In the eye of the beholder.
Exhibition text for Beckmans College of Design’s Is this it? shown at the Stockholm Furniture Fair 2013.
What meets the eye is never it; not the whole picture. Today’s design asks more of the viewer than ever before, as we’ve left a period behind us where commercialism has governed, a time in which design was presented as soulless objects on pedestals.
In this new phase for design, philosophy is accepted. Ideology, reflection and values are important. Thought-provoking questions thrive, and criticism exists again. Today we are used to the idea that a designer’s processes and stories are part of the product. The results on show are merely a temporary state for the object, where development is constant. It takes place within and around us, and through natural evolution.
A parallel between design and alchemy, both as science and philosophy, is close at hand – as design could potentially be described as a constant search for perfection. The alchemists believed they could render gold by processing miscellaneous metals and scrap. However, these attempts failed miserably – of course. Surely, the scientists knew that they would never succeed, but their attempts continued regardless. They pressed on because they realised it was the experiments that were satisfying, that the journey exposed new experiences as well as insight to the self. Designers are, in a similar way, heavily aware of the fact that often it’s not the result that matters, but the process.
There was a time when we didn’t see design as something meaningful, and as a consequence it wasn’t treated with the respect it deserves. The exhibition culture has done its best throughout time to ridicule and simplify the matter down to surface and function. However, design is a science in which hidden dimensions always have existed, but perhaps it’s not until now they are widely accepted and valued? With this in mind, the designers in this exhibition do ask very much of their viewers. Maybe even more so because of the specific medium in which the exhibition exists; a furniture fair – where the amount of design on show is almost suffocating. The exhibition’s title and theme also place a lot of pressure on the designers to actually deliver design that speaks for itself, beyond its surface. The answer to the question Is this it? is naturally ‘no’. To avoid stalling at the first hurdle, the students have taken the alchemist’s philosophy about the meaning of life as inspiration, as well as notions such as ‘illusion’ and ‘refining’ as clues to the real meaning of their design.
By doing this they place all the power in the eye of the beholder and rephrase the initial question to something different: Are we ready for it? Will the viewers grasp and interpret the cryptic texts that accompany the objects, and draw their own conclusions, as well as engage in each and every student’s unique process?
Frida Jeppsson Prime