MARTI GUIXE - AWAY WITH POSSESSIONS
This is the introduction we wrote to 'Marti Guixé: open-end', the publication that served as a catalogue to his exhibition at the design centre of the Musée des Arts Contemporains Mac's on the Site du Grand-Hornu, Belgium, while offering a complete overview of the first ten years of his career as ex-designer. Most images are by Inga Knoelke.
„First, let's get something straight: whatever Martí Guixé may say about being non-epic, the difference between ex-industrial and post-industrial society, and the importance of function, his work is above all just fun. I'd even go further: despite his deadly serious pretence to comply with the Louis Sullivan adagio Form Follows Function, which more than any other catchphrase paved the parh to modernism, he endows it with a liberating force that keeps eliciting smiles and bursts of laughter. Where things start to go wrong is the meaning Guixé attaches to the word function. On closer scrutiny, one discovers numerous other F-words that serve him as sources of inspiration: Fiction & Friction, Fury & Fairy, Futility & Facility, Food & Fool, Force & Farce, Fight & Fright, and Funk, Fuck & Fun. There are other designers with this panoramic and kaleidoscope perspective, in which function reaches way beyond ergonomics, ecology, elegance and comfort. In the sea of objects that surrounds us, it is what distinguishes genius from stupidity, useful from obsolete, and can exceptionally lead to an object that imposes itself as a Totem, Mene Tekel, Cult Object, or Sign of the Times that succeeds in embodying the spirit of a whole era. And even The Ultimate Object, doing away with all those that preceded it.
On closer scrutiny, one discovers numerous other F-words that serve him as sources of inspiration
Fiction & Friction, Fury & Fairy, Futility & Facility, Food & Fool, Force & Farce, Fight & Fright, and Funk, Fuck & Fun
What makes Guixé so different and unique is that he seems to reach for the opposite: objects that he seems to reach for the opposite: objects that do their best to comply with their function to such an extent that they disappear, evaporate and disintegrate, and become the props of a kind of Vanishing Act, that allow us to move with the agility of Invisible Men through the cracks in the system. To signal that difference, Guixé launched the Antriebs Mittel 'Ex' with his partner Inga Knölke in 2001, and assigned himself the status of ex-designer, a title that -contrary to what is generally assumed- was not meant to be understood as a farewell to design, but a farewell to the limitations inherent to it. To Guixé these limitations were above all the result of a limitless sea of objects, to which he didnt want to add any more water. „I hate objects“ became one of his favourite statements. „Our obsolete craving for possession means that most objects are not problem-solving but problem-adding. In the decades immediately after World War II, 'possession' was still something that could lead to freedom and happiness, but present times have become so uncertain, fear of loss now has the upper hand. From being a blessing, possession has become a burden and an obstacle to our current need for mobility and flexibility.“ This explains why Guixé shuns form and matter as much as possible.
Our obsolete craving for possession means that most objects are not problem-solving but problem-adding.
„I hate objects“ became one of his favourite statements
Form and matter - just the thought elicits ecstasy in any other designer. But not Guixé. According to him, they only attract attention away from what is really important: the idea and content. This also has to do with his subject matter. While most designers limit themselves to the interests of producers and consumers and the desire to create a chair or a car that sits or drives more or less confortably and sells well, Guixé takes the whole of society as his playing field -a society that he sees first and foremost as „an accumulation of property, status and wealth“, and „in which everything – our body, the landscape, our food, money, entertainment and communication – is subject to the laws of consumerism“.
The systems, codes, conventions and subcutaneous mechanisms that steer the functioning of this social apparatus are his favourite field of activity, together with man and his inevitable rituals and habits. As an ex-designer he sees it as his task to help them to go beyond their limitations and become ex-industrial – a term that was used by anthropologist Octavi Rofes in relationship to his work.
One of the nicest examples of his work remains the way in which he transformed the London branch of the shoe brand Camper into a Info Shop on the Somera Malllorquina or Mallorcan donkey, now threatened with extinction. Guixé: „Camper originates from the island of Mallorca, and had already used the image of the local donkey in its avertising campaign, but only in an anecdotical manner. Since being a brand is the only way to survive in consumer society, the idea of the Info-Shop was to turn the donkey into a brand image, so that within this hyper-reality it might acquire the maximum visibility.“
Hyper-reality? It was the late French philosopher Jean Baudrillard who introduced this notion in semiotics to describe 'reality by proxy', which has largely replaced physical reality under the influence of mass.media, while concluding that in the present state of consumerism, fulfilment and happiness can only be found through simulation and imitation of a transient simulacrum of reality. The Info-shop could be seen as a countermove within this hyper-reality – by turning decoration into information, and thus giving the simulacra some substance again.
THE BRAND GUIXE
One of the reasons why Guixé has so few objects produced, but is also probably the one designer who's had the most books published about his work in the past few years, has to do with the fact that most of his designs situate themselves in this hyper-reality. Even when they take a physical form, the way their image is spread an received in the media is much more important. Together, these images have created what is probably his most important work: the brand Guixé, the only way to guarantee his survival. No chance to escape from hyper-reality after all:
„Many still foster nostalgic and obsolete ideas on nature, freedom and luxury. But they belong to a time that will never return. Consumer society is our only natural environment.“
Parallel to this, the only tools left for a designer are the simulacra of consumerism. It's up to him to play with them, to create new simulacra that give more content to life, and to find and exploit the cracks in the system. When Galeria H2O in Barcelona ordered a toy, Guixé created a tape that unrolled like a three-lane highway. The accompanying message, informing the purchaser that the tape was meant to make children familiar with a number of 'abstract concepts, such as politics, lobbying, public relations, public opinion, ecology and territoriality', was just as important as the object. Although a mission impossible, it could play on people's perception – and in hyper-reality, perception is what it's all about.
In Sponsored Food Restaurants, also presented in Galeria H2O Barcelona in 1997, two pillars of hyper-reality – fast food and branding – were combined into a hybrid that could graft itself on the system like a parasite: a restaurant chain that serves free food – tortillas that carry the logo's of Calvin Klein or Fuji in big on top of them, printed in sauce, and beans on which the IBM-logo is etched in small. Guixé: The network would allow people to be free from social behaviour that evolves from the necessity of survival – in competition, work, family and so on – and would unavoidably provoke unforeseeable reactions and social transformations. It would also function as a capitalist surrogate for the free food that was provided by nature in primitive times.“
Marti Guixé is from Barcelona. He remains emphatic that his constant commuting between Barcelona and Berlin, his second home, doesn't necessarily make him a nomad. But he's certainly a rambler. It might help to explain why the first the first object he redesigned after establishing himself as an independent designer, and which made him instantly famous, was Spamt, a Catalan snack that is preferably eaten while standing or on the move. Number 19 of the Nomadic Worksphere Seeds, which he developed for the Hibye Project in MoMA New York in 2001, was a little pill that could help you „Consider everywhere as indoor“ - a motto that also seems to sum up well the premise behind most of his other designs. Dressed in his inseparable black raincoat, he's a true flaneur in the Badelarian sense, a „gentleman stroller of city streets“. His entire work – from Tapas to Post-its originates from objects you unavoidably end up with when roaming the streets. And whilst roaming, he has his own system. I still remember when he came to Brussels to give a lecture and announced he would go for a walk. While advising him on the Brussels labyrinth, I offered to get him a map, but he kindly refused. He wouldn't need it, since he has this habit of always walking straight ahead, taking the shortest way from A to an unknown B.
Not that he has such high hopes about the effect of his actions. Even when he designed shoe boxes and bags for Camper emblazoned with the somewhat provocative slogan „If you don't need it, don't buy it“, the main effect was that it became a major selling argument, and Guixé realizes that this may well be the only reason why companies like Camper let him work. When he was asked to set up a temporary Camper Shop on the Via Montenapoleone in Milan as fast and as cheaply as possible in anticipation of a final refurbishment, the situation reminded him of a plane crash and the way in which the panic and chaos that precede it are anticipated by generic instruction cards in the back of airplane seats. While these cards would become a constant in his work from then on – templates that only roughly pass an idea to the customer, who then executes it as he pleases – they also seemed a perfect metaphor for design's futility : instructions in case of catastrophe.
Guixé has numerous strategies against form and matter. Most of his interior projects are temporary and he avoids the necessity of creating new objects as much as possible. The furniture in Milan was made out of Camper shoe boxes, while the decoration was left to visitors who could freely graffiti the walls. Guixé is also credited with introducing the most transitory art form, performance, into the design world, when he launched his Spamt Factory, producing up-to-date versions of the traditional Tapas. Food and cooking, by definition transitory and therefore also disregarded by the design world, would for a long time remain his favourite field of action, to the extent that the food evaporated and the hungry just had to breath it in, a Pharma Food system that was successfully put to the test at Gin and Fog parties, described by Guixé as an „artificial indoor meteorological phenomenon based on weather engineering for 'cultural farming' purposes“.
The evanescent character of Guixé's work is another reason why he's had so many books written about him, ever since 1:1 Marti Guixé offered an overview of his first five years as an independent designer, starting in 1997. For the most part, these books are the only traces left of his numerous projects. But this book is the first to extensively cover the five years that followed. It was published on the occasion of, and therefore also takes its title from, Open-End, an exhibition in the design centre (Grand-Hornu Images) that cohabits with the Musée des Arts Contemporains Mac's on the Site du Grand-Hornu, Belgium. An entire chapter in this book is devoted to the installation specially created for this exhibition, as part of the Park Life series that already contained the Kitchen Buildings created by Guixé for a one-man-show at the Musée du Design et des Arts Contemporains Mudac in Lausanne, in 2003. Not only their gigantic size but also their gigantic size but also their crispy Sci-Fi look seems to make these buildings stand out from the rest of his work. But in fact they don't. Just like other kitchen projects, such as the one developed for the Italian brand Saporiti, their design started from the idea that „cooking is no longer a necessity, having become a sport, or just as well a leisure activity“, but that „even so, it is still done mostly in closed spaces connected to the home, that is, in the space of the conventional kitchen, thus limiting the possibilities in terms of action and pleasure.“
The Kitchen Buildings wanted to leave this huis clos behind them, to become „the active leisure rides of a non-natural amusement park, their architectural structure vanishing as it expanded into the format of the choreography arising out of the process of preparing foodstuffs“ (Sic). With all the buildings functioning on natural resources, the Solar Kitchen Building held centre stage between a giant colander and a reflecting radio telescope. It could be manually shifted to follow the position of the sun and a ramp gave access to a central point where 'foodstuffs' could be cooked. The Fruit Kitchen Building was a platform attached to the trunks of fruit trees planted in large pots of different heights so that they reached just above the platform and no special effort was required to harvest the fruit.
In the installation at Grand-Hornu, an impressive industrial site situated in the Walloon countryside, not only the kitchen but the whole house was freed from its architectural limitations, in line with the old Hibye dream to „consider everywhere as indoor“. This happened by means of Domesticated Props, which symbolized the essence of the house in a minimal and almost immaterial way: a roof that ingeniously unfols like a blanket and a hearth. The way in which the hearth stood ill at ease in the clean cut and sterile field of grass, with its angular forms, totally useless in its new environment, already suggested that this return to primitive life wasn't going to lead to much: But the title Open-End also seemed to refer to the dilemma caused by the Burn-Me pieces, a variant on his Plant-me Pets latex and recyclable dolls that had tomato, pumpkin or melon plant seeds for eyes, and were useless until they were buried, forcing the consumer to decide between emotion and function. Created in a limited edition of 250, signed and numbered, the Burn-Me pieces confront their buyer with a similar dilemma: made from wooden logs that are screwed together in such a way that they take the form of an open campfire, the collector's items only come to life when they are destroyed. It's the ideal Guixé object: only really possessed when possessed no longer.“
(Max Borka. First published in 2008)