NULLPUNKT, NIEUWE GERMAN GESTALTUNG - FLOATING IN LIQUID LOGIC
Have a look at the pictures, and read our introduction to the catalogue of Nullpunkt, Nieuwe German Gestaltung, an exhibition which we curated at the invitation of Jan Hoet 'and his successor Roland Nachtigäller' at the MARTa museum in Herford, Germany. If we may say so ourselves, the exhibition and book , were rather groundbreaking in that they celebrated a whole different Germany and German design scene, one that could be international and open. We did so by mainly focusing on immigrant designers that were otherwise not included in overviews of German design, and by highlighting their very un-German and liquid logic - a way of thinking that found its most literal expression in Jerszy Seymour's Salon des Amateurs, a swimming pool, built by hand on the spot, in which visitors could gather to drink Vodka and discuss Utopia..
„If I would be interested in being the guest-curator of a new annual on design in the MARTa museum in Herford, its then director Jan Hoet asked, when he called my Brussels office in the summer of 2008. With every new edition, a different country would have to stand centra. But apart from that I would get total carte blanche. Of course I was interested. Museum exhibitions on design were still a rare phenomenon, and as a former director of a series of design- and furniture fairs .And I had been pleading with growing insistency on the creation of a platform that would take a totally different stance, by not being dependent on a commercial event. Knowing Jan and the MARTa, I knew this would be possible.
We agreed that Germany would be the logical choice for the zero edition . And when I commented that I would probably also be the most controversial one, since so little seemed to be happening there, we also agreed on a title. „Kein Design in Deutschland“, Jan shouted through the telephone, „No design in Germany!“ Yes, this was going to be fun.
BASTARD – I admit that, when still a fair organizer, I stated rather provocatively that an event like the Interieur Biennial was to design what a museum was to art: the ideal platform. It all had to do with what I used to describe as the bastard nature of design; industry being the sluttish mother, and her lovers many, from Philosophy and Poetry to Marketing and Welfare. None of these lovers/minnaars claimed the parenthood, but they all left their mark during the Bildungs Jahre, bestowing the boy with the ability to to turn his hand to anything. With its equal mix of commerce and culture – a fair with critically oriented – events . Interieur seemed a much better playground than a museum, where the link with the industry was far less evident.
LUBRICANT- But over the years, I started to have serious doubts on the possibility of reaching the public of a fair with a critical stance. And with design becoming more popular and powerful than ever, I also got more and more disillusioned in design itself. Steered by Corporate Industry it kept expanding its territory in such a way, that it had become a generic term for the tools that define our existence in every single aspect- be it in the form of objects, ideas, strategies, systems or structures. But parallel to this explosive globalisation, an implosion has imposed itself on the semantic level, reducing the notion design to little more than a lubricant that has to help realize a scarcely hidden agenda: sell watever to whoever in whatever way. The tool had become a fool, and what once was a little bastard is now a great dictator. Not only did this lead to a distressing decrease in the quality of design production and social and ecological consequences that are disastrous on a worldwide level. As Vilem Flusser stated: „The future will above all be a matter of design.“ Indeed, but what kind of design? As things are now, one can better prepare for the worst.“
POWER DISPLAY- More than ever, the design world is in need of an event that ventures into a critical evaluation and public debate. But while over the last few years and in the wake of globalization the number of design projects , -fairs, -exhibitions , - biennials, and design magazines kept on growing on a frenetic rhythm, most of them -if not all- were interchangeable and purely commercial. While anxiously refraining from anything that might even sound critical, the only difference is size, and the means they have at their disposal to set up their power display. Because of its looser ties to the industry, a museum seemed the ideal platform again, for an event that would radically opt for the opposite directions.
CRACKS- Months went by. The name „Kein Design in Deutschland“ changed into „Ground Zero“ and then into „Nullpunkt“. But apart from that, little seemed to happen, until the final go came, awfully late. The lobby of hotel Mons in Munich, nearby the office of graphic wizard Mirko Borsche, whom I came to see to finalise this book, is a perfect look-a-like of the one on the picture by Idor Paatsch that the designer Matthias Dietz recently sent me, to illustrate his article in this catalogue. The picture comes with a question: „What is wrong when everything is right?“/“Was stimmt nicht wenn alles in Ordnung ist?“ It reminds me of what the Munich designer Stefan Diez said, when we met in the brand new Brussels airport building to discuss the exhibition. „Everything is so wrong here, „ he said, „It looks so amateur . But it comes as a great relief when you compare it to all these other airports, exchangeable in their perfection. At least, the cracks in these walls allow some lfe to seep through.“ These cracks in the wall, and the power of being an amateur or bricoleur – also stand central to this exhibition.
TERMINAL- Munich is also the terminal station of my Deutschlandreise, a beautiful euphemism for a rollercoaster trip of not even a few weeks in which I -as a foreigner , still living and working in Brussels at that time- had to decide head over heels which designers would be in this show, while . Snapshooter Anna Pannekoek filmed them. In many ways, this project seemed to be doomed to fall short of expectations: too little time, too small the budget, too vast the country and subject matter. And yet, I feel totally happy, and exhilarated : This has been a great expedition.
ROAD MOVIE - From my earliest childhood I owned my own Germany. I owed it to my father, who commuted back and forth from Brussels, providing bottles to half of the German wine industry. Not only did our family home in Brussels abound with Tee-Wurst to Schöner Wohnen , but with every new trip my father returned with more do-it-yourself kits to expand my miniature Germany in the attic. Whenever possible, I also used to accompany him. I never made it to Bielefeld though , where he almost got married. Until now, forty years later, to build this exhibition in nearby Herford
So in a way, and in retrospect, this exhibition and book could also be about much more than just the German design scene. It could also be about settling an account with a Germany that always kept slumbering in me. It could for that matter also be a celebration of Wim Wenders' Im Lauf der Zeit, that fabulous road movie in which a father and son travel the German countryside, and that always remained a favourite. Was it pure accident that, after all these years, I had to travel to Herford to be reminded of this?
IDIOTIE- I love these kind of synchronicities , moments when seemingly unrelated facts collide, to reveal a new pattern. Like when Mirko Borsche gave me this Suhrkamp book that served as a dummy for the cover, and this proved to be a book that I had on my wish list for ages, Clement Rosset's Das Reale, Traktat über die Idiotie , starting with a chapter on my favourite book, Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano . While the old positivist logic might dismiss this as pure coincidence, the new and more liquid logic that is more and more gaining ground in science would certainly agree that there might be a message to this. Being much harder -or rather impossible- to grasp, it is a worldview that fundamentally differs from traditional sciences in the way in which the image of a linear and mechanic evolution – A leading to B, and from there to C - has been replaced by that of a holistic network that stands much closer to reality, and in which all elements, from A to Z, interplay in a pattern constellation that is far more complicated , with a centre that is nowhere and everywhere, and in which elements that were fundamentally opposite in the dualistic world unite to become one and the same – chaos and harmony, future and past, primitive and sophisticated, nature and technology. While running parallel to the networks that have come to steer our daily life, such as the internet, it is a logic that goes back to the oldest of times, and that has always been most evident to artists. Thriving on association and intuition, it is also the logic that steered this book and exhibition: no chapters, no clear division.
ROLLING STONE- Opening this book, you may have noticed the Nike football that we took all along our Deutschlandreise, and that we had tagged by the designers we met on our way. Like this pocketbook's format, that brings homage to one of the greatest inventions ever in publishing, the Suhrkamp pocket book, the ball was meant to celebrate a classic of German design: the Adidas ball that was the first successful application of the theories of Buckminster Fuller, and that revolutionized the game when launched at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Its presence also symbolizes the rolling stone rhythm that steered our Deutschlandreise, roaming around, giving free reign to chance and improvising. To some, this may sound rather haphazard and un-scientific as a method. And yet, while it took dirt and dust, and got decorated with glue, stickers, and barbed wire, patterns gradually revealed themselves, during our trip, synchronicities that seemed somehow meaningful to explain the German Design World.
SPIESSIGKEIT- Shortly after deciding on calling this exhibition Nullpunkt, I went to the MAK museum in Vienna to assist at an event by Jerszy Seymour, with whom I had already built The Brussels Brain that stood central to the BtoB (Berlin to Brussels /and Back)) exhibition at designbrussels. The giant sphere, 14 meters in diameters, and sprayed on the spot, with lava.like Scum, was meant to be a plea for a return to the zero degree of design. 'the primeval soup where chaos reigns', a platform that did not only question design and the value of things but the whole of society, in order to develop a new alphabet. In a similar way his First Supper at the MAK in Vienna, in which he served his invitees homemade soup and mashed potatoes, was meant as „a nowhere place“ and „an open ended utopian question mark.“ It was only shortly afterwards that I discovered that the designers duo that I wanted to stand central to the exhibition next to Seymour, El Ultimo Grito, had curated a vast group show at the Centro de Arte y Creacion Industrial Laboral in Spain, called Now/Here. Finally, while wondering where this nowhere might be, it was almost by accident that we also succeeded in finding its exact location: in Petit Redinghien, a small French village near Saarbrücken where Andreas Brandolini hides and resides amidst that typical German celebration of Kitsch called Suessigkeit. Sick and tired, and almost totally forgotten , Brandolini showed us his Taugenichts or No-good-objects, rather reluctantly repeating the words that he had already been speaking a quarter of a century ago, as the leading figure of an experimental German design movement. His words were very similar as the ones I had heard from Seymour and El Ultimo Grito. And again, the notion of Nullpunkt was at the centre.
STUNDE NULL- One can of course criticize the option of limiting the scope of the exhibition to one single country, declaring the notion of a national identity obsolete at times of globalisation. We hope that this exhibition will provide proof to the contrary, be it only because the designers that stand central to it are never included in other overviews of design in Germany – not only because they are immigrants, but also because they don't really match with the consensus or status quo on what is typically German. German design has always been a Markenzeichen that left little to no room for deviation. Throughout its history and in the wake of what happened politically it had been forced several times to start from zero again – after World War I, in the Stunde Null period that followed World War II, and finally during and after the Cold War, the Fall of the Wall and the reunification. And yet, despite these fault lines and breaking points – of which Modernist movements such as Bauhaus and its afterthought, the Ulm Hochschule, were a direct result- the concept of German design, as it had already been invented by Peter Behrens and the likes in service of a newborn corporate industry at the beginning of the 20th century, remained largely intact: rational, industrial, functional and minimal, obsessed with a norm, standard or zero degree to which all things could be measured, but leaving little to no room for anything subjective or personal. The only moment when, under the impulse of Brandolini and others, a Neue Deutsche Welle pleaded for an approach that was different and experimental, its protagonists were laughed away and forgotten.
GUTE FORM- During our Deutschlandreise we could not resist the temptation to pick up some souvenirs that refer to that history, such as the burned light and typewriter that survived the second World War bombardments and the Werkbund Kite that were sent all over the country, to teach on Gute Form. Or the catalogue of Kauhaus des Ostens, one of the most significant events of the Neue Deutsche Welle. In the exhibition they will serve as a kind of black box or memory box, and a small reminder to an industry that from the very beginning showed every symptom of an Alzheimer patient, living in an eternal now. And while the rest of the exhibition and book focuses almost entirely on the latest generation , objects such as the JU-87 Stuka Dive Bomber carpet by Katherina Wahl and the melting and suicidal Ikarus lights by Kayser & Metzner confirm that the past is far from digested.
NORM- The MARTa exhibition has been divided in two sections; Norm als Nullpunkt focuses on the way in which even the latest generation in German design still seems to be obsessed by the norm and standard and industtrial production. Especially in Berlin, where out of lack of an industry designers are forced to produce and sell their own products, as typical representatives of the ICH-industry, most of the objects seem to do their very best to act as if they were the result of industrial production. And even when trying to break away from the rigid typologies that were a typical offspring of the Ordnung muss sein philosophy, such as the Regal and its most popular example, Ikea's Billy the Kit, they still seem to suffer from a Brechtian syndrome: even when they cannot live with their master, they cannot do without either. While showing some typical -and the most interesting- representatives of this generation, such as Farsen & Schölhammer and Tina Roeder, this section particularly highlights the work of designers that go for a radical deconstruction of the norm, by taking it to the extreme, and are therefore seldom seen at the regular German design shows, such as Jörg Hundertpfund and Redesigndeutschland.
SWIMMING- But the main focus will be on the second section, Nullpunkt als Norm, and the main representatives of a generation that traded industrial- for social design, and product- for process-design and installations. It may probably not come as a surprise that most of them are immigrants, and have never been considered as fully German. Mainly based in Berlin, they reveal a whole different kind of Germany: international and metropolitan. Hence also the exhibition's subtitle: Nieuwe German Gestaltung.
Three installations have been specially created for this exhibition, steered by a logic that is not unlike the liquid one that structured this exhibition: Marti Guixé offers the public the basic structure and materials with which the can 'Forever Bau-Haus' themselves, while Rosario Hurtado and Roberto Feo, alias El Ultimo Grito, also Spanish by origin, will build an environment in which they will try to abolish the frontier between the serial product and the creative one-off or prototype. Last but not least there's Jerszy Seymour, born and living in Berlin, but Canadian by passport, who will receive the visitor in his Salon des Amateurs , to discuss Utopia and related matters, while gathered in and around his makeshift swimming-pool, drinking vodka on ice. As the last piece in the exhibition, his handmade pool will be like a drunk echo of Konstantin Grcicc's public-seating element Landen, made out of heavy steel and extremely industrial, that separates the two sections.
SUBJECTIVE- One may of course criticise this exhibition as totally subjective and unbalanced, be it only because Grcic, who does his very best to pretend that he belongs to the first section, but in fact belongs to the second, and is beyond any doubt the country's most talented designer, is so underrepresented. But hey, just see it as a small compensation for all the times it has been otherwise. From the very beginning, this exhibition and book aimed at showing a Germany that was different, international and open. And for those who don't like the foreigners: just remember that they have always been there, from Breuer over Verner Panton to Jasper Morrison“.
(The exhibition Nulllpunkt, Nieuwe German Gestaltung ran from February till April 2009. The book was published by Kerber Verlag and is no longer available)