Food Politics —

From Michael Pollan: Cooking Matters on the Food Programme from June 2013

The decline in home cooking does parallel with women entering the workforce, [… since the 70s …] the food industry, who had been trying to insinuate itself into our households for a very long time – for about a hundred years, without too much success – recognised there was an opportunity here, and they stepped forward and said ‘We’ve got you covered, we’ll do the cooking. You don’t have to do it, and you don’t have to argue about it anymore’. The symbol of this for me is this amazing billboard that Kentucky Fried Chicken erected in the 70s with giant bucket of fried chicken, underneath a two word slogan ‘Women’s Liberation’. And they identified themselves with the aspirations of women, and they also redefined not cooking as a progressive thing to do. They found a tension and then relieved it. This isn’t to blame feminism for the collapse of home cooking, it’s to suggest that the industry used the rhetoric of feminism to get into the kitchen.

The Language of Things —

I’ve just finished Dejan Sudjic’s excellent book The Language of Things; Design, Luxury, Fashion, Art. How We Are Seduced by the Objects Around Us. I’ve drawn up the extracts I want to remember, this is mostly within the contexts of design vs art and my perennial fascination with collecting.

It is just possible that we might be on the verge of a wave of revulsion against the phenomenon of manufacturing desire, against the whole avalanche of products that threatens to overwhelm us. However, there is no sign of it yet, despite the outbreak of millenarian anxiety about the doom that faces us if we go on binge-flying. Even the return of the selling of indulgences, a practice abandoned by the medieval church and now resurrected in the form of carbon offset payments, is not stopping us from changing cellphones every six months.
— pg 6
Just a few of these useless objects re-enter the economic cycle as part of the curious ecology of collecting. but collecting is in itself a very special kind of fetish, perhaps one that is best understood as an attempt to roll back the passing of time. It might also be an attempt to defy the threat of mortality. To collect a sequence of objects is, for a moment at least, to have imposed some sense of order on a universe that doesn’t have any.
— pg 21 

The aims of the first hoarder/curators of the great cabinets of curiosity were to amass more treasures than could be seen by one man in a lifetime of travel, thus collecting objects is directly equitable to the collecting of time. Most people would say to a lesser or greater extent that their objects are a good representation of them, that maybe they are defined by them in some way. It stands to reason then, that these objects that are imbued with the owners personality, continue on after the owners death, and should keep the collector alive in some small way.

Somewhere between these two versions design is the idea that design is a public service. It’s notable that the in Britain one of the first industrial-design practices that emerged in the 1940s called itself the Design Research Unit, a name calculated to suggest that it was a branch of the Welfare State more than any kind of commercial activity, even though it was actually started as the subsidiary of an advertising agency.
— pg 26

Some one once said that design is a social discipline, (requiring conversation, discussion and collaboration) if only because it has social consequences. I can’t remember who and google won’t tell me – any help greatly appreciated!

The machine works away diligently and fills our bookcases with ill-printed volumes, its criterion is cheapness. Yet every cultured individual should feel ashamed of such material abundance. For on the one hand, ease of production leads to a diminished sense of responsibility, while on the other abundance leads to perfunctoriness. How many books do we genuinely make our own? And should one not possess these in the best paper, bound in splendid leather? Have we perhaps forgotten that the love with which the book has been printed, decorated and bound creates a completely different relationship between it and us, and that intercourse with beautiful things makes us more beautiful?
— Josef Hoffman, The Manifesto of the Wiener Werkstätte, 1905
— pg 116

Sudjic sees it as a Hoffman justifying luxury. It seems more interesting to me in the kindle vs book (non) debate, and beyond that, as an easy first example of ‘the medium is the message’. I’m also fascinated by what we choose to have in our homes, and choose to elevate as ‘special’, (multiple versions, collectors sets, or luxury materials), and how we give chunks of ourselves to objects and things in the hope that they might extend our personalities or somehow make them more tangible and accessible to others.

It is a curious paradox that even the most materialist of us tend to value what might be called the useless above the useful. Useless not in the sense of being without purpose, but without utility, or at least with not much of it.
— pg 167
[On MOMAs treatment of design in an art gallery]
The price for a Swedish-designed – though carefully selected US-made – version of a chromium-plated self-aligning steel ball bearing to be placed in the same context as Fernand Léger’s painting of a ball bearing was to caption it exactly as if it were a painting. There was nothing more than a blank announcement of date, media and name to distract the visitors from their reverential contemplation of these sacred relics. Nothing about what this undeniably beautiful object was for, or how it was made, could be included.
— pg 172

I can share this frustration, whilst admirably trying to put design and art on the same platform the curators have wrongly treated the design as art. Not only does this impose an implicit hierarchy between the two subjects it also strips the design of everything that makes it design: it’s context and process of creation. Like an embarrassed child the labelling denies the ball bearing’s heritage. As Sudjic goes on to say ‘For design, context and process are essential’.

Dejan Sudjic, The Language of Things (London: Penguin, 2009)


Notes on: The Faux–Vintage Photo

Physicality, with its weight, smell and tactile interaction, grants a significance that bits have not (yet) achieved. The quickest way to invoke nostalgia for a time past with a photograph is to invoke the properties of the physical, which is done by mimicking the ravages of time through fading, simulated film grain and scratches as well as the addition of what appears to be photo-paper or Polaroid borders around the image.

That an old photo was taken and has survived grants it an authority that the equivalent digital photo taken today cannot achieve. In any case, that the faux-vintage photograph aspires to physicality is only part of why they have become so massively popular.

Quotes taken from Nathen Jurgens interesting piece about The Faux–Vintage Photo Pt 2.

(here follows some badly written but hopefully interesting thinking spawned by this article.)

I wonder if the key is that by allowing the digital image to appear as real and specifically old, it becomes imbued with an inherent value which is associated with effort and specifically time. On the one hand this desire to obtain and own things which contain 'time-value' could be seen as an anchor against the fast moving and changing world we live in now. It could also be, (and this is where my pop sci-cology kicks in) that we are scared of death- time is running out and if we can somehow possess, and therefore control time, we can keep it away for that bit longer. Or perhaps, more accuratley, by getting hold of stuff with embued 'time-value' we can be seen to be adding gravitas to our own legacy, by extending the perception of our timescale (period we have covered with our life) we can be seen to be more successful or better remembered when we do die.

There is another aspect here- not just to do with faux-vintage, but things with a patina of age (a beautifully rusted garage door, or a worn piece of wooden type). Second hand objects in general (some more than others of course) can be seen to be carriers of 'time-value' but the way this value is traded is is stories and narrative. The objects acquired at a junk market have had a life of their own before I get hold of them and by purchasing them (and here real currency plays little role in time, It could have be expensive or cheap the effect is the same) I acquire their unknown story, narrative and history with it. In that way the buyer can feel like they are acquiring time.

Notes on The Delirious Musuem

I recently read The Delirious Museum by architect and exhibition designer Calum Storrie. Here's some of my favourite bits. ----

Introduction pg 3: Robert Venuri:

"I am for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non-sequitur and proclaim the duality. I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning; for the implicit function as well as the explicit function. I prefer 'both-and' to 'either-or', black and white, and sometimes gray, to black or white."


pg 67: Samson by Chris Burden is a piece of art that pushes apart the gallery it's in as visitors enter through a turnstile.


pg 138: This is Gipsoteca Canoviana in Possagno, Italy. A building designed by Carlo Scarpa which houses the working plaster models for sculptures. The space is a very simple cube but has the corners removed and skylights/windows (Scarpa described them as 'fragments of sky') installed instead. I really like this deconstruction/dismantling of the gallery space.


pg 151: The Museum of Unlimited Growth was designed by Le Corbusier in 1939. It attempts to solve the problem of a museum building which has an expanding collection (as most museums do). Visitors are directed through a channel in one side and arrive in the centre of the spiral structure from where they can explore the galleries and rooms. The museum can be expanding by adding more spiral over time. I love the idea of a never ending museum- a continuing process. Or even better one which is both complete (it is a complete building) and in process at the same time (it can be added to when needed).


Some notes on manufacturing and it's implications

So an amalgamation of things has led to this post- I'm pretty much going to repost stuff that I've collected on my way through the web. This is a google image of Google HQ in California.


First up is a great documentary off of the BBC-  The Virtual Revolution: The cost of free. Here's a couple of interesting parts of the film in quote form:

"What we've done is limited the range of human expression and activity on the internet to those things that are market friendly.

Look at the devolution of people's personal presence online, from the quirky individualistic highly personalised websites of the home pages of the HTML of the mid 90s, to the now utterly conformist and rigid profiles on something like myspace and facebook. You can no longer define yourself by anything- you must define yourself by what books you buy, by what movies you like, what actresses you aspire to- whether you are single, married or looking. By things that the market understands"

Douglas Rushkoff (Author: Life Inc)

"Millions of people obviously enjoy these recommendation systems and are happy with what they get in return- but I worry that in the process perhaps we've lost something.

I wonder whether if recommendation systems don't defeat the point of the web. Isn't the vast possibility that the web offers for serendipity  to bring us unexpected raw ideas from accidental encounters being replaced by a process that apparently broadens our horizons but actually sells the same thing."

Dr Aleks Krotoski (The shows presenter)


Next is a repost from Ben Terrett of Noisy Decent Graphics blog (also of the RIG) about 'The silver TV steel and glass stand'...


This design kind of sums up everything I hate about bad design in the naughties.

1. It's totally meaningless, devoid of any added value. 2. It's essentially a style that's been ripped off. Hugely derivative of something (probably from Ive) that was once good and then expanded and bastardised to death. 3. It triggers more poor imitations, and leads design buyers to say things like "I want it like they did it". 4. Everyone blindly buys one because everyone else has bought one. No one actually stops to think, do I like this? 5. It's so damn ugly and intrusive. Sat in the corner of your lounge looking shit.


Next is a repost from It's Nice That's 'Discussion' Feature: 'The Blog Blackout' by Chris Gray...

I probably spend an unhealthy amount of time on blogs, to the point where I waste hours looking at the same thing on about 200 different pages. Which did get me thinking about what I did before there was countless websites all doing the same thing yet are all equally popular. From working in a big studio environment and seeing the studio grind to a halt when the net dies to working for myself trying to be disciplined enough to not click safari every time I get a spare minute. There seems to be a total reliance on being able to surf the web as part of being a designer. Surely it can’t be a good thing that most of us are all getting the same inspiration from the same places. No wonder everyones work is starting to look the same. Every week I get e-mails from students that are carbon copies of a recent post and I wish I could reach through my monitor and give them a right old slap. Not to mention that every second advert on TV seems to be cack handed rip-off from something good found on a blog. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hasn’t forgotten the Berocca advert. So that’s me done. I’ve managed to convince myself that it would do me no harm from being offline. Well. At least until tomorrow.

So, where now, how do we stay aware without falling into the pitfalls of styles and trends?


So fill in the gaps yourself, and rant over. Go watch that documentary though- here.