Creativity (stories, film, etc.), Society

Marcel Wanders between Art and Design

After walking through yet another museum’s collection of the internationally established canon of modern art, I was amazed to discover a temporary exhibition that felt so immediate and contemporary: “Marcel Wanders: Pinned Up At The Stedelijk, 25 Years of Design”

I wouldn’t say Marcel Wanders’s creations are characterized by beauty. Sometimes they are beautiful, sometimes I find them quite hideous. Sometimes both at the same time. The most consistent quality I find in his work is that it makes me laugh or smile. An unexpected change of scale, a surprising combination of patterns, shapes and materials, and no fear of having to conform to any classical notion of beauty. Although often, his creations are reflections of historical or organic shapes.

As a piece of art, interpreted as a critique of society’s lack of vision around the millennium, I love his work. But to actually spend any significant amount of time in one of his interiors? No. Hell no.

But maybe Marcel Wanders is in fact sincere with his products and tries to give non-designers a version of design that they again can relate to.

A product must feel familiar. This is why he chooses elements that everyone recognizes because, for instance, they are based on historical sources of inspiration. — 2014 Stedelijk exhibition

That may be his personal vision. To sidestep the problem of the late 1990s and the first decade of the 20th century’s lack of a shared vision.

Does the concept of future still exist in a culture in which a coherent vision has disappeared? — Marcel Wanders

Sometimes, the result feels like a “Best of IKEA”. It’s good design, no doubt about that. But for my taste, it’s often too much “bling bling”—too cheap and too extravagant at the same time. As a child of modernity, I’m still waiting for the good old future.

Wanders Wonders



Knotted Chair



Creativity (stories, film, etc.)

Good Design

Good design is when you see and feel that the work was done properly. “Properly” may be an old-fashioned word, yet it describes best what I consider good design: the result of, and the process of applying the old-fashioned work-ethic of careful craftsmanship to the creation of industrially produced (or post-industrially, like virtual or 3D-printed) artefacts.

Bad design is almost always the result of a thoughtlessness that unfortunately has become all too common. That’s why small details give away bad design so quickly. Meanwhile, the longer you consider the tiny details of a well-designed artefact, the stronger your appreciation becomes for the thinking, problem anticipation and problem solving that went into (and ultimately is) the design.

Creativity (stories, film, etc.), Society

“Snowpiercer” as an Allegory

Snowpiercer still

Warning: Heavy Spoilers! You should really go and watch the excellent movie first!

Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film Snowpiercer must be read as an allegory. While it might be plausible for Earth to enter a new Ice Age because of geo-engineering gone awry (which was actually meant to combat global warming), there is just no logical explanation for why the remaining few humans would go around the planet on a train at breakneck speed instead of just parking it at a nice station—except for the fact that it makes a nice allegory: “The train is the world”, as voiced by our reluctant hero. The world is complete with the underclass at the tail, specialized production sections in the middle (a prison wagon, a garden wagon, an aquarium wagon, a school/propaganda wagon, a sushi-bar wagon, a sauna, etc.), and a self-absorbed elite towards the head.

Yet at the very front of the train is the (economic?) engine pulling the whole thing—the ultimate objective of our revolting party’s bloody struggle for freedom and/or control. After wagon for wagon has been taken, the remaining three revolutionaries finally arrive at the engine where the infamous dictator and designer of the train invites our protagonist to dinner and explains in a malthusian argument that this and all preceding revolutions were planned all along to periodically kill off the over-boarding population of the train. Furthermore, he offers that his job as the lonely head of the train is no easier than the workers struggle for survival at the tail and that ultimately all parts of society need to work together to form the functioning whole. Finally, as he’s an aging dictator, he wants our protagonist to take his place.

Understandably confused at first, our protagonist finally declines the offer of taking control at the front, and instead chooses freedom for everybody by helping the two other remaining revolutionaries (a girl and her father) to blow up a door at the side of the train. The explosion causes an avalanche, derailing and crushing the entire train and—literally—train-wrecking everything. It appears the only survivors crawling out under the wreck and stumbling innocently out into the endless snow are a young boy and the teenage revolutionary girl.

As eloquently expressed by Acid Cinema:

While movies like In Time or Elysium admit that the system is broken, they also offer reassurances that it can be fixed (in Elysium’s case with the laughably literal push of a button). Snowpiercer, on the other hand, argues that perhaps the system is broken beyond repair, that the only way to fix it would be to scrap everything and just start over.

While starting anew with a clean slate is appealing on an emotional level, personally I still prefer to believe that the system can be fixed without destroying everything.

Creativity (stories, film, etc.)

The Top Seven Movies I watched in 2013

The top seven movies I watched this year, in no particular order.

  • La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013) is an homage to Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”, an homage to Rome and its celeb- and nightlife circus. Beautifully shot and set to intoxicating dance tunes as well as timeless classical music, the movie follows a disillusioned 65 year old author (who wrote one bestseller and stopped after that) in his search for the true beauty in his life.

  • There are few movies that are as surreal yet at the same time ring as true as Holy Motors (2012). (Maybe Terry Gilliam’s Brazil comes close.) I guess at the core of Holy Motors lies the question after why we get up every morning and go to work and how much we should give for “the beauty of the act”.

  • The Tree of Life (2011) consists of scenes in Jack’s (Sean Penn) adult live, memories of his childhood in the 1950’s Midwest with his stern father (Brad Pitt) and kind mother (Jessica Chastain), as well as lots of footage of nature and the beginning of the universe – all set to mesmerizing music and filmed with an ever-searching camera, posing implicit questions of spiritual nature. If you liked Kubrick’s 2001, you’ll most probably like The Tree of Life.

  • Set in London after World War II, The Deep Blue Sea (2011) is an intimate portrait of Hester (Rachel Weisz), a woman who breaks out of a passionless marriage to pursue an erotic relationship with Freddie, an energetic but troubled former Royal Air Force pilot. We experience first-hand how Hester loses her heart, and also her head, so fully that when she realizes that she and Freddie aren’t compatible, it is almost too late.

  • Before Midnight (2013) is the third part in the trilogy started with Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). Each shows us one night (or day) in the relationship of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) with nine years passing in between, just as the actors have also aged nine years between the making of each movie. The chemistry and the long dialogues are as great as ever. And even though the couple is married now, often Jesse still seems beautifully amazed of Céline and that she is in fact his. It’s simple: if you liked the first two, you’ll like the third part in the trilogy as well.

  • The Past (Le Passé, 2013) is the story of an Iranian man who reunites with his estranged wife in Paris to finalize their divorce. It’s a powerful movie, but the number one reason to see it is definitely the dignified performance of Ali Mosaffa. (Disclaimer: I haven’t yet watched A Separation, the previous film by Asghar Farhadi, which some say is even better.)

  • In Violet & Daisy (2011), two teenage assassins accept what they think will be a quick-and-easy job, until they end up in a heartfelt conversation with their target. While the film is neat, it’s the jaunty performances and the chemistry between Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel that make it a pleasure to watch.

Creativity (stories, film, etc.)

New game by Myst-creators: Obduction

Yay! A new game by the creators of Myst and Riven. I loved those, so I’m quite excited. You too? Then please support their Kickstarter and share. Only 4 days to go! (And if you haven’t played Myst and Riven, do yourself a favour and do so!)

Creativity (stories, film, etc.), Society

A shift towards design as problem solving

The last year or two I have noticed more and more designers talking about changing the meaning of design or at least what the design profession is about. They are advocating a shift away from just designing beautiful graphics and creating smart solution to isolated problems towards understanding design really as a school or a way of problem solving. This notion was probably first articulated in the term Design Thinking.

Today, we live in a world where on one hand potentially everybody with a computer can create great-looking prints and websites and on the other hand we have more complex problems than ever that cannot be solved by looking at them in isolation but are really properties of globally interconnected systems or emergent systems. So the thinking goes, and I tend to agree, that designers should not stand in the way of the democratization of poster-making but instead focus on tackling these interconnected and interdisciplinary problems. Because it seems that designers are in a unique position to look at these systems in a holistic way and are able to get to grasp with them using a mix of different methodologies.

That is, of course, unless you believe that the market is going to figure it all out by itself. Then we don’t need as many designers but are well served with continuing to hire economists in all possible positions…

Creativity (stories, film, etc.), Philosophy

Beauty as the balance between simplicity and complexity

All beauty lies in the tension between order and chaos, simplicity and complexity, pattern and randomness.

If we humans see or hear something that is too simple, too obvious to us we find it boring and blunt – an insult to our intellect and not worth thinking about, because we always crave for new experiences, to explore and discover. But if we experience something way too complex to comprehend and it is beyond our ability to recognize a pattern or a logic in it, we get frustrated and frame it with the simple concept of randomness to hide its inner complexity from our interest in order to not waste more of our energy on it. So either way, if something is too simple or too complex we turn our back on it and move on.

But what really interest us are those things that seem new, exciting and strange but that at the same time we feel have an intrinsic logic, patter or familiarity – something to hang on and work with, to study the phenomenon and bring meaning and understanding to it. And the utter reward is when we succeed in comprehending it. Then we feel gratitude, contempt and happiness. Not long after that, we might feel bored by the same phenomenon, because now it seems trivial and too simple for us.

But there are things in nature and elsewhere that we clearly can see a pattern in, but at the same time we cannot fully comprehend or understand it. The most beautiful works of art are often those that take something well-known, like the shape of a human body or face, or geometrical shapes, and take it one step further, transform it somehow to imply some additional meaning and thus slightly elevate its level of complexity. Or we see beauty in nature, because it is clearly organized; every organism strives purposefully to grow and reproduce, everything strictly bound by the laws of physics and biology, yet the resulting complexity in colors, shapes and movements is just overwhelming and astonishing. Just look at the clouds, reflections on the water or the movement of shadows on different surfaces, leaves dancing in the wind.

But the example that got me thinking today (thx Annina!) (and made me remember this TED talk) was actually music: when you recognize a song as good, but still don’t like it. My theory now is that you realize that there is an interesting, well crafted and well executed pattern to the sound or the lyrics, but you just can’t get the hang on it, cannot decipher it, so you get kind of frustrated and start disliking the song. Maybe, when you hear it again and again, or somewhen later in life, you’ll understand it better and feel differently about it, but now it just doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, we get bored by songs that we find just too simplistic or have heard too many times, over and over again.