"So long as the system of competition in the production and exchange of the means of life goes on, the degradation of the arts will go on; and if that system is to last for ever, then art is doomed, and will surely die; that is to say, civilization will die." -William Morris.
I went to William Morris House today and enjoyed it greatly. Located in Walthamstow, NE London it is the house which Morris moved to as a boy with his mother and siblings after his fathers death. the exhibition is a chronological journey through his life - work, politics and relationships. It also has some beautiful Arts and Crafts furniture and paintings by Frank Brangwyn. Coming up in October is a Thomas Wardle textile exhibition.
I feel the Arts and Crafts movement was the first vocaliser of the need for Slow design, or at least slowness, I also think the tenet of having beautiful, meaningful things for functional purposes was very important ("Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" - William Morris) and is something we could think more about now. The ability to think through purchases and our wants to decipher what they really are appears to have left us.
Looking at Baudrillard's work has left me thinking this: We have lost the ability to think clearly about the Functional Value (its actual purpose), Exchange Value (how much it costs) and even, to an extent, the Symbolic Value (what it means to us emotionally, and what it means to us in relation to another item) and left us only with the Sign Value (status value) of our purchases and lifestyles. There is a certain amount of emotion involved with status, but it is of a different sort to traditional symbolism in my opinion. We buy so fast it leaves us we no time to become involved with what we own, and we are busy keeping up with the trends, fashions adverts, upgrades and latest releases that newness becomes the imperative. Designers follow this same path to keep and and indeed create this newness, thus dismissing the need to think, engage and involve ourselves with what we make in order to keep on schedule and in doing so we create a vicious circle of unloved designs becoming unloved purchases, replaced quickly with new unloved purchases made from unloved designs.
I have been reading Slowness by Milan Kundera. Page34 says "Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time" which led me to ask - when did we get so disgusted by that which we have just created so as to need to vacate its presence so fast?
To quote William Morris; "...looking backwards to the time when history first began, we note that the progress of that victory [over nature in terms of living how we want] has been far swifter and more startling within the last two hundred years than ever before. Surely, therefore, we moderns ought to be in all ways vastly better off than any who have gone before us. Surely we ought, one and all of us, to be wealthy, to be well furnished with the good things which our victory over nature has won for us." He goes on to ask "who will dare deny that the great mass of civilised men are poor?" (both p10, Useful Work Versus Useless Toil)
Morris considers that people are poor when they suffer from a lack of quality in their life - it is not a monetary poorness that he speaks of. Similarly Kundera speaks of those moments when we move faster to escape things we wish to forget, to look at this from a consumer perspective you could say that with every upgrade, every new toy, every cheap piece of clothing bought on a whim is a sign of a poor quality of life and a wish to forget this by moving on from the last hasty purchase as fast as we possibly can on to the newest, latest distraction. From a design perspective this is a sad state - we, as designers, perpetuate this swiftness, this lack of quality with every piece of design brought out with the wrong kind of care behind it. When we care only to make something for the money or to beat a competitor we bring the bad qualities of design to life, where as well thought out design, - design meant to improve not only the manufacturers bank balance or the market share of the company but also the quality of life of the consumer and the use of products previously owned - well thought out design improves everything for everyone by not attempting to obliterate past memories or move us to throw 'away' the old in favour of the new (let us remember that there is no actual 'away', it is exists only as out of sight(Braungart, McDonough)), it exists to improve the quality of our time and enjoyment, to make fond memories of that which you own and form emotional attachments with your belongs, thus prolong their lives and again negating the need to move on and run away so fast.
I have also been reading Useful Work Versus Useless Toil by William Morris and he makes the point '...it is waste of time to try to express in words due contempt of the productions of the much-praised cheapness of our epoch. It must be enough to say that this cheapness is necessary to the system of exploiting on which modern manufacture rests. In other words, our society includes a great mass of slaves, who must be fed, clothed, housed and amused as slaves, and that their daily necessity compels them to make the slave-wares whose use is the perpetuation of their slavery.' (Morris, 1888/2008, UK)
Although this was written a long time ago it bears much relevance now - we work to earn money to consume, often while we work we produce items to be consumed or do that which oils the wheel of consumerism. So the question remains - is this a habit which can be broken, and indeed do we want to break it? In my opinion it seems we do not want to wholly change our habits in consumerism thus we should change our design habits to lessen the impact of our day to day lives. Maybe taking on another of Morris' points would help - '... worthy work carries with it the hope of pleasure in rest, the hope of the pleasure in our using what it makes, and the hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill. All other work but this is worthess; it is slaves' work - mere toiling to live, that we may live to toil.'
Slow means many things. The context that I mainly use it in is as a philosophy which allows one the time, particularly as a designer, to think thoroughly about ones work, about choices that we make regarding materials and processes, and the end results that we aim for. Slow sits on the same philosophical shelf of thought as many other sustainable design theories.
Slow is not necessarily slow in a time sense (items or processes do not need to be long-winded or time consuming) but is more about allowing oneself time, or simply not rushing.
By Slow Textiles I refer to ones created using the rough principles laid out above, created using sustainable materials, sustainable processes and with environmentally sound aims for the end product.
Slow Design, Slow Textile Theory
A manifesto or framework for Slow designers and Slow Textiles