Tag Archives: Modernism

Not sure if postmodernism really is over

About to go as meta as it gets… going to deconstruct the concept of postmodernism:

While being hard and elusive to define, postmodernism per definition has a relationship to modernism. Whatever postmodernism is, it is being compared to modernism, to the Grand Big Ideas, the metanarratives, to the era of broadcasting. However, when postmodernism defines itself against modernism, this very act makes modernism the “default condition”, or norm against which the postmodern world is being compared to.

I believe this should be seen the other way around; modernism and the grand narratives are not a default, but more of a parenthesis in history. There was only a short period of time when Big, centrally approved Ideas were broadcast on the one and only radio channel. No reason to make this period a norm or to cry over the fact that it’s gone. The postmodern condition with its pluralism, superstition and hearsay are more of a norm throughout history.

Today is still being compared against a modernistic “default”. Until we realize that modernity was a parenthesis, we live in the shadow of modernism, i.e. postmodernism.

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“Good design”

My second-latest post was dedicated to a certain modern architect and designer, Alvar Aalto, whose work has become iconic or dogmatic for a whole country. Actually, the problem of modernism turned into dogma is much bigger than one single person in one single country. Take design, for instance – take a moment to think about what is considered good design in contemporary Western society. Perhaps some of the following items pop out of your neural circuits:

Eero Saarinen's Tulip chair photo:wikimedia commons Barcelona chair (1929) by Ludwig Mies van der RoheArne Jacobsen's Egg chair (1958)

The latest edition of Icon Magazine allows you to participate in a contest called The Ultimate Living Room where you can win items labeled good design. Here’s what came up. Many of the items presented by Icon Magazine, as well as the three chairs above, are widely accepted as iconic pieces of modern design.

“Neomodernism” sure is back after postmodernism. This is reflected by how we today define “The Ultimate Living Room”.While I do appreciate the forms and beauty of the modern, simple aesthetics, I do wonder what it tells of a society when many of its icons come from the past. – Or am I just spoiled by the momentum of societal change since WW2, expecting change to be present all the time? I mean, look how long it took us to get rid of the classical views. A couple of thousand years.

Only, I feel a bit sad for the modernist movement. The language of design was that of breaking free from the past, breaking free from the classical ornaments. It is funny to see the rigidity around the definition of good design today. But I guess that’s the way it works. Ideas are first innovative, then they become dogma only to finally they fall to limbo. “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”

You might say society is not really through with modernism yet, so why should we change our icons? We still like the simple, industrially reproducable objects that emphasize the superiority of industry and technology. The three chairs above still reflect the society we live in, even though they were designed 50-70 years ago. Sure enough they do, but I still wouldn’t mind seeing some new ways to express the modern or neo-modern era we live in.

Hmm have this as a homework, try to find contemporary good design chairs. 🙂

photos: wikimedia commons (-hover over the photos to see who designed the chairs and when)

Why copy the Greek?

St Petersburg (photo: matildaben)

St Petersburg (photo: matildaben)

Once, strolling down the streets of St Petersburg, I thought about the multitude of neoclassical buildings around me. The city is known for its neoclassical and baroque architecture.  Street after street is laden with pillars, statues, curves, ornaments.

Passing a pediment after another, I wondered whether the Western culture really has nothing other to focus on than the ancient Greeks? Why keep reproducing an ideology from around 300 BC? In art we look back to the Greek for their classic proportions, in philosophy we start with Socrates and Plato. Literature students need to read the Iliad & Odyssey. It’s an important era, for sure, but has there not come anything new since?

I’ve recently started reading Ayn Rands massive novel The Fountainhead, which (among other things) describes the shift from classical to modern era in architecture. I’m just a few dozen pages into the book, but I immensely enjoy the juxtaposition between the conservative, traditionalist architecture graduate Peter Keating and the rebel Howard Roark, who is expelled from the university because of his modernist ideas. The year is 1922.

We today take the white, smooth, ornamentless, functional buildings for granted. This is a result of the likes of Roark  having questioned the old Greek paradigm. The modernist movement, of course, changed not only architecture but arts, literature, physics, everything. Whatever you think of the modernist thoughts and dogmas, whether you like it or not, modernism really did provide an alternative to the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian pillars, the iambic pentameter and classical mechanics.

Interestingly enough, Ayn Rand is from St. Petersburg. Maybe she was inspired by the same streets as I…?

Ps. this is another automatic pre-scheduled post… I’m still hiking in the mountains of Jotunheimen, Norway,  far from ornamented pillars or plain surfaces.

Neomodern souls, anybody home?

 

Ultra-neomodern kitchen (photo: musicvisionary2000)

Ultra-neomodern kitchen (photo: musicvisionary2000)

Smooth, white surfaces. Glass walls with a beautiful void within. Peace that is brought forth by a lack of detail to focus on.

 

Who lives in the ultra-neomodern houses? People with no furniture? No past, no ornaments or pragmatic tools. No memories, no photo albums, no socks lying on the floor. No people, only a space demanding cleanliness and hygiene. How are we supposed to use the modern buildings? How is the modern man envisioned to utilize his beautiful, functional space?

In Orestad outside Copenhagen, a sub-urban townlet is built according to neomodern architecture. Glass windows reaching from floor to ceiling allow passers-by to peek in and see the round-edged furniture within. Only, it is no beautiful sight. A guitar here, a window too large to be washed there. Latest retail store sale items covering the windowsill. Big lamps, curtains, picture frames. A hockey stick with a hockey bag and helmet lying in a corner. The passer-by is peeking in, an undesired voyageur in the intimate secrets.

The clean, round edges and spotlessness only last through the pre-sale photo shoots.

Source: Wikimedia commons

VM-building. Orestad, Copenhagen. Source: Wikimedia commons