At the New York International Gift Fair, the spirit is far from celebratory. The last few years have seen slow economy, less spending, and a certain feeling of creative standstill in an entirely saturated market.
When new concepts and new forms are unattainable, people go out of their way trying to offer solutions to invented problems. One company’s product, Vino 2Go, is a wine glass with a sipping plastic lid, normally associated with a paper coffee cup.
– Why would I need a sipping lid on my wine glass?
– It protects your wine, so that a fruit fly can’t get in.
– A what?
– You know, when you go out on the porch in summer, fruit flies always attack your wine. No need to worry about them with our product.
An invention from a different company is called CapaBunga, a special silicone cap to close an unfinished wine bottle.
– Why not simply reuse the cork? Isn’t this what people do all the time?
– Yes, but with our product, we can put your logo or a funny slogan on the cap.
Phenomenal success of iPhone and iPad has generated a mini-avalanche of pseudo-functional byproducts: on offer are numerous stands, supports, cord-wraps, cases and half-cases. Another new product category plays with people’s recent environmental anxieties, promoting an array of air purifiers, fresheners, infusers, often with mysterious properties and questionable methods of working.
One thing all these objects have in common is their reliance on an invented, or pseudo- function as a way of assuring products’ legitimacy and desirability. I am reminded of chindogu, a Japanese concept of absurdist gadgets, which appear to solve a particular problem yet on closer inspection prove to be completely useless. There is no crime in promoting products like this, even though chindogu is not supposed to be marketed. Yet wouldn’t it be better to forgo the conventional notion of function altogether, thus opening the field to wide new possibilities?
In Boym Studio’s work of the last decade I advocated objects for collecting, for memories, for emotional fulfillment. When customers asked me, occasionally, what did Buildings of Disaster or Babel Blocks do, I was proud to answer: “Nothing”. In those objects, function was understood in different terms; they were created as containers for desire and memory, giving people a possibility to use them in their own, infinitely personal ways.