pragmatism of the PBLL approach extends beyond graphics into a broader consideration of agency. Sifuentes says the idea for the library came from her own experience as an immigrant to America and that of being a new mother. Though she now has her citizenship, she empathises with people who fear arrest or even deportation. A march, she points out, is not necessarily a safe space. “The banners that my immigrant community make can be used without fear,” she says. “It becomes a stand-in for us and our voices”. It is a long way from the earnest simplicity wielded by the PBLL to the edgy graphics employed by Stephanie Syjuco, and still further to the elaborate creations of Ed Hall. These banner-makers do, however, still share an important set of commonalities, which go well beyond the literal matter of stitched cloth. All are concerned to support a sustainable infrastructure for protest, aware that the fight is likely to go on for many years to come. In their material and visual choices, they also look back to the great activist movements of the past – and deeper still. Just as Walter Crane suggested, their creations can be seen as a carnivalesque inversion of medieval heraldry – a repurposing of the knight’s pennant, to which soldiers once rallied. Few who march are likely aware of it, but in the contemporary protest banner, this ancient iconography of power is inverted. At a time when many feel disempowered and disheartened by political processes, hands-on activism is more important than ever. Will it help in restoring a more reasonable civic order? It’s hard to say. But if a brighter day does dawn, we’ll know that banner bearers led the way. E N D
The Quarterly Journal of Design
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INTERVIEW: CONSIDER THE GARMENT pp. 55-70
PHOTOESSAY: THEY LEFT THE TREES pp. 28-42
Production assistant’s note: Each object in this shoot explored covering in some form. It is funny that such a medley of materials, textures and colours can unite
OBSERVATIONS: COVERING AND COVFEFE pp. 44-53
MoMA – moma.org
Photographer’s note: Shooting a portrait while the subject is being interviewed can be tricky. There is no control whatsoever and the photographer becomes a distraction. I was relieved to find Paola Antonelli to be totally at ease in her own skin. It was a pleasure to listen to the brilliant conversation going on while doing my thing. —Gudrun Georges
Aram Lee – leearam.com Artemide – artemide.com Fernando Laposse – fernandolaposse.com Jenny Sabin Studio – jennysabin.com Kinnasand – kinnasand.com Studio Wieki Somers – wiekisomers.com
Colette – colette.fr Design Academy Eindhoven – designacademy.nl Facebook – facebook.com Google – google.com New York Works – newyorkworks.cityofnewyork.us V&A – vam.ac.uk
Photographer’s note: An issue in Kiruna is that the iron ore commodity price has dropped. About six years ago, when LKAB announced the move, they were practically digging gold out of the ground. But the price has fallen dramatically since then and this has had an impact on the kind of add-ons that LKAB were initially looking to include in the town move project. White Arkitekter, which is working on the project, had a lot of ideas for things it could do – like an art festival, for example – but none of that will be happening now. —Klaus Thymann
around a common theme, even if transported out of context and placed in a kitchen. —Charlotte Cubitt
TIMELINE pp. 25-26
Writer’s note: My first interaction with a “Made in …” label was in the local toy store in my hometown of Jönköping. It was called Hikmet and was something of a Mecca for the children of the town. To the chagrin of Mr Hikmet, we spent many Saturday mornings here, deciding on what to spend our weekly pocket money by touching, patting, adoring and squeezing all the toys – which I remember noticing were mostly made in Taiwan. —Johanna Agerman Ross
COMMENT: MADE IN NOWHERE p. 75
Writer’s note: “Big Ben should bong when we come out of the EU, absolutely.” Thus spake Tory MP Peter Bone, somehow managing to make a clock striking sound like a sex act. —George Isleden
COMMENT: DEATH KNELLS p. 72
Stanley Picker Gallery – stanleypickergallery.org Yuri Suzuki – yurisuzuki.com
Illustrator’s note: I discovered Yuri Suzuki’s work some years ago. In his work, in the variety of his expression, his taste for machines and research, his poetry, his humour, there is something that resonates deeply with me. He doesn’t know it, but it’s as if I’ve had a secret dialogue with him whenever I have discovered one of his new creations. We have not met yet, but I am patient – I imagine that I would find in him the person who I might have become had I been born Japanese. —Philippe Dupuy
SPECIAL PROJECT: FURNISHING SILENCES pp. 95-105
ICOMOS – icomos.org Unesco – unesco.org World Monument Fund – wmf.org
Writer’s note: Due to the ongoing conflict, most of the cultural heritage professionals involved in Syria work from outside of the country. So this article was based on meetings at the British Library and World Monument Fund offices in London, and the Unesco offices in Beirut; Skype calls to Gaziantep, Paris and Philadelphia; and conversations on Twitter and Facebook. —Lemma Shehadi
REPORT: THE BATTLE FOR PALMYRA pp. 79-92
Icon – iconeye.com
Writer’s note: I’d rather not give this campaign any more exposure by commenting further. —Kay Sunden
Editors’ note: To the HR departments of the world’s art and design museums: Kristina Rapacki (kristina@ disegnomagazine.com) and Oli Stratford (oliver@ disegnomagazine.com) are open for business. —The editors
Charles Jeffrey Loverboy – charlesjeffrey.net
Designer’s note: Having club spaces in which people can escape is so cathartic. When there’s been a lack of those spaces you see the frustration and you see people going to places that aren’t as healthy for them. Drugs and so on become more more of a thing, because there aren’t places where you can party and dress up and have fun. Maybe you finish at 6am in the morning: you’ve danced to death, so go home and sleep, you don’t need to fill your body with whatever. —Charles Jeffrey
CONVERSATION: CLUB CATHARSIS pp. 113-128
Craig Green – craig-green.com
COMMENT: GREEN AT SEA p. 110
COMMENT: ICONIC LEADERSHIP p. 76
REVIEW: THE MUSEUM OF FAILURE pp. 170-173
Viceland – viceland.com
Writer’s note: States of Undress is available on Viceland, Sky Channel 153, and in the UK on demand as part of a package from NOW TV. However, as someone living in Europe who doesn’t own a TV, least of all a Sky subscription, it seems a pity Vice makes it so hard for their target audience to access their content, especially such an intelligent and engaging show such as this. Until someone sees sense and Netflix picks it up in HD, you’ll probably have to brave popups and poor-quality streams to watch it – but it’s worth it. —Felix Chabluk Smith
REVIEW: STATES OF UNDRESS pp. 166-169
The Architecture Foundation – architecturefoundation. org.uk
Writer’s note: I first visited London quite late in my twenties, having already spent time in cities around Europe. In the last 10 years, I’ve tried to make up for lost time, from the rooftops to tunnels and vaults beneath the streets. Every time I do so, the city feels like a labyrinth rearranging itself. —Darran Anderson
REVIEW: LONDON ARCHITECTURE GUIDE pp. 162-165
Knightscope – knightscope.com
Writer’s note: The story of K5 has a happy ending. I am delighted to report that the robot who drowned in Washington Harbour has undergone repairs and is now active on Twitter. He has christened himself Steve and tweets using #WeAreSteve. I recommend that everyone follow him. —Oli Stratford
COMMENT: THE ONGOING ADVENTURES OF K5 – ROBOT EXTRAORDINAIRE p. 109
Badoo – badoo.com
Writer’s note: I was surprised, and frankly quite alarmed, to find how many men have profile pictures of Boris Johnson on Badoo. —Kristina Rapacki
COMMENT: I’LL HAVE ONE OF THOSE p. 106
Matthias Merkel Hess – salon94.com/artists/detail/ matthias-merkel-hess
Photographer’s note: “A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.” So wrote Dorothy L. Sayers in her 1947 text Creed or Chaos. —Luca Pizzaroni
GALLERY: THE CERAMIC MUNDANE pp. 145-160
Photographer’s note: I live in the most chaotic city in a strange country; a city that feeds me and determines the rhythms of my life. Unlike many people, I find living in Istanbul gives me an assurance and some kind of serenity. —Can Dağarslanı
TRAVELOGUE: CONTESTED SPACES pp. 129-144
Photographer’s note: There aren’t as many red cars on the road as there used to be, and that’s a good thing if you take colour photos of drivers. —Andrew Bush
HISTORY: THE DRIVER pp. 177-192
Writer’s note: The first place I ever stayed in Warsaw was the Hotel Gromada, built as the House of the Peasant in the 1950s. Not that you’d guess – its decor and big extension looking more like something out of the 1990s, with slow glass lifts inside and mirror-glass and pink marble cladding outside. But awe-inspiring 1950s mosaic panels can still be found in the conference room and courtyard. After first looking at you with baffled contempt, the hotel staff will let you in to see them. — Owen Hatherley
REVIEW: MOSAICS OF THE FORMER USSR pp. 174-176
The Museum of Failure – museumoffailure.se
Writer’s note: Shout out to Jelte Klas Wijnja, the young Dutch visitor at the Museum of Failure who joined the conversation as Samuel West was taking me through the collection. His comments were incisive and his enthusiasm contagious. —Kristina Rapacki
Designer’s note: As a designer I advocate openmindedness. Let’s stop talking about the border between art and design – it doesn’t exist. Although it is meticulously patrolled by the tax officials. —Paul Lukas
ENDNOTE: WHERE IT’S AT p. 208
Writer’s note: My recent transatlantic travels have given me a strong sense of two political cultures in crisis. But there’s a silver lining to the dark clouds. Craft is back on the ramparts, as designer-makers are leaping into the fray. Maybe they will help us regain our political wits, but even if not, their work has cheered me up. Way up. —Glenn Adamson
ANATOMY: BANNERS UNFURLED pp. 194-201 Artemide – artemide.com p. 21 B&B Italia – bebitalia.com pp. 2-3 Bene – bene.com p. 73 Bette – bette.de p. 48 Bocci – bocci.ca p. 24 Bonhams – bonhams.com p. 94 British Ceramic Tile – britishceramictile.com p. 111 Crafts Council – craftscouncil.org.uk p. 112 Dada – dada-kitchens.com pp. 4-5 Dashel – dashel.cc p. 193 Design Miami – designmiami.com pp. 12-13 Dornbracht – dornbracht.com p. 43 Downtown Design – downtowndesign.com inside back cover Duravit – duravit.com p. 27 Écal – ecal.ch p. 77 Elmo Leather – elmoleather.com p. 54 Emeco – emeco.net p. 17 Ercol – ercol.com p. 51 Flexform – flexform.it pp. 6-7 Fritz Hansen – fritzhansen.com p. 47 Hitch Mylius – hitchmylius.co.uk p. 52 Kunsthalle Wien – kunsthallewien.at p. 207 Laufen – laufen.com pp. 10-11 Ligne Roset – ligne-roset.com p. 1, inside front cover Master & Dynamic – masterdynamic.co.uk p. 71 Moooi – moooi.com p. 23 Rubberband – rubberbandproducts.com p. 93 Saint Laurent – ysl.com outside back cover Sixteen3 – sixteen3.co.uk p. 78 Tate – tate.org.uk p. 108 USM – usm.com p. 19 Vitra – vitra.com p. 14 Vitra Design Museum – design-museum.de p. 107 Vola – vola.com p. 74 William & Son – williamandson.com pp. 8-9
Treitlstraße 2, 1040 Wien, Austria www.kunsthallewien.at
Karlsplatz #WasLoos 28/9 – 12/11 2017
Where It’s At Words and image Paul Lukas
— Fantastic, gorgeous! It’s amazing to see such quantity in your projects. Even if they haven’t all been produced, they show your generosity of spirit; an ideal of democratic design; a new way of thinking about things. Who’s your gallery? — Right now I’m working on a series of stackable glasses for a big Italian industrial, but it’s confidential for the time being, so I can’t show you anything. It’s for a European supermarket chain for Christmas. It’ll have a massive publicity campaign in the press and online; I’ll be dressed up as
Father Christmas, hanging onto a drinking straw, striped like a Venetian pillar, in the cocktail glass. We did the shoot last week, I found it hard to not slide down. I wasn’t bad at climbing in my college days, but that was a long time ago I suppose. Maybe it was just nerves about being in front of the whole team: photographer, photographer’s assistant, stylist, make-up artist. Even a pedicurist because they wanted me barefoot. — Brilliant, it’ll be the design event of December! I’m even more excited to get to Christmas! Great. But what about your gallery?
— Oh I don’t have a gallery, I design things for various industrials in different countries, but I don’t have a gallery yet. — Ah, now that’s a shame. At Com’n Sell we have a strict policy: we only represent active and accomplished designers who have a gallery. It guarantees a serious level of work and has made us who we are today. — But what made me what I am today is that I am a serious producer of democratic design, of objects in series. — Which makes you what you are: broke and without any credibility in the eyes of our Russian and our Middle Eastern clientele. I’m afraid it’s simple: no gallery, no work. — But one of my objects is up for selection for the MoMA shop: a porcelain dental floss distributer. We’ll know in September. — It’s a good start, but not really enough for the Com’n Sell stable. What about marble? — Marble? — Marble, the stone. — The stone, marble? — Yes. — I’ve never worked with it. — At Com’n Sell we like marble a lot. So do our designers. — Is that right? — Yeah. And infinity mirrors as well. Infinity mirrors are also very Com’n Sell. — Oh? — I’m thinking a series of 12 giant straws, around 2m high, mixing Carrera with a Brazilian marble of your choice for the ScaleUP gallery. — A bit less functional then? — You’ve got it! That’s the spirit of Com’n Sell. But after all, is beauty not the primary function of art?
Matthias Merkel Hess's ceramics re-wilded in New York's Chinatown; public space in post-coup Istanbul; an assessment of where driverless veh...