the curious alchemist

To observe, examine, explore and interact with the common to find and extraordinary perspective yet not seen!

The Artisanal Genocide — January 5, 2016

The Artisanal Genocide

It is very rare, that design invokes a response beyond its aesthetics or synthesis. The craftsmanship, materials, proportions, truth to function and everything else that goes into making an object of great design. Even though good design can be recognised its description of what makes it an icon in its own right, is more of an evasive phenomenon. Design, being a generic term can hope to encompass a volley of objects, events and instances. However limitless as it might seem the term ‘design’ will be used only in reference to the ‘designer’ things we all crave for today.

A lot of effort has been put into classifying the styles that are unique to their times. A good look at the timeline will give anybody a fair idea of how socio-economic changes have changed the way objects were designed. What engineering is to science is what design is to arts. Art has the liberty to be expressive, make a statement, take a stand, be ugly or beautiful and most importantly be independent. Design on the other hand has to encompass everything that art symbolises and yet has to be acceptable to everyone. Art can piss you off; design almost always needs to please you. Art has the independence to be unique, design even being unique, must belong to all, manufactured.

Now beyond the distinction between art and design, the separation of the two became more apparent when the designer was further apart from the product. There was an artist and artisan, and now there was the designer. Specialisation has only made the divide more prominent. The advent of industrialisation bought along with it wide availability of products that were replicas of the original. Cost being one of the major factors influencing design, now could be adjusted for the user. Design which was once a luxury of the wealthy, now could be economised and mass produced for all. The immediate effect of this being the artisans were wiped out. Economising made its way into the manual labour, and many artisanal communities were lost, design was no longer an extension of arts, it stood on its own, an item waiting to be replicated and made available to all.

The Alessi Juicer
The ordinary juicer, it is still stainless steel!

In a way, industrialisation did make good ‘stuff’ available to all, for some time. However, today all the designer things we see around are but the name of a man or two. In essence, we have finally realised that designer is equivalent to the design. Handmade, limited edition, have now become  phenomenons in their own right. A well designed product stands out as a hero amongst the ordinary objects in its surroundings. Phillipe Starck with his ‘Alessi juicer’ redefined the aesthetics of a mundane object. The Alessi immediately garnered attention and has since then been unsurpassed. The juicer is a simple, yet elegant object. The manufacturing cost of the juicer could be safely assumed to be a fraction of the cost at which it is made available. An ordinary juicer on the other could be bought at as low a dollar.

The role of design cannot be undermined. The ‘Apple’ cult, loyal to commercial enterprise of Steve Jobs is not entirely because of the technological supremacy of the products, but the design of the product. The implications of good design are manifold. Apart from the inherent merit of being good, all the other aspects of a good design are more of a responsibility. A well designed product has to be almost always be exclusive enough, and this is done usually by manipulating he cost dynamics. We now have fewer good designs, and abundant not-so-good ones.

Sony Walkman
apple ipod
The Apple Ipod

There will be always a debate as to how much of good design should be made available. With all our technological advances and fancy manufacturing processes we still don’t have parity in terms of design. The rift between the good and mediocre still exists, but in a more orderly fashion. Although the choice offered is now more diverse than before, the iterations of the ‘good’ design still feature on the sparser spectrum of availability. The death of the artisan has not made significant difference since the aristocracy. So, inherently the situation we have today is no less bad than before the industrialisation, albeit with the loss of the artisan. Technology, has not helped expand the inclusivity of design, if anything, it had made it more exclusive than ever. Consumerism is twisted to fuel the necessity to acquire designer goods that are priced higher. Design no longer is representative of a culture that is exclusive, but of a culture that makes exclusivity its selling point. A global culture with the mishmash of costly well designed products available to all has replaced the value of a truly unique exclusive design. The artisanal genocide, has not really served well.

The Recognition Dilemma — October 15, 2015

The Recognition Dilemma

Perception is the construct of the mind. In Sanskrit it is called ‘maya‘, the inexplicable construct, the one which can be only experienced if you participate. Maya presents itself through the surroundings. The legibility of the surroundings is also as complex as the idea itself, where the understanding of the objects depends on the state of mind. This makes reality a rather personal element than a common tool of understanding. The perception of reality as more of personal phenomenon comes to play most in the realm of aesthetics, where the legibility and understanding of the known and the observed intermingle to give the objects being viewed a definite sense of familiarity or atleast a semblance of the known.

Abstraction of any kind plays with the notion of moving away from the reality of the object, situation, and like reality, abstraction also will be different for different observers. The legibility and the degree of abstraction will also vary, making seemingly familiar objects stand at the threshold of the familiar and the novel. This constant fight between the reality and the abstract holds ground only as long as one sees them at opposite ends. Believing abstraction to be extension of reality, the kind that brings out hidden aspects that we so commonly overlook, makes abstraction a tool of understanding reality better, rather than the later being opposite. However, the assumption of reality being a personal phenomenon, makes it difficult to place the legibility of abstraction for a common group. Interpretations of the both the abstract idea, the abstract observation and the observed reality may not be always be in conjecture with all observers, or even the conjecture of all of these within a single observer. This plays on the recognizable features of daily observed objects, classifying them into the familiar and the unfamiliar.

KitBashing- Turning familiar objects into a mass of defamiliar obejtcs
KitBashing- Familiar objects into a mass of defamiliar objects

Coming back to legibility, the more of readable information one removes from the observed object, the more it becomes abstract. Say, you see a high resolution image of a person, and a very low resolution version of the same picture, the play with legibility isn’t making the picture any less real, it just makes it more abstract. And if the process of removal of information is very methodical, say removal of certain number of pixels every time, one can see the transformation of the legible into illegible, rather than real to abstract. Another way of comprehending this transformation would be the transition of the familiar to the unfamiliar. This example is more close to the well known ‘sorites paradox’ where the threshold cannot be determined, and there is no definite distinction between two seemingly opposite parts of a singular phenomenon. The play on reality and the abstract also causes the objects to be defamiliarised and estranged to some extent. ‘Realism- the quality or fact of representing a person, thing, or situation accurately or in a way that is true to life’, doesn’t allow augmentation of reality, which makes the defamiliarisation process less plausible and the phenomenon of estrangement more plausible.

8 Bit Abe
8 Bit Abe

Defamiliarisation and estrangement although working on similar grounds, the later is more of a psychological phenomenon. Defamiliarisation works as an antithesis to the already familiar phenomenon, like that in Gulliver’s Travels, where the scale is used to defamiliarise, whereas there is no guarantee of estrangement with the play of known elements. The thin line that divides both these phenomenon, makes it easy to question where does the median lay and if there is any statistical mode to the way the observer experiences both defamiliarisation and estrangement?

The Fur Cup
The Fur Cup

The contributing factors to both estrangement and defamiliarisation also includes play on the legibility of the object. Legibility maybe bound by personal perceptions like cultural background and shared knowledge as a race and also the media through which the representation occurs. The determining factor when the familiar becomes estranged, and if ever the estranged is perception of the render media  and or personal bias will be unclear until the object is ‘useless’. The ‘useless’ here provides an opportunity to discover the object without total alienation, like Koon’s sculpture of the balloon dogs. The familiarity, distorted by the scale, material thence may allow for estrangement.

Jeff Koons - Baloon Dog
Jeff Koons – Balloon Dog

However, if some facets of the familiar object always stay hidden, then would the so ontological parity still hold true for the familiar to be estranged? The existing tension between the representation of the object and the non-representation of its withdrawn qualities that underline the estrangement, makes the ontological enquiry stray into the aspects of legibility and de-familiarisation. All the enquires into the realms of ontology and the way ontology is perceived, places question of aesthetics on the centerfold of anthropocentric professions. Wherein lies the beauty if the reality is all but lies?

the Intrigue of the Common — September 29, 2015

the Intrigue of the Common

Studying in an academic setting after a brief stint in the profession, the glaring rift between profession and the discipline becomes ever so apparent. In a profession (that being architecture) where the built form usually is translated from an abstract idea into a tectonic mass of usable space, the idea of an ‘abstract’ and the process of ‘abstraction’ gains far more importance than in any other scenario. The built environment has long tamed the nature, so for me, it’s crucial to examine the definition of abstraction and the enthusiasm with which it is translated.

Collection of various objects that have the same ontological value
Collection of various objects that have the same ontological value

With the latest prevalent idea or abstraction of OOO or the object oriented ontology, fast gaining traction as a base philosophy of enquiry in architecture, it seems like a tad bit of an anomaly, to ascribe importance to objects at par with humans. This muting of an anthropocentric profession (and maybe its just me saying this, but architecture for me is very much rooted in the catering to humankind sorts) makes me question the basis of perceptions on the built environment.

In OOO, and as Wikipedia quotes it “ Object-oriented ontology (OOO) is a school of thought that rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects. Specifically, object-oriented ontology opposes the anthropocentrism of Kant’s Copernican Revolution, whereby objects are said to conform to the mind of the subject and, in turn, become products of human cognition. In contrast to Kant’s view, object-oriented philosophers maintain that objects exist independently of human perception and are not ontologically exhausted by their relations with humans or other objects. Thus, for object-oriented ontologists, all relations, including those between non-humans, distort their related objects in the same basic manner as human consciousness and exist on an equal footing with one another.” So, basically, what it sounds like is Buddhism for objects, and although this statement might oversimplify the purpose of OOO, following aspects of the theory continue to raise doubts in my mind.

The OOO states the importance of having information that’s available in layers, and by that it means that the existence of object goes beyond its defined function. These other aspects of the objects become apparent when the functional object becomes dysfunctional making the observer realize of the object in respect to its form, texture, scale Accepting that the object comes into existence only for its utility, maybe I can extend the courtesy of its analysis beyond its utility, accepting the OOO philosophy. Yet, this begs questions,

  1. How much information is necessary to realise the object?
  2. And how many processes are required to gather this information?
  3. And after obtaining every parameter of the object, will it still retain its relevance or gain some other aspects, and if it does gain other aspects is it still the same object?
  4. Does having a deeper understanding of the object alter the behaviour of the participants (them being both objects and human)?
  5. Does this overfamiliarity make the object seem more strange?
  6. Does taking into account all the minute details and the not so apparent qualities of the object make the object less legible?
  7. What happens to composite objects?
The aberration of equality within objects begins when utility interferes
The aberration of equality within objects begins when utility interferes

Making such qualities of the object obvious might not be very feasible, owing to the sole fact that once the object gets shrouded in multiple layers of qualities, it might lose its very objective for existence. In product design, qualities of objects play a determining role when having to decide between a good object and a better one, but, with OOO (that keeps the object in isolation whereby its relation to every other entity ceases to exist), calls into question the relevance of applying the philosophy to functional entities, which would include essentially most objects. And also, needless to add, (and yet I will) that for any object to be ‘existent’ it is crucial to provide a reason, without which this entire inquiry into the unknown would not have been possible.

Even if we were to argue that sometimes art and objects related to arts like murals, paintings, sculptures, photographs have no utilitarian value at first glance, they often are very powerful tools of conveying ideas, expressions and philosophy. Would then the subject of the painting would carry a weight equal to the glue it is stuck with?

Lastly, (and by that I mean, lastly for this one blog) how generously one should engage with objects? And by this it means that how much of the hidden attributes contribute to the object? Wouldn’t bringing to fore the hidden aspects make the object more unfamiliar in some sense, especially when one has to think of various different aspects related to a familiar object? Wouldn’t then the sense of disengagement defy the purpose of the object? (this is assuming that most stuff that’s designed today is aimed at makes the user experience more comfortable).

The Intriguing chair, that still is a chair
The Intriguing chair, that still is a chair
the common chair which could be intriguing ontologically
the common chair which could be intriguing ontologically

All these questions are aimed at trying to understand where the common understanding lies within the framework of philosophy and why we need to employ a particular philosophy? Yes, philosophy is food for thought and its formulation has brought about palpable changes in perception, but I am trying to figure out where does the object stand within the anthropocentric form-work?