Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reality Check


My mother was born and raised in Moscow; she still lives there, well in her 80s.
Until recently, she used to visit me in New York once in a while. Through her spontaneous, always unpredictable reactions to realities of our American life I was able to learn a great deal about my own preconceptions and hang-ups.

I would take her to Soho, for example, and we’d walk among cast iron buildings on cobblestone streets. “What a horrible area to live”, she’d say. ”There is not one tree around, and what about all this noise and crowds.” A classy meal at Jean-Georges would be dismissed as “something strange on the plate – and not too much of it, either.” Did she see something that we were not noticing?

Needless to say, when I showed her my own designs, she was not too complimentary. Often she’d characterize my objects as superfluous, unnecessary, wasteful – well before sustainability became a buzzword among design critics. My award-winning clocks were dismissed as illegible, chairs – as too small or uncomfortable. Even when she liked a thing, such as a set of utensils, for example, there was always a nagging doubt as to what to do with the old utensils people may already have. When, exasperated, I asked her what kind of things she herself considered appropriate and legitimate, I remember the word “normal” used as an operative term. For example, she referred to an apartment building where she lived as normal. Most things she owned or wore she also called normal.

For years, I used to dismiss her every opinion as irrelevant and uninformed. It is with great surprise I now catch myself applying her-style “reality check” to much design around. Going through images and news from the recent Salone del Mobile, or from forthcoming ICFF, I keep thinking about it again.

At this time of great uncertainty and confusion, when hype rules over substance, when everything is possible and nothing is truly exciting, we may all use my mother’s reality check.

3 Comments:
Blogger Bruce Sterling said...

You got old, I see

May 13, 2010 at 3:42 AM  
Blogger grvaughan said...

Yeah, sustainability is hardly a new concept, really it's just frugality dressed up as a new buzzword. And frugality is something our grandmothers all knew plenty about.

Actually, I welcome the new frugality and find it a refreshing change from the excesses of recent decades. And it does provide the sort of helpful reality check we all need from time to time, regardless of how much resources we have at our disposal.

June 8, 2011 at 12:35 AM  
Blogger RWordplay said...

A lovely piece. "Normal," what a fine standard. I suspect it is a word that conflates useful and anonymous.

I would not say uncertainty has led to a situation where "hype rules over substance," rather I would suggest at this time of hyper-commodification, those in creative fields, whether working in a kitchen or the atilier are in competition not with tradition--to perfect, to attain some more nuanced expression--but with the other. Too many desire to be the next Top Chef, the Starchitect, the Super Model.

As a result the work is not the thing, the prize is the thing, and those awarding the prizes posses some aspect of the demonic.

July 31, 2011 at 10:20 PM  

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