I grew up in hyper-urban central Los Angeles from 1971 to 1985. In that time I witnessed train derailments, riots, large magnitude earthquakes, plane crashes, raging infernos, fatal collisions of various object combinations, terrorist attacks, even Martial Law. I survived this thanks to my Vietnam Veteran father who taught me that around ever corner was a starving alligator waiting in prey to eat me.
During most of that time, my parents sent me to visit my grand parents in rural Massachusetts. As children, their farming families immigrated from Quebec in the early 1900′s to work in the New England factories. They were from another time, that place where I visited them almost every Summer was from another time. Whatever that time was made sense to me, felt right. I could never tire of endless days spent alone in the woods. These youthful sabbaticals make me more compassionate and less judgmental than my childhood friends who never had the benefit of nature.
I’ve always been making, at first in the form of breaking. My hands are curious and always want to know the answer to, “How”? I’m clearly on a journey from the technical, through the artistic, and by means of design, maybe to the spiritual. This path has brought me to the ultimate path, a Meta-Path. I’m literally in a labyrinth of my own making…
I can’t believe things have come to this. All people of even minimal education, formal or not, know that our diets, food and otherwise, are killing us. We in the West know this, even they in the Emerging West know. It was in China, of all places – a forerunner in the Emerging West, where I witnessed the most appalling levels of waste among the new middle/business class. Waste of food has become such a huge issue, in a country where most of its population exists in poverty, that the Federal Government imposed a law calling for restaurant owners to fine patrons who waste more than the allotted amount of waste. In total disbelief, I participated in feasts where five times as much food was left untouched as consumed. Grotesque quantities of uneaten food were left after a meal, scooped up by bussers and presumably discarded. In China, there’s no such thing as a doggie-bag. But there’s hope: China outlawed plastic shopping bags a few years ago.
Poverty is all around, even here in the Far West. We don’t need to watch TV commercials from world aide groups to see destitution, alienation, commoditization, and pure wretchedness because if we looked, we could see it on the way to work, school, the park, or the restaurant. Have a look today, tonight; maybe in the mirror, tomorrow.
Yet the self-deceived, as though immune to the effects of a world-off-the-wire, gather to parse, dissect, pigeon-hole, liberate, maybe even to re-sign this word Design as though all it takes to fix the decrepitude is an academically sound, philosophical understanding of the word itself. Design has failed the world; design has to save the world; design is a way of thinking; design is a way of seeing, living, being; design is… ad nausea. Design is a varnish saturating the entirety of Western culture and thus has become meaningless. Simply stated: designers are problem-solvers. Since there are problems in every discipline, and solutions found in every discipline, it follows that there are designers in every discipline in and out of the so-called creative fields. Doctors are designers, engineers are designers, technicians are designers, too. Your plumber and car mechanic are designers. Design is the space between an idea and its final manifestation. Making dinner is design.
We reflect on design propaganda, such as “We Are All Emerging Economies Now,” in which Jack John Thackara waxes boastfully about his refusal to speak at a design conference, “with a wonderful group of design peers in a beautiful location,” because, “if I go as a tourist, even an eco one, I’ll use as much water in 24 hours as a villager who lives there, uses in 100 days.” Well maybe Mr. Thackara should stay home and read read-up on simple measures to reduce one’s water consumption. Or, if he has something of value to say to his colleagues about responsibility in design, perhaps the world might be a better place if he opted in responsibly (as opposed to wastefully). Perhaps Thackara could speak authoritatively about the need to reevaluate the expenditure of vast capital, labor and environmental resources on designs for a handful of beneficiaries like the Burj Al Arab Hotel, UAE…
Though the article smacks of an oblique auto-heroism, Thackara does make one significant over-arching point: we are in need of solutions to an exponentially growing number of problems right here in our own front yard (and back yard, garage, basement, and attic, to boot). We ought to stop meddling and de-signing in cultures we haven’t the faintest clue about when we can work to solve an endless list of problems needing solutions right here. Also, it seems difficult to separate designing and destroying, as often conflict is allied to either the reason or the response to design for other cultures. I say, let the designers in other cultures be affected, inspired, or otherwise influenced by our designs as best suits their needs to stimulate original designed solutions which will be vastly better suited to their culture over one imposed by another for market reasons.
Vilém Flusser made an argument, reasoned purely by etymology, that the word Design means to deceive; to de-sign, or take away its signifier(s). This is exactly what happened in India in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries following British control, according to “Thinking Design” by S. Balaram. In presenting the modern design history of India and its related cultural impact, Balaram explains that along with its independence from Britain, a reintroduction of a traditional Indian cultural aesthetic fueled social and economic reform. He explains, “The insistence on self-reliance encouraged the development of small units of production such as the handicraft and cottage industries. The intention was to bring economic control back to the basic social group-the family.” After reading this, I started to wonder if we in the ReMerging West might take a lesson from India’s return to sovereignty and begin to wrestle-free our diminishing individual economic power from the constricting grasp of a “Free-Market” economy in which the word itself, free is blasphemy. Something as unassuming as aesthetic can create or destroy an entire culture since cultures are inseparable from their aesthetics.
I think if I could specialize in any form of design it would be the possibly emerging field of awareness design. I would like to design things that snap us from our contemporary stupor and get us thoughtfully re-engaging the world we live on as opposed to running from it on our technology (Trojan) horse. Yet I, among the self-deceived, do little, if anything at all here in the present, to solve the world’s woes; in fact, even with a person bend toward Green, am much more part of the problem than the solution.
I hope to change that balance in the near future by completing this degree program, moving to a place that is more sustainable-minded, and using my knowledge, experience, and intuition to solve problems of various descriptions and disciplines. It could be my dream to have a large utility van filled with various tools, equipment, and materials and drive around the world stopping at one house at a time to fix some random problem. From a leaky faucet, to a broken washing machine, to a failing garage-door opener. I like thinking with my hands.
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