This show is about rightness. Rightness is quite a tricky thing to put your finger on though? it's something which is usually felt, rather than understood. It is something that might grow to be understood though, by relentlessly looking hard at objects, turning or rolling them over and taking them to pieces in reality, or in the mind.
Rightness is something to strive for too, it could be the saviour of the modern world even! Most of the objects made in this over designed world are ‘lo-cost / no-value*’ rubbish, and perhaps more poignantly will be literally, rubbish, very shortly after their purchase. This is a contemporary disease of our western way of making, marketing and consuming, one which is talked of a lot, but rarely dealt with in a holistic way. Objects that last longest are typically the ones with higher degrees of rightness in them, so we need to try to understand what makes things right, so that we can do less wrong.
So how do we achieve it, or even identify it? I've always thought that some of the rightest things in the word are hand tools, not all, but the majority at least. Which reminds me now of a photo essay by the US photographer Walker Evans, for Fortune magazine in 1955, "Beauties of the Common Tool". His short accompanying text is worth a read;
"Among low-priced, factory-produced goods, none is so appealing to the senses as the ordinary hand tool. Hence, a hardware store is a kind of offbeat museum show for the man who responds to good, clear “undesigned” forms. The Swedish steel pliers pictured above, with their somehow swanlike flow, and the objects on the following pages, in all their tough simplicity, illustrate this. Aside from their functions – though they are exclusively wedded to function- each of these tools lures the eye to follow its curves and angels, and invites the hand to test its balance.
Who would sully the lines of the tin-cutting shears … with a single added bend or whorl? Or clothe in any way the fine naked impression of heft and bite in the crescent wrench… To be sure, some design-happy manufacturers have tampered with certain tool classics; the beautiful plumb bob, which used to come naively and solemnly shaped like a child’s top, now looks suspiciously like a toy space ship, and is no longer brassy. But not much can be done to spoil a crate opener, that nobly ferocious statement in black steel… In fact, almost all the basic small tools stand, aesthetically speaking, for elegance, candor, and purity."
Tools tend to exude rightness precisely because they haven't really been 'designed', they have just kind of evolved through ingenuity, instinct and use. This process allows a crude, working thing to be honed into what usually becomes a very very beautiful and absolutely refined thing.
As designers, it is perhaps difficult to achieve this more natural, purer way of forming things, balancing the brute logic of neanderthal man with the precise care and grace of an ice skater? I don't know if it is the ambition of each of the designers, but It does feel that all the pieces in this show are aspiring to achieve some condition like this?
I would argue that the success of the objects in this show are in large part due to allowing the true nature of the material, process and structure of the project to define the character, form and aesthetic of the work. And it feels so refreshing and vital to find objects that reject the fashionable habit of styling, and which search for a truer, harder, deeper understanding of the things that we surround ourselves with.
*A phrase coined by Swedish product designer, Olof Kolte.
All the pieces in this show;
1. are functional first and foremost.
2. are domestic furniture, except for one, a chess set.
3. are vernacular forms or archetypes that are also a bit odd & special.
4. are all work-man-like, and designed & made by boys.
5. have modernist principles, some despite seeming found or folksy.
6. are formed by the forces of their conception.
7. have an apparent simplicity and are technically sophisticated.
8. are from graduates of Design Products at the RCA, except one, from architecture at the University of North London.
9. are intelligent, resourceful, demonstrative, sturdy, bold, physical, wholemeal and energetic.
10. fuse methodology and thinking, hi & lo technology, and industrial & craft concerns.