Tuesday, November 20, 2007

experimental form

Human beings are designers. Responding to needs of all kinds we create new things. At times our inventiveness is such that the new forms we create bear little resemblance to the raw materials used to make them, and the use is often a departure from these materials as well.

When human beings rely on ingenuity and imagination more than convention, using conceptualization to deal with an imaginary or real scenario rather than simply trying to satisfy a unique need or specific problem with a solution designed by someone else or for some other purpose however analogous, experimental forms are the result.

It is natural to borrow solutions from others, or use what worked before in your own or what is observed to be others' experience. Analogy, and one's capacity for it, is part of intelligence, or what is generally thought of as "intelligence," right? Aren't IQ tests full of analogies? And consciousness, or at least "thinking" has a lot to do with metaphor, no?

Where and in what combinations of ingenuity and imitation do experimental forms emerge?

Where in human life DON'T they?

Some of my favorite examples of experimental form have to do with basic human needs like cooking (see below) and housing. Homeless encampments and cottage handiwork, in the absence or negligence of building codes and in the face or real need and human fancifulness (pleasure- "and who is to say pleasure isn't valuable" Eames) account for the later and my friend Ben Piekut's "baklasagne" (a hybrid correspondence of baklava and lasagna) the former. Outside of architecture and culinary experimentation humans constantly innovate utilities systems and agricultural systems, on large and small scales. The design of an agri-business network of shipping transports illustrates the large scale with respect to farming, but how is Ms. Alguire's method for keeping neighborhood cats out of the garden any less involved a design problem?

Further human experiments with form deal with the transitional zone discussed in earlier essays between ideas and material forms. Several examples from capitalism's more egregious expressions spring to mind. The selling of concepts, for instance, as insurance illustrates what must have been an experimental design solution to a perceived problem. Real estate furnishes many excellent examples of this concept selling, and even the notion of private property must have begun as a solution to a need, and risky one at that: the first deed-holder took who as authority of the authenticity of the deed? Probably god, whose inspiration of the worlds many religions at least partially satisfy many people's need to deal questions as to with the nature of life. In the arts too, capitalism has articulated fabulous examples of the intersection of ingenuity and imitation in an experimental design solution. I can think of two examples of people packaging and selling air as artwork.

Many more examples from every field of human activity exist, and certainly many outside of capitalism. My fondness for selecting these examples of experimental form based in ideas from capitalist manifestations comes from the fact that so much in capitalism is itself symbolic (like currency) and yet moves physical mass, and as such sits right on the line between idea and material. Also considering that this practice is entirely human and based in a need for stable exchange value seems to illustrate the point reasonably well. Yet I have other things to discuss.

The fact that experimental form is risky accounts for many of our human attempts to contain it. Such is the reason behind the aforementioned building codes. It is interesting but not surprising that humans, who are so inventive, are simultaneously resistant to invention and even go to great lengths to keep design fenced in a pasture (at best). And with good reason: one can't have one's neighbors experimenting with radiation, can one? Besides, change is certainly difficult. Yet the risk of "falling asleep on one's feet" is also very real. One may easily come to take too much for granted, allowing social convention to proscribe solutions for needs that one might design solutions better for oneself, had one not put their ingenuity out to pasture. Often, the 'solutions' supplied by convention do not even fit the needs of the individual or solve the problem at hand. Where design is most useful, and thus most dangerous, it has been largely relegated to ornamenting existent forms in a largely decorative manner, or creating new disposable forms (or needs) for the monetary benefit of the inventor or the inventor's patron. The arts, often seen to be the site of design's greatest elegance, have come to be where it is furthest removed from any material use, and thus along with the arts, design in this sense functions solely as entertainment.

But isn't this for the best? After all who hasn't spoiled dinner and all its ingredients after hours of preparation all because of a desire to try out some idea?

And so, what is the solution to this problem?

At this point we are no more discussing the presence or existence of forms but instead, of their function, which is negotiable.

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