vineri, 31 august 2007

Neville Brody : 'what now?'

Neville Brody : 'what now?'
Category: Art and Photography

New York, May 2003

It is difficult today to discuss design at such a critical time in all our lives, with the world in such a traumatised state. It is vital to look at things always from within a context. In the case of any kind of design, that context has to be the world and the society that surrounds it, and, in theory, that which it serves. With a decreasingly smaller and more patterned world, as western culture spreads virtually unchecked throughout the globe, it is crucial to look outside the industry we inhabit and to notice not only it but the effect, both positive and negative, that we are having on it. It is also vital to understand where and why our progression is violently opposed, and what we see as progress is seen as incursion.

We seem to focus on the how and the what of our work, but we need to focus on the why.

we are the middle men, the trusted souls that lay between a public and its information. We are the ones that help shape the opinions of the reader through the way we interpret and present ideas. We are the ones that make the choices over what a story means, and how it should be reacted to. We inform the outcome, information being the way we are informed about a fact.

We distract ourselves with awards and groundbreaking design.

We should be the ones who are more knowleadgeable. We are the ones who have the direct access to information in its raw state. we are the ones who straddle both worlds - the world of pre-publishing and the world of its receipt, i.e. we are the translators of invisible concepts into packaged form, we convert thoughts and actions into mental images and attutudes. In many cases we control the interpretation of the world and manipulate its understanding, like a filter. we take real world experience and turn it into formula. The font we choose, the photo we select and crop, the way we use space - all these control our response as readers. Shakespeare set in 36pt franklin gothic condensed is going to create a totally different response if it was set in 10pt garamond.

Secondly, I myself have found that I have become increasingly disconnected from my own work, and the reasons why I do it. This feeling has spread to other areas of my life, as I find myself struggling with the search for core purpose. This is not only a spiritual dilemma, but also a social one. I am finding it difficult to understand my core purpose, if I have one, to understand the surrounding world, and to define my place and role within that, if I have one.

I continue on a day to day basis, I go through the motions, with apparent increasing activity but decreased output. And as the heart of my raison d'être becomes more elusive, my attempt to counter it with frantic activity increases until I am often left exhausted by the very act of manic non-production.

For instance, I receive, like everyone, tons of emails. Afer eliminating the spam and the irrelevant, it still leaves me with fifty-odd mails that need a response, a process that often takes several hours each day.

What kind of world do I live in?

My world is filled with gadgets. With my mobile phone I can email, browse the internet at high speed, read the news, receive and watch videos, listen to my entire record collection, control my diary, take photographs and edit them, then send them to others, send text messages, play games, wake myself up, control my finance, pay my bills. When I use it as a remote control I can control nearly all my electronic appliances. And somewhere in there I can also speak to someone. My only regret so far is that it doesn't cook my food.

I feel that I have had a hundred wires and pipes plugged into me to carry information to and from my being, like a hundred drip feeds.

I am losing my sense of self in all of this, my very existence is becoming fragmented and I feel I am ending up as a Hub, a series of conduits for channeling information at high speed. This process allows little time to respond to anything with any great depth. The simultaneous pressure to receive and publish a million messages a day means the machine takes over, and I become defined by my input and output.

This process means that ideas do not have time to build any great depth, that stories are barely fleshed out before the need to publish them rips them away from their incubation, that half-formed concepts are being pushed out the door in the mad rush to fill all those channels of output. The demands of such a voracious communications machine demands to be fed. More magazines, more channels. Upwards of 20,000 hours a week of national broadcast space to be filled every week.

I live in a multi-option, multi-channel world of apparent infinite possibilty, one where I feel I am making real choices, but in fact I am simply choosing from pre-selected options. I am not actually changing my world, I am simply editing and filtering it. I do not change the message itself, that has been protected, and would give away too much control to the user to allow such access. The only real choice I have would be to turn off. Or on. Customised media is moulding itself to my tastes, in the hope of selling me more product to me, copying is the sincerest form of flattery.

There are so many choices, that I am drowning in them, swirling around in an array of thousands of publications, cd's, websites, tv channels, all of which are growing in number at an exponential rate.

I live in a world where I am forgetting how to be intuitive, instinctive, artistic, natural, analogue. A world where my formulaic responses and technological output are mechanical, or scientific, even though I imagine I am making free choices. Today, I calculate, instead of create. I have forgotten how to work with my hands, to mold things like clay, witnessing the birth of new shapes and emotions. I used to look at my work in the same way as playing jazz, a world of informed improvisation. Today, I usually play to a musical scale based on marketing.

Most art and culture is now suffering from what I call a post-production syndrome. That is to say that most culture is now calculated, geared towards a desired reaction, a controlled outcome. The project starts with the response, then works backwards to the object. Then we figure out how to build it. We no longer allow ourselves the risk of allowing something to just happen, to risk the unknown, to experience something unpredictable.

I seem to live in a world where business has become all important, where quarterly returns govern all decisions, where a drive to collect clients and seduce them into providing means of support has become all pervasive, as is the demand I accept to use my skill to persuade the public to purchase the goods of my clients in oredr to keep myself in business. This is a place of fear, where we take decisions based on a survival criteria, but one where there simply is not enough money, not enough clients, not enough praise or awards, to keep the wolf from the door. And so we clamour for more, and the victim is our unbridled creativity, the unshackled growth of the human spirit and its culture.

I discused this recently with Jean-François Bizot. Over the last twenty or so years a critical transition has occured.

Whan I started working, it did not matter to me if I would earn money or not. In fact, I lived on the poverty line for almost four years after leaving college, not knowing where my next money would come from. What drove me was the belief that what I was doing was right in its risk-taking, and that it could make a difference somehow to the way people saw things. I was part of what you could call a Revolutionary Generation, born in the culture of the sixties, a generation which truly believed that society could be challenged and changed for the better, that artists were working for the public good, and that ideas counted for more than commerce.

This broad social challenge was perceived by the Reagan Thatcher governnents as dangerous, and quickly replaced in society by an advertising and marketing machine that could mimic danger without being dangerous in order to sell into niche markets. This policy anhialated any real challenge, as it is hard to fight a mirror image. Instead, money culture was introduced as the core objective of 'creative' society. The outcome of this is that today everything has become commodotised, turned into a saleable commodity, and genericised. Anything of risk simply doesn't get produced, or if it does, isn't distributed by any of the major distribution channels in either the physical and electroinic worlds.

Revolution was replaced by a 'Comfort and Prestige' generation, a no risk-taking, security-chasing generation disconnected from the chaos of creative liberation.

Now, in the third act of this play, we are left in the position of sensing how vaccuous our culture is, how interchangeable and limited our commodities are, of knowing that somewhere there must be more, and we are not convinced by filling the void with war. We yearn a more spiritual place, but we don't believe in religion. The young sense the hollowness of their commercialised culture, but the voices of revolution have become faint echoes in the white noise of media overload.

We live in a world where Revolution is a Gap advertising campaign, where an average of 30% obesity in the population is an accepted norm, where the cancer of genericism has eaten our culture away.

I live in a generic world, where the very means of distribution have created a processed culture, like processed food. The act of production means that everything must be comodotised, simplified, easily varied from the same basic list of ingredients. Culture, film, music, literature, art, tourism, architecture, magazines, could all come with a list of ingredients, like supermarket food, with added flavour enhancers to make the blandness seem appetising and addictive. The differences between products are now often slight, the unique qualities that define something as individual are minor, but are trumpetted loudly. Cities begin to look the same, no matter where you are in the world.

Ironically, as we produce generic culture, we ban others from producing generic versions of it. We ban the manufacture and distribution of generic drugs that would save the lives of millions in the developing world. We also crack down on copies of brand goods in third world countries where poverty is rife but our prices are out of reach.

We live in a world so full of love that we no longer know how to find it, so full of the human spirit tat we had to paint over it. We live in a world with such potential positivity that we choose to live in the negative. War is all there is, what is it good for?

I am struggling to understand the world I live in, and I can no longer see the wood for the trees, I can no longer see the city for the coffee shops. My space has been invaded by generic molecules, a nanotechnology of invisible identikit machines that are proceeding to consume all other matter; atmosphere that we breathe in as we gasp for air, for oxygen.

We modify society to desire certain things and to make certain choices unknowingly. This craving is controlled through a kind of cultural genetic engineering, dna alteration. We are the scientists that know what images, colours, fonts and words will produce key reactions.

The real point of all this, is that we have created for society and for ourselves a pallette of very limited alternatives and choices, a homogeneous stripped-down set of dna building blocks with which we construct all of our global culture. We live in a world of mediocrity with all the sensory controls full on. In this restricted culture we perceive apparent hills and valleys, light and dark, but the pallete only has 256 colours. We have limited our imaginations, dressed them up in the same wardrobe, and have forgotten how to look beyond. The world is moving from high to low resolution, from infinite possibility to 72dpi.

We have forgotten that we can break the rules, I mean really break the rules. We just vary what we already have, instead of allowing new things to happen, or to enter our limited vocabulary. We have forgotten how to embrace chaos, and trust to chance. We have forgotten how to trust ourselves, and we have lost the courage to be truly different. We have forgotten that other cultures and races can be respected and learnt from, and we just don't know how to stop ourselves from wanting to impose our own cultures and way of seeing the world upon them. And we don't understand when other cultures reject our own, especially when we have largely rejected all others, or assimilated them into our own limited pallettes.

Art and commerce do not mix today. The lowest common denominator, the line of maximal sale and appeal, is the goal. This renders everything as homogenised, averaged, mediocre. We counteract this by shouting, or choosing a piece of sensory territiory to call our own. So we choose blue, or circle, or grunge, or M, and scream it out to appear different. Or we choose cars, or sport, or gardens, or drugs.

Brands are like this. At a root level, there is little difference between starbucks, nike, virgin, ford, macdonalds. Again, little variation within a limited pallette of expression and imagination is worn loudly and proudly. In this Matrix of imagination, true revolution will never occur, and any real difference is stamped out as being the real enemy.

You may ask, what does this have to do with design? Today, the main characteristic of design is its interchangeability, and how little real risk is being taken. The quality of design is extraordinarily high, the production standards unrivalled and the craftsmanship superb, but somehow we have seen most of it before. We admire the easthetic and technical standards, but we are left somehow empty, or unmoved.

You see, we are stuck in a place of fear. Fear that we won't survive, fear that we will lose our jobs, fear that someone will attack us, fear to be too different, fear to criticise openly our own governments or their actions, fear of failure, fear of fear. This constant, low level anxiety that we all live in is exhausting, a dehumanising experience. No wonder we are afraid to raise our voices.

But raise our voices we must. We owe it to ourselves and the society we serve to tear up the rules and try something new. We must embrace risk, danger, thoughts beyond the normal pallette of thought. We have to open the gates to input, become receivers of the world instead of just broadcasters. We have to embrace the technology that allows our messages to be changed, instead of delivering predefined options. We must embrace an alternative to the Hollywood of our lives, step beyond the AOL Timewarner Disney-isation of our worlds

In other words, we can use other words. We can talk about love for our fellow man, of opportunity, of learning and education. We can help use our tools to educate, instead of dictate. We can break the cycle.

We must bring new and real meaning to that phrase, think different, and let's see what difference we can really make.

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