Bless, N°35 Automatica, © Grégoire Alexandre for Intersection Magazine UK.

Where Does Art End and Design Begin?

Ryan Gander, I couldn't See But A day of It (Multiverse), 2007, Installation View Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva, © 2007 Francis Ware.

Alicia Framis, China Five Stars, 100 Ways to Wear a Flag, 2007, Installation Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva © 2007 Francis Ware.

Bless, Fat Knot Hammock, 2007, Installation view Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva, © 2007 Francis Ware.

Tobias Rehberger, MoF 94,7%, 2007, Installation View Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva, © 2007 Francis Ware.

Dunne & Raby and Michael Anastassiades, Alignment, 2007, Installation view Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva, © 2007 Francis Ware.

Jurgen Bey, The Modelworld Maquette, 2007, Installation view Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva © 2007 Francis Ware.

Martino Gamper, Gallery Furniture, 2007, Installation view Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva, © 2007 Francis Ware.

Bless, N°35 Automatica #03 Planter, © Bless.


Somerset House
South Building
+44 (0)20 7845 460
Wouldn't It be Nice …
Wishful Thinking
in Art and Design

December 7, 2008

Contemporary culture is witnessing one of the most significant shifts of recent times. The old dividing lines between artists and designers appear to be dissolving into one another. Indeed the breadth and range of investigation and inspiration they share is possibly the widest to date. The exhibition Wouldn’t it be nice … hopes to present a series of projects emerging from these lines of dissolution, which reflect the current spirit of cultural production internationally.

The commonalities between artists and designers are partly due to the reconsideration by designers of the modern tradition and its utopian hopes for universal, simple and mechanistic solutions. Since then there has been the realization that form can never be neutral. Pioneering design historians such as Reyner Banham and later Dick Hebdige have pointed out that even those most pared down and simple of modernist forms are suffused with cultural meaning. In turn, there has been a concomitant recognition that the consumer / user is a complex cultural, social, political and economic being, and that his or her needs are not purely mechanistic. This represented a loss of faith with the notion of pure function. Indeed, as early as the 1950s Jan Tschichold recognized that the rules he established in his earlier book The New Typography intended to render typography perfectly functional, smacked of fascist authoritarianism. Rather than leading designers to despair, this questioning of the modernist design orthodoxies has rendered them more ambitious.

Recognising that form carries meaning, many designers (working on graphics, fashion and products) have chosen to investigate the messages they create. This shift of parameters has enabled designers to think in terms of a concept. Partly this is related to self-expression, but more importantly it concerns taking responsibility for the broader ramifications of design. The works of the best of today’s designers display self-awareness and, at times, political intent. Above all designers have developed a keen sense of critique, and work within what is best described as a culture of ideas.

If historically artists from Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons and Heim Steinbach questioned the threshold between art and the everyday, between the work of art and the quotidian object, today’s artists are going one step further. The work of this new generation reflects, on the one hand, a pop sentiment of the kind expressed by Warhol when he said: ‘the world fascinates me. It’s so nice; whatever it is...I accept things. I’m just watching, observing the world’. In line with this, artists today demonstrate a greater interest in other disciplines, such as design per se and how it has penetrated our popular — and our visual culture. Added to this there is also a keen desire to explore the "situational" and "relational" aspects of the object, installation and environment making. Such works rely heavily on the designed object and require the direct participation of the public, be it in such seemingly banal tasks as eating, playing pool or learning to make paper flowers; or in resolving quite serious issues such as prostitution and the lack of fuel in African villages.

In this moment of cultural fluidity so-called artistic and design strategies are being explore by each other’s counterparts. To further compound matters some practitioners work in collaboration with each other’s disciplines, and others simply do not wish to be categorized in any one camp. Over and above any questions of definition, what is shared by these creators is an interest in questioning life, by exploring and experimenting with contemporary culture at all levels.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice... Wishful Thinking in Art and Design is a major exhibition that addresses the application of wishful thinking in art and design today. It explores the thinking processes and working methods, that fall into the gap between various attitudes, forms of behaviour and creative practices. On one hand, there's the dichotomy between activism and acceptance, as well as social concern and social control. On the other hand, the juxtaposition between grand plans and harsh realities, between the benign and the confrontational.

This project conceived by design historian and art historian Emily King and director of the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, Katya García-Antón in collaboration with Christian Brändle, Director of the Museum of Design Zurich, will present art and design alongside one another, undifferentiated. As the former barriers between artists and designers — but also graphic designers, stylists and architects — has become uncertain, the breadth and range of investigation and inspiration they share is possibly the widest to date. The exhibition hopes to present a series of projects emerging from these lines of dissolution, which reflect the current spirit of cultural production internationally.

Among the creators invited to participate: Dexter Sinister (UK/US), Jurgen Bey (NL), Bless (F-D), Dunne&Raby and Michael Anastassiades (UK), Alicia Framis (ES), Martino Gamper (IT/UK), Ryan Gander (UK), Martí Guixé (ES), Tobias Rehberger (D) and Superflex (DK).

Dexter Sinister is the compound name of David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey. Dexter Sinister recently established a workshop in the basement at 38, Ludlow Street, on the Lower East Side in New York City. The workshop is intended to model a ‘Just-In-Time’ economy of print production, running counter to the contemporary assembly-line realities of large-scale publishing. This involves avoiding waste by working on-demand, utilizing local cheap machinery, considering alternate distribution strategies, and collapsing distinctions of editing, design, production and distribution into one efficient activity. In 2000, Stuart Bailey co-founded the arts journal Dot Dot Dot with Peter Bilak. Dexter Sinister will be working on a new issue of this fanzine/journal on the occasion of the exhibition, as observers of the AC*DC project in its entirety and of the different events punctuating it.

Stuart Bailey made a name for himself in the Netherlands for his contributions to art and design as a graphic designer, critic and editor. On an international level, he is better known for the graphics and co-editing with Peter Bilak of Dot Dot Dot, a biannual publication covering the fields of art, music, design, architecture, literature and language. Stuart Bailey will be working on a new issue of this fanzine /journal created in 2000 on the occasion of the exhibition, as observer of the AC DC project in its entirety and of the different events punctuating it.

The designer Jurgen Bey is reputed for his rich and innovative creations and for his involvement in design research and teaching. He became known in the 1990s in the context of the Dutch phenomenon known as Droog Design, before founding the Studio Jurgen Bey whose philosophy is “to consider urban and architectural construction as indissolubly linked to the design of products”. For Wouldn’t it be nice ... Wishful thinking in art and design Jurgen Bey presents several maquettes. Working on a reduced scale enables him to remain on the ideas level, free from the logistical restraints encountered when making a full-size model. In his own words, “if one could work in a model world, reality would never bore us”.

Bless is both an evolutive, collaborative project and a brand, created in 1995 by Desirée Heiss and Ines Kaag, based respectively in Paris and Berlin. Hailed as two of the most creative fashion designers of their generation, they refuse to be pigeonholed, moving easily from fashion to beauty, from interiors to art exhibitions, and working with other brands. Their production, situated between art object and design, functional object and fashion, is always unique and marked by the adaptation of unexpected elements put to use in a totally new way. The 30 collections produced up to the present day show not only a fascination for recycling materials, subverting customary functions and deconstruction, but also an interest in textiles and traditional handicrafts.

Dunne & Raby is a collaborative duo formed in 1992 by the industrial designer Anthony Dunne and the architect Fiona Raby. They have developed an original line of research aiming to create prototypes of “hypothetical objects” which question the beliefs and usages of the contemporary consumer society. They explore in particular the social, psychological and aesthetic dimensions of everyday life in relation to electronic technologies, both through commercial projects and academic work, to stimulate debate. Since 2003, they have developed a project in collaboration with Michael Anastassiades entitled “Designs for Fragile Personalities in Anxious Times” which offers an alternative domestic landscape reflecting our fears in a rational way.

Alicia Framis combines the cultures of northern and southern Europe in projects revealing the architectonic and social components of the contemporary city. For example her work on the Atopic Villa deals particularly with solitude and coexistence, differences and coincidences in a constructive way, searching for a new space and social order enriched by the diversity of the individuals and situations produced by the urban culture. Another multiform project entitled Anti-dog is a commentary on the increasing aggression observable in large cities, and endured particularly by women in and out of the home. The couture line of clothing she has created aims to protect them in an illusory way: the clothes are inspired by designs of famous couturiers but are tailored in a material used by dog-handlers for their own safety.

Martino Gamper focuses on creating situations that include materials, techniques, individuals and spaces, and which favour meetings and discussion. His interest in the psychosocial aspects of furniture is translated especially by a love of corners and un-wanted objects that he uses to create a disparate family of objects, site-specific installations and special events.

Ryan Gander was born in 1976 in Chester. He studied in Manchester, then in Maastricht and in Amsterdam. The conceptual rigor and the visual simplicity that he uses permit him to stimulate the narrative potential of each of us by giving us enigmatic clues to stories that are sometimes fictive, sometimes true. Thanks to his childlike imagination, the artist tries to rehabilitate the utopian hopes of “lost” modernist projects. As such, he reconsiders urban planning, World Fairs or Bauhaus design. Between the installations, publicity, music, discourse and literature his work incites dialogue; makes the familiar strange, and vice versa. He has recently exhibited at The Artists Space of New York, the Turin Triennale in the Castello di Rivoli, at the Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, as well as in the context of the Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art is at Tate Britain, London.

Marti Guixé has called himself an ex-designer since 2001, as design for him means abdicating to the economy; he aims instead to subject the market to laws which he makes and breaks himself, in a continual search for new product systems and proposals capable of opening up the user’s field of experience. Attempting to be and to think in a contemporary way, he works notably on bringing design into the realm of the living, hybridizing such different areas as anthropology, typography, gastronomy and performance.

Tobias Rehberger considers his art as a form of action involving spaces and the individuals that inhabit them. His work uses the translation, transposition and interpretation of references from the worlds of art, architecture, design and everyday life as tools to examine the relationship between sculpture and communal living, to create a utopia illustrating his desires and representations.

The Superflex collective, Björnsternje Christiansen, Jacob Fenger and Rasmus Nielsen have developed projects linked to economic forces, democratic production conditions and self-organization. Their study of alternative energy production methods in Brazil, Europe and Thailand has enabled them to update and question the existing economic structures using what they define as tools. These theoretical, economic and aesthetic proposals invite people to participate actively in the development of experimental models, whose realizations are multiple and whose trans-formations are encouraged by use and by the improvements effected by both users and experts. The Bio-gas project (1997), for example, required the help of engineers to refine a simple, economical and safe energy system through the productive use of a natural biological process: bio-gas; the aim being to bring to certain populations the mass production of a cheap and easily-transportable device for treating bio-gas.

Graphic Thought Facility is a graphic design consultancy working for public and private clients on national and international projects. They produce both print and three-dimensional graphics for publishing, marketing, press, exhibition, events, product development and brand applications. Graphic Thought Facility was set up in London in 1990 and its directors are Paul Neale, Andy Stevens and Huw Morgan.

Dunne & Raby, Technological Dream Series no. 1: Robot, © Dunne & Raby.