When a commercial object, a new product, is brought into existence, we have today a particular mode of generating the surrounding mediation. An excessive whirling of activity starts up investing the object with overflowing meaning, without which the thing remains inert. ‘The stone in the road is a thing, as is the clod in the field,’ but today’s design object has to well up beyond this. It must be a thing beyond a thing
The phenomenology of a design object is constituted in the aesthetic experience of the thing, the totality of advertising literature, the accompanying Vimeo making-of…, the soundtrack, the soundtrack in relation to current trends, the unfinished wood surface on which the object sits in the whitewashed shop, etc. It is the fine structure of this network that any brand seeks to apprehend—to find that nexus of signs that is a basin for desire. ‘Surveys show that shoppers spend more when lit by natural light… A softer take for 2016… For the first time, the blending of two shades is the Pantone colour of the year…’
This only-apparently auxiliary activity of course is nothing new. To remark upon the fetishisation of objects is already to use the term Marx drew from early ethnography. In the 17th century, Portuguese explorer-traders called the idols worshipped by West Africans feitiço—made. The ‘irrational superstition’ that saw the Akan people of today’s Guinea worship handmade objects already then drew wry comparison with the other ‘irrational superstition’ of the Europeans themselves. They instead fixated upon an invisible God ‘out-there’ and sailed thousands of miles to gather the impractical and contingently valuable metal, gold.
Hannes Meyer, second director of the Bauhaus, remarked: ‘Prestige comes from the manner of the host, not his Persian carpet.’ It’s easy to picture the dinner party scene in 1930s Berlin, with an insufferable bourgeois host pointing out all the wonderful furnishings of his flat. Yet we surely also recognise the importance of the objects with which we choose to surround ourselves—the pieces of quotidian ceramic that somehow persist for decades, the stupid figurines that become personal icons. These objects do part of the work of our being on our behalf. We can relax gazing upon them since they (at least minimally) constitute an element of ourselves, and their material stability seems to guarantee our identity from moment to moment.
When, from time to time, we become suddenly aware of this aspect of ourselves, we are right to be startled, ‘like children who take fright at the face they have just scribbled…’
— Jack Brennan
“Considered Living” is a collaborative project between Jack Brennan, Charlie Froud and Olga Pedan. Organised by Viktoria Draganova.