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[ Backstage ]


Yun-Ling Chen, Not Really Really (AW-20-03), Aluminum and Garlic , 10 x 6 x 6 cm, 2020

Although infrastructure such as architectures, technologies, laws, education and contracts were designed to construct a flexible capitalist society, the above infrastructure actually can be seen as implementing a binding process that discourages society’s development. This binding process is built in the name of efficiency and perpetuated through the habitual ‘uses of use’ that provide the path of least resistance. In Capitalist Realism is there no alternative? (2009), Mark Fisher stated that ‘Over the past thirty years, capitalist realism has successfully installed a ‘business ontology’ in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business.’[1] Fisher highlights that the logic of capitalism has become accepted as a mode of being and this principle binds society through its operations.

Fisher goes on to observe that although this system idealises itself as efficient (and so should be paperless to a certain extent) it actually produces a lot of bureaucracy and because it is the latter which is monitored, many fields in the tertiary sector of capitalism are focussed on documenting rather than doing. This means that very little is actually done as the focus is on performing that it is done (emphasis on documentation), which also entails that nothing much can change in the field of ideology as everyone is busy trying to feed the bureaucratic machine with staged effects. Fisher argues that the capitalist narrative is a fantasy for running society as an efficient business with the only method being that of measuring success, which discourages society’s development because the emphasis is on the measuring as opposed to creating.

I refer to ‘joining’ as the process of reiteration in which material combinations are assumed and only improved upon in the name of economic efficiency. An act of joining one thing to another and binding them into an enforced combination, is used so that a production line of repeatable objects can be produced via an efficient and inexpensive blueprint for maximum profit. In contrast, ‘jointing’ is an intuitive process that places materials in relation to each other in order to draw out properties or characteristics that may go unnoticed. In working with and viewing these material combinations, you can also observe the environmental forces that are acting on them (such as gravity which holds these jointed materials in place). Furthermore, each of my artworks can be deconstructed into their constituent parts, so nothing is forced or frozen together forever but in a network that can be re-spun. It is through playing with the shifting combinations of materials, which often act in tension with each other, that the properties of things that are often under-appreciated in capitalist production are brought out. Therefore, ‘joining’ is a term that I use to describe the habitual combining of materials under the name of efficiency that knots them together. Whereas the term ‘unbinding’ refers to the process of releasing materials from their restraints, to untie the tied knot, and ‘jointing’ is to recombine the materials and learn from their interactions rather than enforcing them.

I see all the above terms as existing on a continuum, terms that define procedures which interact but that can also treat materials as bound, unbound or in a form of symbiosis/network in which they remain tenuously in touch. My practice reclaims objects and situates them beyond their assumed ‘useful’ material relations to untie the knot that is usually forced between an object's purpose and use for humans. Ahmed explores Donald Norman’s design and usability of doors in his book, The Design of Everyday Things (1988). In this book, Norman uses the example of doors (which Ahmed refers to as ‘Norman doors’) for highlighting that such a simple yet integral device such as a door can, through bad design, become confusing to use. In contrast to Norman’s concern of badly designed structures creating ill-use, Ahmed states that, ‘...misfitting is understood as an incentive for design; the misfit between an old thing and a function can generate a new thing.’[2] I understand the Norman door as an achievement that allows us to question ourselves and whether our knowledge of using things is restrictive, as opposed to constructive. Norman’s doors are a critique of doors that inadequately signal their operation, through their handles or other form of design, and so the user tries to push them when they should be pulled (or vice versa). This design form means that the built in designs cause confusion in the use and textual signs have to be added. In this sense the internal design of the door fails to provide an effective ‘use of use’. Norman also highlights that a textual instruction is not the only method of using things, as you might misinterpret what is being indicated by the design itself. Norman doors lack a relation between content and form, which produces a glitch and highlights to the user that there could be alternative uses and new possibilities. Therefore, a lot of our everyday objects could also glitch or misfit with their intended purpose. However, we tend to still habitually accept the use they direct because of using them for centuries in this way. It has been thirty years since Norman published his book, but nevertheless we are still making similar mistakes and can find a lot of Norman doors in our everyday lives. Rather than seeing this as an issue, we should make the most of these design faults to queer the well-used path and think about material/architectural combinations differently.

[1] Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism is there no alternative (London: Zero Books, 2009), 17.

[2] Sara Ahmed, What’s the Use, (Croydon: Duke University Press, 2019), 59.


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