“If I say battlefield, do you think: interior? If I ask: Who shapes society? Would you answer: Interior architects?” (Arjen Oosterman)
Our homes are not always happy places for happy lives. And yet, design is made for idealized situations, for beautiful places with beautiful people. The Ikea catalogue, the largest free publication in the world with the annual print run twice that of the Bible, shows us the right way of living. Young, happy families with two children playing peacefully in a cosy home environment, where everyone and everything has its place.
A very simplistic view of life. We are not all the same and life doesn’t follow a straight line. There are dark moments – when we are alone, moments of unhappiness and hate, when nightmares keep us awake. Times in which we fight and hurt the people we love most. Situations where every movement and word could be wrong, and the whole space seems to be filled with tension.
While in film, literature and the arts it is common to focus on dualism between life and death, light and dark, good and evil, design quite often strives for an utopian idealism, failing to make use of the cathartic pleasure that can be derived from representations of unhappiness, pain and fear. Rather than removing negative emotions, design should strive to see and appreciate the value they can add. Without sad moments we would be unable to be happy. Through art and design we can experience these moments in a way which keeps us protected from real threats, at the same time offering a more holistic view of our existence and appreciation of our place in the world.
How can design reflect the darker side of life? Rather than focusing on objects as symbols of a perfect way of living, they can be seen as witnesses and participants in events ruled by passion and chance. Objects themselves can be designed in a way to tell stories about these aspect of life or through the way they interact with each other and their surroundings. This approach is already common to theater and cinema, where environments are created to support various dramatic situations and atmospheres. Looking at such scenarios as part of my research, I aimed to extend this thinking to create alternative settings for real life.
Imagining such situations in advance can prove to be a rich design tool, suggesting an altogether different type of object than would be implied by stereotyped happy situation. A design celebrating life despite all its negative aspects.
“If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty” (Keene)
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