Curious Trends


Storytellers, curators and the art of ideas

“Stories invest objects with meaning, giving them voices, histories and personalities. Moreover, if we choose to tell our personal stories through objects, they gain our own meanings alongside those of the designer… the objects …refer to the great universal narratives of life, death and renewal that are woven into our cultural memory, familiar from myth and fairy tale, religion, and even our own hidden desires”, says Gareth Williams.

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s 2009 exhibition Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design was curated by Williams. In the book accompanying the exhibition he says, “Narratives and stories are primarily oral and linguistic constructions. In his essay The Storyteller, Walter Benjamin, the sociological critic, considered how storytelling functions in culture. Benjamin, writing in the early twentieth century, considered that the tragedy of the modern condition was that people had become alienated from the organic quality of story telling.”

Williams described the pieces in his exhibition as “works by a generation of designers who are dissatisfied with only operating as design-managers, stylists or prototypers for industry. They are drawing upon fine art modes of practice and distribution of works but do not cast themselves as artists. Rather, they inhabit a new place, between the conventional boundaries of art, craft and design, where their eloquent works can speak of the human condition.”

Here are some examples from this year’s Frieze art fair of design art telling stories – all subject to individual interpretation, of course. Subodh Gupta's bronze mangoes on a sewing machine (see above), and below: works by Marcus Coates, Paul McCarthy, Nathalie Djurberg and Philip-Lorca diCorcia.

In addition to decorating our homes with self-curated and personally meaningful pieces of story-telling furniture and art, we can also curate our personal collections online. Storify aims to “Turn what people post on social media into compelling stories. You collect the best photos, video, tweets and more to publish them as simple, beautiful stories that can be embedded anywhere.”

Storify demo from Burt Herman on Vimeo.

The Storify demo video reminds me of something Frank Zappa famously said, “The computer can't tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what's missing is the eyebrows.” The technical novelty of the Internet is already wearing off. After we've told our story and expressed our tastes and personal preferences through our individually chosen selection of other people’s creations and musings from the web, what then? Perhaps we’ll go back to basics again, to see and appreciate our surroundings and the fabric of our lives through new eyes, from a more enlightened perspective… or perhaps the Internet will develop eyebrows?

Either way, our lives are going to be subject to some serious introspection over the coming years. And the objects we fill them with will be subject to much greater scrutiny. I reckon we'll start to reevaulate aesthetics, as opposed to focusing  purely on novelty value and/or  bottom line-led design. We’ll also become increasingly fascinated with philosophy, thoughts, ideas and will cultivate a growing spiritual awareness…I predicted that the curiosity factor would feature more prominently in our lives, and this will be translated into commercial culture and design as a major new trend:

The art of ideas.

Which is perfect, because everyone has their own (ideas). The art will be in the sharing. In fact, the speaker programmes at arts events - and the discussions and debates surrounding works of art will become more of a focus than the works of art themselves. Note that The Institute of Art and Ideas holds a philosophy festival at Hay as well as an annual art event in November.  Birmingham hosts an annual contemporary arts event called the Art of Ideas in November. Plus there's an International Festival of Art and Ideas in Connecticut. And, when ticket prices for niche ideas-based events hit the Hirstosphere, you'll know the trend has reached its peak.

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