In my previous posts I have been focusing on the investigation of what an aesthetically sustainable or durable look contains, and whether creating a strategy or guidelines for aesthetic sustainability is a possibility.
This post will contain initial thoughts on the components of an aesthetic strategy as well as elaborate on how to decrease the threat of aesthetic obsolescence.
In philosophical writings on aesthetics, by for example Edmund Burke (1729–1797), Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), and Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924–1998), there is a division between the beautiful and the sublime. The beautiful is connected to the symmetrical, harmonic, well-proportioned expression. The sublime on the other hand concerns the fact that it can be pleasurable to be confronted with complexity, chaos, and lack of form. Not in a comforting kind of way, but in a challenging way; i.e. the sublime aesthetic experience momentarily breaks your comfort zone. The sublime expression deliberately challenges harmony and symmetry and is characterised by not being instantly pleasurable, like the beautiful aesthetic experience, but rather containing more “time” or a prolonged pay-off time.
Inspired by these thoughts, I think that an important initial question, when planning an aesthetic experience as a designer, must be; do I wish to break the comfort zone of my consumers or to boost it? In the following, I will elaborate on this.
As I have previously described, when I first started exploring aesthetic sustainability, I initially thought of an aesthetically durable look as minimalistic, harmonic, and symmetrical, providing the consumer with an experience akin the beautiful aesthetic experience. But in my research it also occurred to me that a design-object could be aesthetically sustainable or have a durable look due to complexity.
According to French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard we are pulled out of our daily routines and away from our fundamental (and at times limiting) assumptions, when we are shocked by unusual combinations or materials, asymmetrical compositions or chaotic structures. In the encounter with an object that forces us to experience the world with a “beginners mind” (i.e. we have never seen anything like this before), we are momentarily thrown off course and pulled out of our comfort zone, and thereby forced to be present.
Figure 1: Sruli Recht, Concentrated, AW13
Iceland-based fashion designer Sruli Recht is known for working with pretty unusual materials that are locally produced or sourced; for example leather made from dolphin, reindeer, and horse skin, fabric (such as satin) woven from horse hair, waxed cottons, felted Icelandic wool (from a local knitting house), and lambskin processed to be translucent.
In his recent collection he has integrated wooden garments; layers of walnut wood have been divided into triangles and then mounted onto a textile base, giving the garments a geometric look. This technique provides consumers with a surprising tactile experience that, in my opinion, would be horizon-widening, since they will move on knowing that a piece of clothing can be composed of layers of wood.
The encounter with a garment like the wooden jumper by Sruli Recht can be described as a sublime aesthetic experience. Working with prolonging the pay-off time, i.e. intentionally extending the time it takes to grasp or take in the design-object, can be an effective strategy for a designer when seeking to create aesthetically sustainable objects or to create an emotional bond between the consumer and the design-object. When your mind has to work hard to understand something (that you feel attracted to), the satisfaction and pay-off that follows, when you realize what initially confused you or threw you off course, is great.
You are more inclined to feel an emotional connection to an object, and to keep it and maintain it or to repair it, when it has given you a memorable experience – and therefore a sublime aesthetic experience caused by a design-object can lead to durability and aesthetic sustainability.
In Sass Brown's recent text she describes the Austrian label Steinwidder that designs women’s garments out of damaged pre-consumer factory made socks. The socks are interlocked together, like an oversized jigsaw puzzle, and thereby made into pieces of fabric. This technique and the story of the waste-material (the damaged socks) adds value to the clothes, since there is a satisfying pay-off-experience connected to realizing what the garments are made of.
Figure 2: Acne Archive, Stockholm
Findings– or special and rare objects that only few others have – and the characteristics of such items are also interesting when discussing the components of aesthetic sustainability.
The Swedish fashion label Acne as well as the Danish label Wood Wood have successfully transformed the image of old styles and past collections from being out-dated and having an outlet-feel to them into unique findings by opening a couple of small shops in Stockholm and Copenhagen; Acne Archive and Wood Wood MUSEUM. In these shops they sell a mix of discontinued styles from previous collections, re-designs and one-of-a-kind pieces, showpieces, and second hand items, and I find them interesting ways of making recycling and upcycling a fashionable or trendy statement (which is one of TED’s TEN sustainable design strategies).
Wood Wood writes on their homepage: “in the MUSEUM store you can do precious findings from previous collections from Wood Wood and other brands.”
Figure 3: Wood Wood MUSEUM, Copenhagen
The feeling of having found something unique and magical; a treasure that has been carefully picked out by others, or found in a “secret” flea market, or that has been handmade or produced in a extraordinary way, also characterizes Sruli Recht’s limited edition items called “non-products”. Recht describes his non-products in the following way on his homepage: “A specially made low run piece. Either hand tooled or machine made. That would lose its context as a mass produced item. And is not viable to produce in large quantities.”
Figure 4: Sruli Recht, non-products: Whalet Horse
To intentionally prolong the pay off time, or to place upcycled or out-dated garments in a “museum”, or to create “limited editions” of magical, handmade pieces, makes the threat of aesthetic obsolescence decrease, since cultural standards and Zeitgeist ideals are made insignificant.