June 2007

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Last night I gave a talk at Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. I ran through a range of ways of thinking about the relationship between art and design. I was interested in doing this after I unearthed the Dan Graham paper ‘Art as Design/Design as Art’ at the National Library of Scotland. This was first published by Fruitmarket in 1987 to coincide with Graham’s show there: Interior Design for Space Showing Videotapes. The paper has just been republished in Alex Coles’ new book “Design and Art”, Whitechapel/MIT Press, 2007.

My talk was broken down into the following sections:

Art as Design/Design as Art – Dan Graham

Design≠Art – Barbara Bloemink

Art in the Context of Design/Design in the Context of Art – Troels Degn Johansson

DesignArt – Alex Coles

Design and Art – Alex Coles

Critical Design – Dunne & Raby

Hybrid Art+Design – Me

Transdisciplinary Discourse – Me

An interesting idea that I tried to throw around was the use of the term “avant garde.”

“Avant-garde represents a pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm, or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm. The notion of the existence of the avant-garde is considered by some to be a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from postmodernism. Postmodernism posits that the age of the constant pushing of boundaries is no longer with us. Postmodernism posits that avant-garde has less applicability (or no applicability at all) in the age of Postmodern art.”

Yet, Marcus Fairs has titled his book ‘Twenty-First Century Design: new design icons, from mass market to avant-garde.’ And,

“In 2002 the Crafts Council held an exhibition called Home Made Holland, which suggested that Droog and other contemporary Dutch designers, such as Marcel Wanders and Hella Jongerius, had found a way forward for design by embracing avant-garde craft. Significantly, one of the chief protagonists behind Droog is Gijs Bakker, a radical jeweller who revolutionised the discipline during the late 1960s by combining throwaway materials with conceptual ideas. It was through applying this formula to a wider range of objects 30 years later that the Droog phenomenon exploded, yet in spite of its genesis in art and craft, the design world has been happy to claim Droog as its own.”
Craft Wars icon016 October 2004 by Lesley Jackson

“…admit that so-called avant-garde strategies operating in art and design today should be seen in a context of ‘post-avant-garde’, in which it is no longer relevant to distinguish between the two…”
Troels Degn Johansson

“First and foremost, all the claims that I have inventoried thus far are predicated on certain clichés of what constitutes ‘progressive’, ‘vanguard or ‘advanced’ art and are based on assumptions about current conditions of cultural practice that are out of sync with their realities. One such assumption is that medium categories in art or disciplinary divisions in the humanities are still oppressively strict, so that any art that touts interdisciplinarity or ‘crosses boundaries’ is attributed with automatic and unquestioned critical value. But it seems to me that even while the disciplinary debates/fights continue in certain sectors of academia, the destabilized state of medium specificity and disciplinary categories is already the dominant or given condition of cultural practice. As such, rather than serving an interventionary function within exclusive art institutions, so-called cross disciplinary practices or events that blur categorical distinctions may simply be symptoms of the tendency towards de-differentiation that pervades cultural experience generally.”
Miwon Kwon ‘Jorge Pardo’s Designs on Design’ published in Alex Coles’ new book “Design and Art”, Whitechapel/MIT Press, 2007.

Here are some other articles that I think contribute to this discussion:

What’s the use? Art Journal, Spring 2004 by Ross K. Elfline.

Art’s Little Brother icon023, May 2005 by Rick Poynor.

What is Design? icon018, December 2004 by Marcus Fairs.

Historically the use of technology to level out traditional, disciplinary distinctions was a critical driver of De Stijl in The Netherlands, the Bauhaus in Germany and the Russian Constructivists -whose architects, artists and designers saw industrial modes of production as a means of moving art into life:

“…many artists championed the industrial artefact – generated mechanically and consumed collectively – over the singular work of aesthetic contemplation”
Ellen Lupton

Maybe sensational art and the rarefied space of the gallery are so disconnected from ‘the everyday’ that the last recourse is to turn to craft, design and domestic objects? Or maybe its just a great marketing hook…

The slides from my presentation are here.