Talk National Art Center Tokyo


National Art Center  TALK 31 October 2008 


After thoughts and evolution

Presentations and re-considerations, thoughts and adjustments, this transcription is the transformation and translation of a talk given Friday the 31st of October at the National Art Center in Tokyo. Its purpose is to focus and yet expand upon positions and intentions presented.

In a constant search for simplicity, clarity and fluidity, the topics illustrated during the lecture have evolved. We live in a rapidly changing world. As a result it becomes more and more difficult and equally irrelevant to try to firmly define things. What is ok today might not be tomorrow.  Creation is indeed a never ending story.

Thus a final and definitive thesis is not the objective here. Rather this is a “snapshot” taken at Talk Day + 7 of a reflective or creative process and positioning.

The initial topic of the conference was

Technology & Tradition in Design.

The work of ebi is not technology (defined as the study of science and techniques) driven but rather based upon the age old tradition of the artisan or of craftsmanship as practiced in France,

It is therefore necessary to requalify the theme of the conference.

Invention & Tradition or Improvisation

as the

“D-Stop” in Design

As this new theme will be referred to throughout this ‘post’, for economy of means let’s call it by a shorter code name: INVENTRA.

So what is INVENTRA? Inventra is quite simply the meeting of the word, invention, defined by Wikipedia as: 

An invention is the discovery or creation of a new configuration, compositionof matter, device, or process. Some inventions are based on pre-existing models or ideas. Other inventions are radicalbreakthroughs which may extend the boundariesof human knowledge or experience. Inventions that get out into the world are innovations, and may be a major breakthroughs or of minor and incremental impact. The effects can also be in between these two extremes.

The Pictogram Kitchen by Elliott Barnes

The Pictogram Kitchen by Elliott Barnes

And the word tradition also defined by the same source and translated from French as:

Tradition is the continued transmission of a cultural content across history originating in a founding or immemorial event. This immaterial heritage can constitute the vector of the identity of a human community. In a more absolute sense tradition is the memory or the collective conscience: the remembrance of what was with the obligation that it be handed down over time and enriched.

The third major element of the term INVENTRA is improvisation. But how does this notion of improvisation, so often applied to the jazz music genre find a place in the design process?

From a creative point of view its use is a manner in which to maintain a true freshness in proposing solutions. When one improvises in design there is the chance to make and arrange from whatever materials and “scriptures” are available. As no previous preparation has taken place the improvised design makes no formal value judgments as to whether, in the grand scheme, a chosen “geste” is stylistically appropriate or not. Rather what is fundamentally important is that the chosen detail or material responds locally to the specific situation.

Improvisational design is not style conscious (as such it is the D-Stop of design) It can unblock or “un-clog” design solutions driven by accepted tendencies or trends.

Cheese Grater by Inga Sempe

Cheese Grater by Inga Sempe

Design improvisers expose rather than impose.In his seminal piece The Savage Mind Claude Levi Strauss, makes a similar case across an age old French term for the fix it man: the ‘bricoleur. Though in common French parlance the term has somewhat of a negative connotation, through Levi Strauss’s definition a new, less, judgementally negative light is cast.

“The set of the ‘bricoleur’s’ means cannot therefore be defined in terms of a project (which would presuppose besides, that, as in the case of the engineer, there were, at least in theory, as many sets of tools and materials, or ‘instrumental sets’, as there are different kinds of projects. It is to be defined only by its potential use…) because the elements are collected or retained on the principle that ‘they may always come in handy’. Such elements are specialized up to a point, sufficiently for the ‘bricoleur’ to need the equipment and knowledge of all trades and professions, but not enough for each of them to have only one definite and determinate use. They represent a set of actual and possible relations; they are ‘operators’, but they can be used for any operations of the same type.”

In Collision City and the Politics of ‘Bricolage’ the architectural and urban critic /theoretician Colin Rowe echoes Levi Strauss’s position but with a more architectonic orientation.

“For if we can divest ourselves of the deceptions of professional amour proper and accepted academic theory, the description of the ‘bricoleur’ is far more of a ‘real-life’ specification of what the architect-urbanist is and does than any fantasy deriving from ‘methodology’ and ‘systemics’.

From this perspective, systemic design solutions are placed on the sidelines out of necessity for more appropriate situation derived adjusted or inspired responses; even at the risk that at some level they might be contradictory, there are no pre-set answers.

INVENTRA or improvisation is the antidote of a stylistic design approach, which by definition is systemic and singular.

Design styles have not only the tendency but the prime objective to restrain the users of a said style into a certain vocabulary, language and thus manner of expression.

Abacus Divider by Elliott Barnes

Abacus Divider by Elliott Barnes

In today’s multilayered global cultural cocktail, the one object, one space, one design style approach though forceful and certainly precise is none the less too restrictive.

Improvisation offers the possibility of multiple horizons while still acknowledging a design heritage.
















1 Comment

  1. I globally think that I agree with you. I was also at the conference in Tokyo last week. Anyway, I was wondering something… how do you manage any improvisation when you keep your trademark style in mind? As you may never forget it, as your design style is part of you, which ‘place’ could really be left ‘free’ for improvisation ?
    cheers, mh

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